DIVERS have found evidence to confirm that a 17th century shipwreck in the Thames Estuary was sunk by an explosion.

Steve and Carol Ellis, from Westcliff, have been leading a team of divers in exploring a shipwreck off Southend, dubbed the Mary Rose of the Thames Estuary, the London, which sank in March 1665.

The exploration is part of a two-year project, commissioned by English Heritage, to survey the wreck and catalogue and salvage any small artefacts.

Mr Ellis, working with Cotswold Archaeology, has found items such as musket shots, fixtures, fittings and personal items including pewter spoons and even the sole of a leather shoe.

He said: “It is a dream come true for me to dive something like this, it’s the Mary Rose of the Thames Estuary. Diving conditions are difficult in the Thames, but you are constantly exploring.

“I’ve been diving the site for years and it’s great to see archaeological findings on a wreck that had only been mapped by sonar before, so never in this much detail.”

The London was thought to have mysteriously blown up on a journey from Chatham to The Hope, Kent.

Mark Dunkley, maritime archaeologist at English Heritage, said: “We have confirmed so far the well preserved and vulnerable remains of the wreck of the London are consistent with the historical records that she did, in fact, blow up.”

Divers have completed 15 days of diving since the project began in May and have five more planned before the season ends in September.

It is hoped that after this first series of dives, English Heritage and Cotswold Archaeology will know enough to begin excavation work next year, remove the wreck from the “at risk” register and finally determine just what did happen to her.

Steve Webster, project manager for Cotswold Archaeology, said the project is the only ongoing excavation on an underwater wreck in England at present.

He added: “Artefacts we recover may be similar in scope to those recovered from the Mary Rose, but 120 years later in date.”

Artefacts salvaged from the London are being processed and catalogued by volunteers for the Southend Museums Service before they go on display at the Central Museum at the end of the project.

1665 shipwreck lies about a mile from pier

HMS London, a 64-gun, secondrate ship of the English Navy, was built in 1656.

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.