In the depths of England’s maritime history lies a remarkable discovery that has rewritten the annals of oldest known shipwrecks. A passionate wreck hunter off the coast of Dorset in southern England, Captain Trevor Small of Rocket Charters, has unveiled a treasure trove from the past – a 13th-century shipwreck laden with mysteries. This extraordinary find has not only unraveled the secrets of medieval maritime trade but has also challenged our understanding of ancient symbols.
Oldest Known Shipwreck on the Swash Channel
Nestled in the embrace of Poole Bay, on the edge of the Swash Channel, this ancient vessel lay concealed beneath the waves. It was Captain Small’s unwavering determination that led to the discovery of this 13th-century marvel. His years of sailing in and out of Poole were no coincidence; they were the backdrop to an incredible saga of perseverance and commitment.
The ship, known as a “Clinker,” represents a medieval shipbuilding technique employed in constructing larger vessels. Unlike their smaller counterparts, these grand ships boasted massive overlapping strakes or hull planks. Captain Small’s initial identification of this historical relic in the summer of 2020 marked the beginning of an extraordinary journey.
Origins date back to the Reign of King Henry III of England
The ship’s historical significance goes far beyond its age. Its origins date back to the reign of King Henry III of England, a period over 750 years ago. The vessel’s timbers have revealed the secrets of time through their tree rings, confirming that they were hewn from Irish oak trees felled between 1242 and 1265 AD.
Remarkably, this ancient maritime relic carried a valuable cargo of Purbeck stone, quarried on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset. These stones, known as ‘Purbeck Marble,’ held a special place in the hearts of builders across Europe for their remarkable polish. Most of these marble stones were destined for mills, where they would grind grains into flour, adding another layer to the historical narrative of this shipwreck.
Oldest Known Shipwreck & Purbeck Marble Gravestone Slabs
Amidst the remnants of this submerged vessel, archaeologists uncovered a cauldron for cooking and two Purbeck marble gravestone slabs. These slabs, made from a revered material in the south of England, Ireland, and across Europe, have already challenged our understanding of medieval gravestones.
One of these gravestones features a 13th-century wheel-headed cross, while the other bears a cross pattée, characterized by narrow arms at the center that widen towards the edges. What’s intriguing is that, until the discovery of these gravestones, historians believed these two cross designs to be part of a “developmental sequence” rather than being contemporaneous.
A Story of Weighty Consequences
To place this shipwreck in its historical context, one must journey back to the early 13th century when the town of Poole rose from the ashes of destruction during the ‘Anarchy.’ It had been founded on a peninsula by merchants from nearby Wareham, offering natural defenses with water on three sides.
However, as Poole thrived as a vital maritime trade and fishing port, the ship in question embarked on its fateful journey between 1242 and 1265 AD. Laden with millstones and gravestones, it navigated the challenging Swash Channel, perhaps overloaded and unbalanced, leading to its capsizing.
Rebecca Rossiter, Engagement and Collections Manager at Poole Museum, anticipates that this fascinating shipwreck and its cargo will soon be on display in one of Poole Museum’s new maritime galleries when they reopen in 2024.
In closing, the discovery of England’s oldest known shipwreck is more than a historical event; it’s a testament to human perseverance and a gateway to reinterpreting our past. This maritime time capsule challenges conventional wisdom and sheds new light on the intricate tapestry of medieval history.
Source of Featured Image: Bournemouth University