The ship
Merchant life

The Gresham Ship wreck was discovered by chance during dredging operations in the Thames estuary. Impressive sections of the hull structure were recovered, as well as a large number of smaller objects. The surviving sections of the hull now lie in Horsea Lake, near Portsmouth.


The Gresham Ship site was mapped and measured immediately upon discovery.

Poor visibility and strong currents made this very problematic. Tape measures were swept away by the tide or ripped apart by the current.

Based on the divers' observations and measurements, a plan could be drawn more easily once the timbers were raised from the sea bed.

Diver preparing to work

Two airlifts were used to remove sediment from around the wreck so that objects could be recovered. Small finds were sealed in containers underwater and lifted onto land in a cage.

Once removed, objects were stripped of sediment, drawn and photographed at the site. They are currently undergoing conservation treatment at UCL, Institute of Archaeology and English Heritage at Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth.

Salvage teams sometimes decide to leave shipwrecks on the sea bed. This can be due to a lack of funding for conservation treatments. Underwater the wreck can survive for much longer and at less expense.

With these issues in mind, do you think shipwrecks should be left undisturbed?

"Do you think shipwrecks should be left undisturbed?"

Recording the wreck

Protection of underwater heritage sites

The Gresham Ship wreck is a typical example of a site studied by maritime archaeologists. Maritime archaeology is the study of the cultural remains of our activities on the sea.

Years of technical developments in this field, such as the invention of diving gear in the 19th century, have made the recovery of the Gresham Ship possible.

Current regulations for maritime archaeology in Britain have not been updated for many years. Legislation includes the Protection of Wrecks Act, 1973, which prevents looting of wreck sites and the National Heritage Act, 2002, which extends the responsibilities of English Heritage by defining wrecks as ancient monuments.

The need for further legislation is important as underwater ruins become easier to access. Wreck sites need to be protected from treasure hunters, dredging and trawl fishing.

Lifting the wreck

"The UK will not benefit as the government decided not to vote"

In January 2009, the UNESCO convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage produced a set of regulations for in situ management and preservation. This legislation, which aims to protect against threats such as commercial exploitation, will not benefit the UK however, as the government decided not to pass it.