MAST iconMaritime Archaeology Sea Trust

Alderney Elizabethan Wreck

MAST, in partnership with Bournemouth University, has been working on what is believed to be the remains of an Elizabethan shipwreck off Alderney, one of the Channel Islands.

Background

The wreck found in 1977 by local fisherman Bertie Cosheril, off the coast of Alderney (Davenport & Burns 1995), 900 metres north of Alderney lighthouse and 300 metres west by north of a reef called The Ledge in approximately 27-30 metres of water (tide dependent) (Alderney Maritime Trust 2010), is thought by investigators the remains of a late 16th century vessel, possibly of English origin, operating in the English Channel, where it may have played a part in the religious wars of the time.

The site was investigated, surveyed and excavated at intervals in the 1990s, of which the material was analysed and published, and into the early 2000s, the material of which was not assessed/analysed but instead stored, until 2015 when a Bournemouth University Masters student undertook the task as part of their dissertation.

The Alderney Maritime Trust was established by the States of Alderney in 1993 to support the work on the Alderney Elizabethan Wreck to oversee the security, excavation, conservation, display and publication of the wreck and its contents. Bournemouth University was brought in to the project in 2013 in order to re-establish operations and spearhead the project into the next phases.

MAST joined the team in 2015 to undertake work in the field, the aim of which was to dredge a test pit in order to ascertain the depth of the archaeological material on the site and primarily to establish the existence of any remaining structure.

Key artefacts

The theories concerning the character and nature of the vessel have been formulated, based on the work undertaken on the 1990s. They rest on the combination of artefacts found and raised at that time but some key finds include:

Lead pan weights

Two lead pan weights made by the Worshipful Company of Plumbers of London and feature a stamp of the crowned monogram EL (for Elizabeth). To the right of the monogram is the sword of the Archangel Michael (or St Paul according to some), also known as the Guildhall Dagger, symbolizing the City of London. This cypher was introduced by royal proclamation on 16 December 1587, but it was not fully enacted until after the Armada year of 1588.

Thumbnail - One of two lead pan weights found on the wreck. It clearly bears Queen Elizabeth I monogram ‘EL’ under a crown and a sword which signified the Guildhall and hence the city of London. Photo courtesy of Alderney Museum.
One of two lead pan weights found on the wreck. It clearly bears Queen Elizabeth I monogram ‘EL’ under a crown and a sword which signified the Guildhall and hence the city of London. Photo courtesy of Alderney Museum.

Port cover

A port cover (on which dendrochronological analysis was carried out) identified as oak, with a ring sequence of AD 1437-1565 and at least 10 sapwood rings missing, placing the wood as having been felled after 1575 but cannot account for exactly how long after. The attained chronology best matches that of wood samples from southern England (Hillam & Groves 2001). Accounting for the time taken to season the wood and the working life of a ship at that time (which could be 20+ years) places the vessel between 1575 and not after the first few years of the 17th century (Alderney Maritime Trust 2010).

Potsherds

Potsherds and some mostly intact ware are identified to originate in various regions of France, and the Low Countries (namely Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg). They are almost entirely of the same period and may be largely indicative of the ship’s possible route (Davenport & Burns 1995).

Tobacco pipes

Tobacco pipes of which two have been found on the wreck so far – one clay and one pewter. Their presence is of great importance as tobacco smoking became popular in Europe during the late 16th century at the end of which pipes were being produced commercially. Pewter pipes are extremely rare and the only securely provenanced example from the period under consideration, came from the wreck of the San Pedro which sank off Bermuda in 1595. It is so similar to the Alderney find that specialists have suggested they might be from the same workshop. The clay pipe shares traits with examples from London and Southampton (David 1995).

Current activity

Research undertaken in 2015 has helped to confirm earlier theories on the character and nature of the vessel but has also shed some new light on several aspects of the interpretation. Detailed reports on this work including research and conservation will be available soon.

MAST is participating in the Santander Universities/BU Internship Scheme which is an entrepreneurial internship programme that offers final year students and recent graduates paid work experience with SMEs. The scheme provides funded three month internships of £1,000 per month jointly funded by Santander and Bournemouth University. The position was filled by Irini Malliaros, a recent MSC graduate of Bournemouth University, whose internship role was to bring together and digitise the information and records of the project database in order to understand the larger picture of the project and establish a solid archive into which data from future work can be deposited. The database was largely fragmented due to the inconsistent nature of the work undertaken over a 20 year period.