No.72: The Acorn

To end the year, today’s post showcases several of the main themes of 2014 in maritime archaeology: first, early 2014 was exceptionally stormy, with numerous reports of wrecks having been exposed in different locations around the UK as storms scoured sand off beaches. Many members of the public gave English Heritage fantastic reports of shipwreck material they had seen.

One such report was from Sutton-on-Sea, Lincolnshire. It gives me great pleasure today to introduce as my guest blogger this week Jordan Havell, who is 13. After seeing some timbers on the shore this year, he has been researching the story behind one of the wrecks in his local area, the Acorn, which was a barque laden with ice when she struck in Lynn Roads in 1898.

Jordan tells the story of her origins: 

I got very interested in this shipwreck, amongst others, while doing a local history project. I am 13 years old and home educated.

The Acorn was built in 1855 in Dundee, County of Forfar, Scotland. The register date is recorded as 05/03/1855, with the master’s name shown as Peter Anderson, in the hands of Andrew Low for the Tay Ship Building Company, dated 28/02/1855. The employment of the Surveying Officer, Joseph Northmore, is recorded as a tide surveyor. These details come from the Dundee Archives, for whose help I was very grateful.

The ship had one and a half poop decks, 3 masts and her length is recorded as 119 feet. She was a barque which had one gallery and a full female figurehead. The framework and planking were made of wood.

The subscribing owners were named as Peter Anderson – Master Mariner – 16 shares. The manufacturers are recorded as Matthew Low and John Morrison, both having 12 shares. It is noted there were 2 other owners.

Image courtesy of Dundee City Archives.
Original register entry for the Acorn, 1855. Image courtesy of Dundee City Archives.

The Acorn appears in various articles in Dundee newspapers from 1856 to 1873. By 1871 her master is listed as George Wilson. On the records from this time there are numerous notes, including a query shown in 1873 regarding conversions to cubic metres weight. In 1873 the ship is registered under the port of Grimsby. The Acorn was believed to have been carrying ice between Norway and Grimsby for use by the Grimsby Ice Company in the fishing industry.

It appears she ended her days on the beach at Sutton-on-Sea in 1901 and is recorded under the English Heritage wreck report 928347 and account of wreck site 1484623. I am very grateful to Serena Cant and her colleagues who gave me help with this project.

I am hoping to find out about more shipwrecks along this coast over time.


Many thanks to Jordan for his essay, which I am delighted to include today. I think an ice barque is an appropriate seasonal theme on which to end the year! For more on Norwegian ice barques, have a look at a past entry here.

The sharp-eyed among you, like Jordan, will have spotted that she struck a sandbank in the Wash in 1898, but ended up further north on the Lincolnshire coast in 1901. I did some research myself and found that the vessel was recovered in 1898, when she was sold for £105. (1) This was very typical. For the Acorn‘s owners, in far-away Sandefjord, it would have been much more economical to cut their losses by selling the vessel, rather than try to get her repaired at their own cost.

This, I suspect, is how she eventually ended up at Sutton-on-Sea in what has proven to be a ship graveyard, another theme which has emerged strongly in maritime archaeology over the last few years. These tend to be groups of vessels beyond economical repair, drawn up for breaking and then perhaps abandoned. The Acorn was one of six vessels which were recorded by partial excavation along this stretch of beach in 1997. (2)

I think there is plenty more for us to find out – what happened to the Acorn between 1898 and 1901, and what is the story of the other ships which may still remain under the sand at Sutton-on-Sea and elsewhere in the locality? Over to you, Jordan! I hope you will continue to be as fascinated by shipwreck archaeology as we are.

Wreck of post-medieval or early modern fishing vessel, Mablethorpe, 2007, first recorded 1997. Image courtesy of John Buglass.
Wreck of unidentified post-medieval or early modern fishing vessel, Mablethorpe, 2007, first recorded 1997. Image courtesy of John Buglass.

(1) Hull Daily Mail, 13 April 1898, No.3,902, p4

(2) Buglass, J 1997: The remains of six sailing ships and other archaeological features in the inter-tidal zone between Sutton-on-Sea and Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire; Buglass, J and Brigham, T 2008: Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire: Donna Nook to Gibraltar Point, Humber Archaeology Report No.236

No.71: Remember Scarborough!

