The remains of a substantial oak-built sailing vessel, lying parallel to the beach in the inter-tidal zone on Camber Sands, near Rye was scheduled last week on July 13 for protection under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
Following an alert raised by a local Camber resident, a site visit was made by Historic England in October 2016. The exposed remains were measured as being 47.2m long by 9.5m wide. The width and thickness of the timbers suggest it was a heavily built ship. Interestingly, some of the timbers are of North American origin, showing that the vessel was partially constructed with or repaired using North American oak. It is not yet known how much depth of the vessel still lies buried.
There are no National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) or local Historic Environment Record (HER) records for such a large wreck site, suggesting that it has not been previously exposed to the extent that it was in late 2016.
An examination of records held in the NRHE indicates that the brig (a two-masted square-rigged ship) Avon might be a candidate for the Camber Sands wreck. The Avon is reported to have ‘stranded and drifted alongshore to the east side of Rye Harbour, and received considerable damage’ in August 1852 en route from Le Havre with a cargo of timber. Brigs were fast and manoeuvrable and used as both naval warships and merchant vessels.
Dendrochronological analysis has proved inconclusive on this occasion in spite of the comparison of timber samples with chronologies from the British Isles, elsewhere in Europe and North America. While the Avon is recorded as being built in Nova Scotia in 1843, it is not yet clear whether this comprises the building of an original vessel, the repair of an older vessel or the re-use of earlier timbers. Further dendrochronological sampling and analysis, coupled with archival research may aid conclusive identification of the wreck.
A spokesman for Historic England said: “The discovery of the wreck has the potential to further our understanding of the timber used in shipbuilding and repairs in eastern North America. As it may have been built in North America it could answer questions about transatlantic timber trade in the 19th century.”
The listing is made simultaneously with that of another vessel at Tankerton beach, Whitstable, Kent, believed to date from Tudor times. Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, said the two ships were very different but equally fascinating. “Many of the ships that Historic England protects are accessible only to divers but when the sands shift and the tide is right, visitors to these beaches in Kent and Sussex can catch a glimpse of these incredible wrecks.”
Source: Historic England
Photo: Historic England