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Merchant life
The wreck

The discovery of the Gresham Ship is significant as it presents the only known archaeological example of the ship building technique furring. The development of overseas trade in the 16th century resulted in new ship construction techniques to accommodate the changing role of shipping.


The Gresham Ship was constructed using the carvel shipbuilding process. Carvel building used fewer materials than other techniques, making ships cheaper to produce.

By 1545, all war and merchant ships built on the Thames were made in the carvel style.

Drawing of ship

This popular technique created a smooth hull by attaching wooden planks flush next to each other.

This made ships stronger and more spacious. Vessels were more streamlined, allowing them to move faster through the water.

What is furring?

The discovery of the Gresham Ship provides the only existing example of a ship constructed using furring. Investigations revealed that extra timbers had been added, increasing the ship's width and capacity. Furring involved removing the original outer planks of the ship and adding a second layer of timbers.

Diagram of furring

This gave the ship a lower centre of gravity which made it more stable to sail.

If more examples of furring were discovered, archaeologists could explore whether this technique was common throughout Europe, or if it was only used in the construction of English merchant ships, such as the Gresham Ship.

16th century shipping

The Gresham Ship is an example of a three-mast, armed merchant vessel, a common type of ship in the 16th century port of London.

Merchant ships were usually heavily armed due to great threats from piracy. In some cases they even engaged in maritime warfare, such as the conflict with the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The roles of ships were changing at this time so different types of vessels, such as cargo and war ships, were being used.

The 16th century was an age of exploration and discovery. The English nation was becoming more involved in overseas trade, resulting in a surge in the development of shipping.

The use of new shipbuilding techniques and the development of new navigation skills allowed ships to travel further. This opened up even more trading opportunities.

"Could the Gresham Ship have been a victim of these difficult waters? "

Trading map

Sailing on the Thames was hazardous. Shipwrecks are evidence of the perils ships faced from tides, storms and shifting sand banks.

Could the Gresham Ship have been a victim of these treacherous waters?