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Setback for Southern Water after discovery of suspected medieval boat beside the River Stour in Sandwich

A suspected medieval boat has been uncovered by workers exploring a solution to Sandwich’s problematic burst pipes.

The historical find was detected beside the River Stour when Southern Water dug an exploratory borehole at the Quay.

The grass area between the pumping station and play park where a medieval boat is understood to be buried
The grass area between the pumping station and play park where a medieval boat is understood to be buried

The firm had been granted permission by Historic England to drill the 4-5 inch hole 8 metres deep within a Scheduled Monument site between the children’s play park and the company’s Bulwark pumping station.

Instead of uncovering clay, which would enable them to lay a new permanent pipe to flush waste from Sandwich to Richborough, they hit timber at about 5-6 metres, which forced them to stop work.

Samples of the wood have now been sent to the University College of London for testing and talks continue with stakeholders on how Southern Water can proceed with unavoidable repairs.

Southern Water’s operational area manager Jean-Paul Collet said: “Our meeting with Historic England had been very positive.

“They were understanding of the situation we were in although keen to ensure we have explored all our options.

Members of the Southern Water managing team at the point where they dug a borehole
Members of the Southern Water managing team at the point where they dug a borehole

“They agreed that we could do a bore hole and take samples from the ground to assess what’s in there.

“But a report by Dover Museum had shown that when original sewers were going in the 1980s there were some boat timbers at this site.

“Historic England are guiding us on how we can proceed.”

Teams are dealing with two bursts in “problematic areas” - one directly underneath the River Stour and the other below more than 5 metres of built-up roadway on the A256 by Discovery Park.

They are both on the same 10k long 400mm diameter sewerage pipe, which serves the entire 7,396 population of Sandwich.

Tankers continue to carry transport wastewater from the Bulwark pumping station on the Quay to Richborough
Tankers continue to carry transport wastewater from the Bulwark pumping station on the Quay to Richborough

The only way to ensure residents can continue to still use their toilet facilities is to shut the A-road and have a 24-hour lorry tankering system transporting the waste by road.

Now, Southern Water’s options include continuing work from this point but with a “watching brief”, who would inspect each bucket from the site for archaeological importance.

Another choice is to relocate the new permanent pipe to the opposite side of the Bulwark pumping station however they say this is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

It could result in digging in people’s gardens and allotments.

Andy Morris, construction project manager, said: “We’re looking to do what will have the least effect on the area.”

Operational project manager Andy Morris, construction project manager Jon Yates and operational area manager Jean-Paul Collet in Sandwich
Operational project manager Andy Morris, construction project manager Jon Yates and operational area manager Jean-Paul Collet in Sandwich

In the meantime, teams are also working on a temporary solution to negate the need for tankers.

This is likely to see two 120 tonne cranes either side of the River Stour to help position a plastic pipe along the bed of the river.

They plan to dredge 1m2 across the whole river bed to help lay it.

Formal designs continue to be drawn up and Southern Water is working with the Harbour Master.

Mr Collet said: “This is as complex an engineering challenge as the permanent solution.

The Bulwark pumping station in Sandwich
The Bulwark pumping station in Sandwich

“We’re looking at all of the options. This is a very sensitive area when it comes to the environment and archaeology perspective. We have pulled resources from all over the country to help us work on this, because it is unprecedented. We need to make sure we do it right.”

Twitter updates and an A-board display at The Guildhall will update residents.

The firms says it has also installed new speed reminder signs on the outskirts of the town for lorries and will look to add more if needed.

It has also pledged to work with all local stakeholders following the completion of work on a programme of reinstalment including resurfacing works.

Meanwhile, works on the A256 are progressing well, with Southern Water working with Kent Highways to carry out road safety tests and re-open the carriageway.

The ship's rudder and sternpost were excavated in 1999 Picture: S.Miller (Kent Archaelogy Report)
The ship's rudder and sternpost were excavated in 1999 Picture: S.Miller (Kent Archaelogy Report)

Vessel find ‘predictable’ says museum

Curator at Dover Museum Jon Iveson said Southern Water’s discovery of the large vessel was “predictable”.

According to a Kent Archaeology report, the remains of the 14th century ship were first encountered in the 1930s when the first sewer trench was dug out by hand.

During the re-laying of the main sewer in 1973, more of the ship’s timbers were uncovered.

Mr Iveson said: “It was predictable that they would find a ship there because we know there is one there.”

Amateur archaeologist Joe Trussler, father of former mayor of the same name, and William Honey, curator of Deal Maritime Museum, carried out another part-excavation in 1973.

The timbers collected were around 30 metres giving an indication of the length of the boat.

Specialist in medieval ships, Gustav Milne, from University College London carried out dendrochronology on the timbers in 1991 and identified the wood was aged from 1332- 1361.

Mr Iveson said: “There’s lots of speculation about it but no real knowledge as to why it’s there.

“It could have been deliberately put there to solve problems of water flow in that particular part of the Sandown creek or it was an old ship taken there, as many were, to sit there and decay away.

"It’s never been fully excavated which is why it’s so interesting.”

He added: “I think it would be sensible if they [Southern Water] looked at other places but I know they’re between a rock and a hard place.”

Read more: All the latest news from Sandwich


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