From above – HMS London, the Letchworth, and Wessex
Archaeology divers working on the wrecks – photos by
Brendan Hughes. As usual, click on the photos for much
more satisfying images!
This summer the Port of London Authority and Wessex Archaeology is clearing a collection of shipwrecks from the Thames Estuary as part of a continuing programme to ensure that the river channel remains open to the world’s largest ships.
TV company Touch Productions has been on hand to capture the events as they happen, and the first of two Thames shipwrecks: a race against time programmes was shown on BBC on the 26th August – it was just a few days ago, but for those who missed it I thought it would be good to cover some of the material here at intheboatshed.net.
The first programme focused on how mastery over the Thames has been defended or fought over the centuries, and some of the ship wrecks that these struggles have left behind.
HMS London sank in 1665, with the loss of 300 lives. As a ship of the Protectorate, the London stands at a critical point in maritime history, in the midst of technological change and at a time when Britain began to rule the waves for the first time.
In fact, the London is so important that the Port of London Authority is moving the shipping channel to avoid disturbing her. She was part of the fleet that brought down the Protectorate and helped restore Charles II to the throne, and she also played a seminal role in the wars against the Dutch.
HMS London was also a new departure in shipbuilding because she was among the first ships to have proper plans drawn up to enable shipbuilders to build stable ships – many of earlier ships including the Mary Rose capsized because they were unstable.
HMS Aisha and Letchworth
The Aisha was a civilian boat requisitioned by the navy during World War II, and was crewed by Home Guard-style civilians.
The Thames was a crucial gateway for the German attackers and the brave crew of the Aisha were victims of the struggle to keep it secure for cargo convoys, which included over 100,000 craft in more than 3000 convoys.
The Letchworth was one of the ships that boats like the Aisha were there to protect. It ran coal into London, a vital cargo at a vital time.
The pottery wreck
The pottery wreck is a humble ship that nevertheless connected London with the rest of the country taking goods to other parts of Britain, and returning with supplies for London. In the programme she represents an interesting detective challenge, for both her name and date of sinking are unknown.