Diary of the War No.5

Scarborough Castle from the air
Scarborough Castle from the air:  N061078, © English Heritage Picture Library

One hundred years ago this week three German warships loomed out of the North Sea in the early morning of 16 December 1914, and commenced shelling Scarborough, Whitby, and Hartlepool. Whitby Abbey was struck by the light cruiser Kolberg, causing considerable damage, and Scarborough Castle by the battle cruisers Derfflinger and Von der Tann. Civilians going about their ordinary morning business were also killed in this, the first attack on English soil of the First World War.

Whitby Abbey, West Front as seen from the east. This window was badly damaged in the shelling of 1914.  N080802 © English Heritage Photo Library
Whitby Abbey, West Front as seen from the east. This window was badly damaged in the shelling of 1914. N080802 © English Heritage Photo Library

Local residents and heritage sites were not the only victims of the raid, which screened the Kolberg‘s true objective of laying a minefield. That minefield claimed three victims the same day: the British collier Elterwater, bound from the Tyne for London, which sank in three minutes, three miles east of Scarborough itself; the Norwegian collier Vaaren, bound with Tyne coal for Palermo; and the British cargo vessel Princess Olga, laden with a general cargo, from Liverpool for Aberdeen. As the days and weeks went by, Kolberg‘s mines claimed further victims.

The mines off the Yorkshire coast were continually replenished during the war, designed to catch victims such as the Elterwater and Vaaren, and to strike at the coal trade on which Britain depended so heavily for heating, lighting, and export. The North Sea off the Yorkshire coast became a field of death and destruction, with the fishermen of Grimsby and Hull in the front line, manning the requisitioned trawlers turned minesweepers: as fast as they swept, more mines were laid, and as fast as they were laid, they were swept again.

Remember Scarborough! became the slogan of a recruitment poster. One hundred years on, we remember not only Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool, but also the deadly Scarborough minefield.

This is the first of a Christmas double bill: there will be another Wreck of the Week on Monday.

No.70 Wreck on the Goodwin Sands

The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Bequest of Miss Alice Tully, 1996.67. Photography by Steven A. Crossot, 2014.
Wreck on the Goodwin Sands, J M W Turner. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Bequest of Miss Alice Tully, 1996.67. Photography by Steven A. Crossot, 2014.

This week’s wreck is a work of art and today I’d like to invite ‘audience participation’ focusing on wreck processes.

Wreck on the Goodwin Sands is currently on view at Tate Britain’s Late Turner exhibition as an excellent example of Turner’s late style, loose and impressionistic, yet amazingly precise in every detail. We see the skeleton of a wreck sitting upon the sands at low tide, with part of the sands exposed in streaks of yellow. Economical brushstrokes suggest the ribs of a vessel bowing out towards port and starboard, substantially more intact on both sides towards the middle and left of the painting, less so on the right, where one side is missing. A long downward stroke suggests a partially detached stem-post, with the ribs behind somewhat embedded in the exposed sand. Turner has pencilled some of his bleak poetry in lines only partially legible on the fallacy of hope, clearly identifying the wreck as one on the Goodwins. The view is from seaward of the Sands looking towards the white streak representing the famous cliffs of the Dover area.

My question this week is – what do you think happened to the ship Turner has shown here? Is it potential evidence for a wreck event?

Here are some potential clues: 

The Goodwin Sands were named as the ‘Great Ship Swallower’ as early as the 16th century, which has historically been characteristic of many of our designated wrecks in the vicinity, the Stirling Castle perhaps being the most dramatic of all, being found in a remarkably intact state, despite striking the sands in the ‘Great Storm’ of 1703.

There are other recorded wrecks, such as the Ogle Castle, an East Indiaman lost in 1825, where the ship disintegrated so comprehensively that much of her cargo was picked up in succeeding days as far afield as the Netherlands and Belgium.

Even those ships which floated off were often so badly damaged that they sank in deep water nearby, as happened with the Shepherdess in 1844.

Turner obsessively sketched what he saw and reused many sketches as details in paintings several years or decades later.

We have 24 wrecks recorded on the Goodwin Sands for the period 1840-1849, none for 1845 – the paper being characteristic of Turner’s sketchbooks for 1845. There is the possibility of some under-reporting, of course. Could it represent a wreck event we have not yet recorded?

Note the vertical brushstrokes suggesting ribs, but little in the way of horizontal brushstrokes to suggest the sides of the ship.

Responses will be collated and examined in a post in the New Year.