A 17TH century shipwreck will give up its secrets over the next two years, with Southend Museum displaying whatever treasure is found.
The London sank just off Southend Pier, in March 1665, after an explosion on board during a journey from Chatham to the Hope, Kent.
After exploratory dives, a twoyear period of excavation costing £70,000 has been commissioned by English Heritage.
Cotswold Archaeology, a charitable trust, will salvage the ship’s artefacts before they are lost forever in the rapidly deteriorating vessel.
English Heritage’s marine archaeologist Mark Dunkley said: “We are hoping to recover some rare and well-preserved items which will provide a great insight into the English Navy during an unsettled time when Britain was emerging as a global power.
“The recovery and display of vulnerable artefacts will aid our understanding of life on board ship in the late 17th century and enable us to remove the wreck from our heritage at risk register.”
Excavations have already begun this week, with two more dives planned for the coming months, which will guide the rest of the project, with any finds going on display in Southend Museum, in Victoria Avenue.
The museums service has secured a grant from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation to develop a community project recording the finds, a permanent display and publication about the wreck.
The cost of the excavations will be covered by English Heritage’s heritage at risk budget.
The ship was discovered in 2005 by contractors surveying the estuary for the Port of London Authority during preparation works for the London Gateway Port in Thurrock.
The ship was immediately placed on English Heritage’s at risk register as its fragile archaeological remains were being exposed by silt movement on the seabed.
Local people may get the chance to help record the artefacts from the London.
Clare Hunt, curatorial manager at Southend Council’s Museums Service, said: “This hidden wreck lies just off Southend Pier, which is visited by thousands each year, yet the wreck remains largely unknown.
“It’s part of our local, as well as our national history, and we’re inviting local people to get involved in recording these ship finds.”
Westcliff fishmonger and experienced diver Steve Ellis was part of a team who won the right to dive on the wreck in 2011 and will work closely with the charitable trust Cotswold Archaeology throughout the digs.
Their exploratory dives suggest artefacts such as cooking utensils, ship fixtures, an anchor cable and ordnance, including cannon balls – although he admitted diving conditions may be tough.
Mr Ellis said: “Although the underwater dive conditions are difficult with limited visibility, we are looking forward to bringing up some exciting finds.”
MYSTERY OF THE SINKING
- HMS London, a 64-gun, second-rate ship of the English Navy, was built in 1656
- The London is the only remaining vessel of three second-rate large ships built between 1642 and 1660
- She gained fame as one of the ships which escorted Charles II home from Holland during the English Restoration
- Three hundred people died when she sank on March 7, 1665, after a sailor is believed to have taken a candle below deck, sparking an explosion in the ship’s gunpowder stockpile
- After its rediscovery in 2005, the Port of London Authority was forced to change the route of the Thames shipping lane to protect her
- In October 2008, she was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973)
- The wreck is about a mile from Southend Pier and lies between eight to 12 metres deep, depending on the tides, but the exact location cannot be revealed to guard against illegal salvage operations.