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A rare and well-preserved 350 year old wooden gun carriage has been raised from the seabed in the Thames Estuary.

It comes from one of England’s most important 17th century shipwrecks - the London – which lies in two parts off Southend Pier.

The ship blew up in 1665 after gunpowder on board caught fire during a journey from Chatham to the Hope, near Gravesend to collect supplies to take part in the Anglo Dutch War of 1665-7.

The recovery operation is being led by Historic England working with Cotswold Archaeology and licensed divers led by Steve Ellis.

The waterlogged, one ton  wooden gun was discovered by divers in clay in the estuary last summer, partly exposed following movement of seabed material. Over the past eight months, parts of the gun carriage have become exposed and at risk of breaking up due to strong currents and exposure to wood-boring sea worms.

Alison James, Historic England Maritime Archaeologist, said: “This 350 year old gun carriage is in near-perfect condition. It’s a national treasure and the key to new knowledge of our social and naval history. We had to recover it quickly or it would have broken up and been lost forever.

“It’s complete with all the implements that the gunner would have used to make the cannon fire –so it’s hugely exciting.

“We’ve even got the 350 year old rope going through the pulley block. But as parts of the gun carriage recently became exposed, we had to act fast to save  from the waves and biological attack.” 

Divers' task

 The gun carriage was lifted by Jumbo, a 20-ton crane barge normally used for mooring works and construction projects. Divers were in the water to help and the gun carriage was kept wrapped in wet blankets to preserve the fragile wood from drying out. It was brought ashore at Leigh-on-Sea taken to York where it will be conserved.

Experienced Thames Estuary diver Steve Ellis said: “Being involved in guiding this rare piece of history to the surface was very special, the sort of experience every diver and maritime archaeologist dreams of”

 The London was built at Chatham Dockyard in 1654-1656 during a time of   upheaval after the English Civil War and later formed part of a convoy sent in 1660 to collect Charles II from the Netherlands and restore him to the throne.

More than 150 finds have been retrieved so far and these are mainly being conserved by Historic England at its offices at Fort Cumberland in Hampshire.

The artefacts range from smaller items such as a stoneware jug, signet pipe, beeswax candles, copper alloy spoon, callipers and leather shoes to pristine wooden pulley blocks, gunners’ implements such as gun tackle and a wicker basket containing gun wadding, as well as ship fixtures and fittings including a hand-made glass cabin window.

Finds recovered from the site are also being conserved and curated by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s Museums Service.

Links:The London Wreck Project http://www.thelondonwreckproject.co.uk/

Cotswold Archaeology http://www.cotswoldarchaeology.co.uk/ 

Southend Museums Service http://www.southendmuseums.co.uk/

Twitter #LondonWreck1665

Story dated August 18th 2015