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Examination of HMS Northumberland warship wreck at Goodwin Sands, off Deal


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A warship that sank three centuries ago in an historic storm is being examined.

The wreck of HMS Northumberland lies on the Goodwin Sands off Deal.

Examining the Northumberland underwater Picture: Michael Pitts
Examining the Northumberland underwater Picture: Michael Pitts

It is being looked at by the organisation Pascoe Archaeology as it is exposed in the shifting sands.

The 70-gun warship was built in 1679 during the reign of King Charles II and was one of a new fleet constructed under Samuel Pepys' Thirty Ships building programme.

It took part in many famous battles before being lost on the Goodwin Sands during the Great Storm of 1703, with all on board drowning. The wreck was discovered in 1980 following reports of snagged fishing nets and is in one of a number of protected sites in the area.

Geophysical surveys carried out last year by Dan Pascoe, of Pascoe Archaeology, showed that the sands are moving away from the wreck site.

A diver checks the Northumberland's pulley sheaves. Picture: Michael Pitts
A diver checks the Northumberland's pulley sheaves. Picture: Michael Pitts

This leaves the ship exposed and vulnerable to strong tides and currents and at risk from biological and chemical decay.

The Northumberland is one of three vessels on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.

Historic England is funding the current inspections,

Last month, Mr Pascoe and his team of five divers spent a week conducting investigations to assess the wreck’s condition.

They discovered that it is even more exposed than recorded in the surveys.

'This provides us with an opportunity to travel back to shipboard life in the 1700s...'

The divers have found guns together with the ship’s structure, rigging and other fragile objects.

A report and a short film of the team’s work will be released in early autumn.

Mr Pascoe said: “We’re at a critical point with the wreck, further exposure is inevitable, which will result in the loss of well-preserved artefacts and information.

"It is this material, and its context within the ship, that provides us with a unique opportunity to travel back to shipboard life in the early 1700s.

"It is therefore vital that work continues to try and preserve as much of the wreck as possible and the material within it.”

The wreck is designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, and access to the site is via a diving licence.

The Stirling Castle, which looked like its sister ship the Northumberland, in a storm. Drawing by Richard Endsor
The Stirling Castle, which looked like its sister ship the Northumberland, in a storm. Drawing by Richard Endsor

This is administered by Historic England on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Great Storm struck central and southern England in November 1703.

Ships were blown hundreds of miles off course, and more than 1,000 seamen died on the Goodwin Sands alone.

Pepys, as well as being a historically famous diarist, was also a politician who was Secretary of the Admiralty Commission in the 1670s.

For more on the Goodwin Sands, see this week's East Kent Mercury Memories Pages 12-13.

Read more: All the latest news from Deal

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