No.57 Three in Clee

Three Wrecks in Humberston/Cleethorpes

In a new departure for Wreck of the Week, I hand over the stage to Hugh Winfield, archaeologist at North East Lincolnshire Regeneration Partnership, who writes this week’s guest blog on the rich wreck archaeology of Cleethorpes.

Over the years Hugh and I have collaborated on an ad-hoc basis on wreck recording in the inter-tidal zone in this area, to mutual enrichment of our records, the North-East Lincolnshire Historic Environment Record and the National Record for the Historic Environment database. Hugh’s work has resulted in the local listing of a specific assemblage of wrecks in the Humberston/Cleethorpes area. Four wrecks are included, three of which are described here, the fourth being buried:

In a small cluster on the south bank of the Humber lie the shipwrecks of three wooden sailing vessels. The remains appeared at the end of the 20th century, along with a fourth wreck that has since disappeared again, and are readily accessible across the firm sands and peaty clays of the Humberston and Cleethorpes foreshore.

When standing at the wrecks, one of which is over a kilometre from dry land, one can’t help but wonder why they appeared and why there aren’t more along a coast that has hundreds of documented losses.

One explanation is that at the end of the 20th century, for unknown reasons, the channel which comes from Tetney Haven swung north, cutting across the sands in front of the Humberston Fitties, reducing sand levels and exposing these three wrecks.

But how did these wrecks end up here in the first place? Were they wrecked on their way to one of the ports, like Grimsby Docks further west, perhaps driven onto the shore during a storm where they stuck in mud, or were they deliberately abandoned and left to decay?

The furthest wreck, number 1000/20/0, is probably the youngest and is only exposed at very low tides. It is recognisable for L-shaped steel reinforcing brackets, part of a larger latticework frame, which stand proud on one side of the wreck.

1000/20/0 in 2012
1000/20/0 in 2012: Taken by Hugh Winfield, © North East Lincolnshire Council

At first glance this seems almost certainly to be a wreck, as it still carries a cargo of chalk boulders, but a nearby collection of similar boulders which appear to be associated with a long demolished sewage outfall puts this in question. Is it possible that the vessel was already at the end of its life, the rickety wooden hull held together by a steel frame? Was it perhaps used as a lighter to carry an excess number of stones for the construction of the outfall, being abandoned once its job was done with the leftover boulders sinking with it? Or was it a heavy cargo vessel, its hull reinforced by a steel frame for safely carrying heavy loads, which was merely a victim of fate?

The most prominent wreck, number 1000/33/0, stands almost completely clear of the sand and mud apart from the keel: in fact it is surprising it doesn’t just float away! With closely spaced and robust ribs, thick keelson and wide belly, it is clearly designed to carry a significant load across the sea. Two mast steps identify it as a brig of some kind, and at a length of 22m it is of considerable size. The wreck shows no obvious sign of damage that would have caused it to be lost, but the fact that its keel is so firmly wedged into the mud that even with the rest of the vessel clear of the sand it does not move, suggests that it may have run aground.


1000/33/0 in 2012
1000/33/0 in 2012 Taken by Hugh Winfield, © North East Lincolnshire Council

The third wreck, number 1000/33/1, is the smallest and is usually only visible as short sections of ribs sticking out of the sand. However, when storms scour the sand off the beach another well-constructed vessel appears, entirely devoid of any metal fittings. This is almost certainly the oldest of the three vessels, and has the strongest indication of accidental loss. Following storms in 2012 a large gap could be seen in the planks and ribs on the port side of the vessel close to the stem post suggesting that it was damage through collision with another object such as a pier or another vessel – of course the origin for the “gap” cannot be known for certain given the decayed nature of the wreck, but it is an interesting possibility.

1000/33/1 in 2012
1000/33/1 in 2012 Taken by Hugh Winfield, © North East Lincolnshire Council

Another possible origin for the gap in the hull of 1000/33/1 is relevant to all three wrecks. Although it appears to have involved steam trawlers rather than wooden hulls, the principle is the same. Recorded in the history of the 19th century steam trawler Magnolia, also lost locally in 1923, is the subsequent scrapping of another vessel called Cedar after it struck the wreck of the Magnolia just a few weeks afterwards. Following the collision the Cedar was moved to Clee Ness, just up the coast from the three wrecks discussed above, in order to be scrapped at low tide. Scrapping of a vessel in this way involved deliberate beaching at high tide, followed by cutting open its side at low tide once the waters had receded from the foreshore in order to easily empty its cargo and salvage any fittings. This would obviously leave a hole in the wreck’s hull similar to that seen on 1000/33/1.

The three wrecks will undoubtedly continue to pose the questions of their construction, use and loss, conjuring thoughts of panicked mariners thrown off their feet, hearing the groan of timbers as their ship shuddered to a halt, driven onto the mud and sand by a sudden storm so close to their destination, or of local enterprise, salvage, and recycling in clearing wreck obstacles.

Many thanks to Hugh for his contribution, which well illustrates the heritage of recent wreck archaeology in the Humber region. Other guest bloggers are also lined up to make an occasional appearance in future editions, but for now Wreck of the Week will be taking a short summer break for a couple of weeks.



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