A fundraising campaign is underway to save, preserve and display ‘Southend’s Mary Rose’ – the London shipwreck
No-one knows the cause of the explosion that sank Cromwellian warship the London at its mooring near the mouth of the River Thames off Southend on March 7 1665.
One theory has it that sailors reloading old cartridge papers with gunpowder caused the fatal detonation, another idea points to substandard gunpowder. Whatever its cause, the accidental explosion was catastrophic; according to the diarist Samuel Pepys over 300 crew descended with their decimated ship to a watery grave.
‘This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of “The London,” in which Sir J(ohn) 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’ recorded Pepys, (who at this time was Secretary to the Navy Board), upon hearing of the loss on March 8 1665.
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‘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(ohn) 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.’
The London was the flagship of the maverick admiral Sir John Lawson and, according to Pepys, was part of the fleet that brought Charles II back to England in 1660 in an attempt to end the ‘anarchy’ following Oliver Cromwell’s death.
An initial recovery attempt later in 1665 saw men descending in a diving bell to retrieve some of the more valuable items of the time, but the loss of the London eventually fell out of memory until the wreck’s rediscovery in 2005 during dredging work for the Thames Gateway.
It has since been explored and excavated by a team of largely self-funded volunteer divers supported by professional archaeologists. Now archaeologists say the on-site work and remote sensing surveys tell us that the London could be the most significant wreck to be identified as suitable for excavation since the Mary Rose was raised in 1982.
However, her remains are currently lying adjacent to the shipping channel in the River Thames off Southend where the strong tides and constant turbulence from London’s present-day shipping are rapidly eroding the site, washing away many irreplaceable artefacts.
But if it can be saved many believe the wreck could be Essex and Southend’s own ‘Mary Rose’ and bring a new focus and significant tourist attraction to the region.
Its recovery and display would be a noble outcome for the Cromwell era warship. Built in Chatham in 1656 for the Cromwellian Navy, the London was one of just three completed wooden Second Rate ‘Large Ships’, of the ten ordered for the Anglo/Dutch War (the second phase of which incidentally saw the demise of Lawson following a wound at the Battle of Lowestoft in 1665).
Unsurprisingly it is the only ship of its type now surviving, albeit in two parts off the end of Southend-on-Sea Pier.
With such potential as a visitor attraction, The Nautical Archaeology Society and The London Shipwreck Trust, which raises funds to support the licensed dives and artefact conservation, have launched a major fundraising campaign to support the recovery, conservation and display of the ship’s remains, including thousands of priceless historical artefacts from the Thames Estuary floor.
On July 3 2019 – the 365th anniversary of the ship’s ordering – the Nautical Archaeology Society and the London Shipwreck Trust launched their major fund-raising drive at Southend Museum, where some of the artefacts are now displayed, with both corporate sponsorship and public donations being sought.
The campaign to Save the London has already attracted support from Historic England, the town of Southend-on-Sea, leading trade organisations for the maritime industry and Southend Museum. Time Team archaeologist Phil Harding and presenter Sir Tony Robinson have also lent their support.
If sufficient funds can be raised, maritime archaeologists and other experts believe that a significant portion of the hull of the wreck can be recovered, conserved and displayed together with its artefacts in a new centre for Southend-on-Sea.
Find out ore about the London Shipwreck Project at thelondon.southendmuseums.org.uk/
To help save the London shipwreck donations can be made online via the Nautical Archaeology Society website at www.nauticalarchaeologysociety.org/Appeal/save-the-london
Donations can also be made by text message, by texting SAVETHELONDON to 70085. To make a donation of £10.00, text ‘SAVETHELONDON 10’ to 70085. This costs £10.00 plus a standard message rate.
Watch the campaign launch video: