One hull of a find: rare medieval shipwreck is given special status

The remains of a medieval ship made from trees felled more than 750 years ago is one of three extremely rare shipwrecks to be granted the highest level of protection by Secretary of State for Culture Nadine Dorries on the advice of Historic England.
The 13th century Mortar Wreck – discovered in Poole Bay with its cargo of gothic Purbeck stone gravestones – is the oldest known protected wreck in English waters where hull remains can be seen. Tree ring dating of the wreck indicates the timbers used to construct the hull are from Irish oak trees felled between 1242 and 1265, during the reign of King Henry III.
The wreck was discovered by Trevor Small, who has operated diving charters from Poole in Dorset for the past 30 years.
The survival of 13th-century vessels is extremely rare, and prior to this discovery there were no known wrecks of seagoing ships from the 11th to the 14th century in English waters.
Its status means divers who want to explore the wreck will need a special licence administered by Historic England on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Their artefacts are protected and their condition is carefully monitored.
Finds recovered from the Mortar Wreck include two Purbeck stone gravestone slabs from Dorset, with two different gothic designs. They are in immaculate condition and the chisel marks can still be seen.
These gravestones are found in church graveyards across the south coast. They are significant because they were pre-carved and are not blank slabs, which suggests a demand for highly skilled stonemasons and their products.
The gravestone slabs would have either been carved at the quarries or at a workshop and are unpolished. One of the slabs features a wheel-headed cross, an early 13th century style, while the other features a splayed arm cross, common in the mid-13th century.
Several Purbeck stone mortars used by millers to grind grains into flour have also been recovered.
Other finds include a large cauldron for cooking soup, a smaller cauldron, which would have once had a long handle for heating water, and mugs covered in concretion – a hard solid mass which forms over underwater objects over time.
One theory is the ship may have been lost on its way out from the Dorset coast. Its intended destination is unknown.
Historic England has been working closely with Bournemouth University and Mr Small to investigate the wreck.
Irish oak was widely exported for shipbuilding during the Medieval period and Purbeck marble gravestone slabs were widely used across the south of England and exported to Ireland and the continent.
This wreck reveals the rich web of maritime trade and contacts in the Channel and Irish Sea in this period.
Mr Small said: “I was born into a seafaring family. I’ve skippered thousands of sea miles looking for shipwrecks from my home port of Poole.
“In summer 2020, I discovered what I believed to be an undetected wreck site. Recent storms had revealed something unknown on the seabed.
“I was granted permission to dive the wreck. The rest is history!
“I’ve found one of the oldest shipwrecks in England.”
The other two exceptionally well-preserved shipwrecks which have been designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 are the 16th century Shingles Bank Wreck NW96 and 17th century Shingles Bank Wreck NW68.
Both of them were discovered off the Needles Channel, Isle of Wight.

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