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UK divers to investigate 1838 shipwreck

A nineteenth century shipwreck could become protected as part of a special anniversary project by English Heritage.

UK divers to investigate 1838 shipwreck
Diver investigating a wreck ahead of investigations of The Forfarshire off
the Northumberland coast [Credit: Berwick Advertiser]
Archaeological divers are to investigate the wreck of the Forfarshire, the paddle steamer that sank off the Northumberland coast in 1838 and whose survivors were famously rescued by Grace Darling and her father.

On the 40th anniversary of the Protection of Wrecks Act (July 18), English Heritage announced a special project to investigate 88 unrecorded pre-1840 shipwreck sites around England - including the Forfarshire - with a view to giving the most important ones protected status.

The 88 sites were revealed last year in a desk survey that looked at the archaeological evidence of watercraft from the earliest times to about 1840 using new English Heritage guidance on early shipwreck sites.Sites that will be investigated more closely include the Forfarshire, as well as a possible Tudor wreck on Walney Island near Morecambe Bay and an early barge called a ‘Mersey flat’ located in the north-west.

Wreck sites that pre-date 1840 comprise just four percent of the 37,000 known and dated sites as the majority of such sites are post-1914. The investigation will address watercraft from the earliest times through to steam tugs and paddle steamers working in estuaries and docks which began to be common by the 1840s.

Divers will submit a full report on all the sites investigated to date to English Heritage who will determine which wreck, if any, is nationally important. Those that meet the criteria will be recommended in a shortlist to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in the autumn.

Mark Dunkley, Maritime Designation Adviser for English Heritage said: “Watercraft tell a fascinating story of England’s military, industrial and social history, but very little is known about those that existed before 1840. That’s why we are taking the initiative to investigate pre-1840 ships and boats, from wooden sailing vessels to the very start of iron hulled steam ships.

“This is part of a wider programme to ensure that current or future threats to the most important early wrecks are reduced through designation. We want to help ensure that future generations can understand and value these important sites.”

The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, published on July 18, 40 years ago, secured for the first time the protection of historic wrecks from unauthorised diving in territorial waters which extend up to 12 nautical miles from the English coast. At present, 47 historic boats and ships have statutory protection in England which protects the most important remains from unauthorised interference.

Source: Berwick Advertiser [July 24, 2013]

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