For the first time, non-divers can explore the protected historic wreck site of the 350 year old warship the London – one of England’s most important 17th century shipwrecks which lies in two parts off Southend Pier in Essex.
Historic England has commissioned Cotswold Archaeology, in collaboration with ArtasMedia, CyanSub and MSDS Marine to create a 3D virtual tour of the London wreck site, which is extraordinarily well-preserved.
The ship blew up on 7 March 1665 after gunpowder stored on board caught fire during a journey from Chatham to the Hope, near Gravesend in Kent. The ship was en route to collect final supplies after being mobilised to take part in the Second Anglo Dutch War of 1665-7.
Samuel Pepys recorded the incident in his diary:
This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of ‘The London’, in which Sir J. Lawson's men were all bringing her from Chatham to the Hope, and thence he was to go to sea in her; but a little a ‘this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up. About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned: the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance. She lies sunk, with her round-house above water. Sir J. Lawson hath a great loss in this of so many good chosen men, and many relations among them. I went to the ‘Change, where the news taken very much to heart.
Since 2010, the site has been monitored and investigated by the licensee Steve Ellis and his team, in collaboration with Cotswold Archaeology (since 2014), and previously with Wessex Archaeology.
The wreck was also excavated by Historic England in 2015 and an extremely rare wooden gun carriage was recovered as well as more than 700 artefacts, some of which are on display at the Southend Museum.
Alison James, Maritime Archaeologist at Historic England said: “We are delighted that for the first time we can bring the wreck of the London to the surface for all to explore. The #LondonWreck1665 project has been a high profile project yet to-date only a small number of divers have been able to explore the site. The wreck is located in poor visibility right next to a shipping channel in a highly tidal environment, so not an easy or attractive place to dive.”
Alison James continued: “This virtual trail means that people can explore the site without even getting wet! The Historic England virtual dive trail scheme has shown that underwater archaeology can be accessible to all, allowing us to dive in to history from the comfort of our own home.”
Michael Walsh, senior marine archaeologist at Cotswold Archaeology said: ‘The diving conditions are so challenging that it is a pleasure to be able to see the site on my computer screen, as can others. I have to take my hat off to the licensee team, Steve and Carol Ellis, and Steve Meddle, for diving to monitor the site week in and week out. It is a huge commitment for which they should be congratulated.’
The dive trail takes the form of an interactive website which includes images, video, audio commentary and panoramas outlining the history of the ship, its loss, and its re-discovery, as well as the archaeological investigations that have been conducted on site in recent years.
The website has sections that provide details of the ship’s construction, the weaponry it carried, nautical and other ship equipment, and personal items of the crew. The site also provides details of the ongoing analysis and conservation of some of the rare items that have been recovered that will enhance our knowledge and understanding of life on board a 17th century warship.