• ashore-IMG_0303.jpg
  • centre-full-vers2.jpg
  • crab-IMG_0224.jpg
  • microscope-ar-_202.jpg
  • microscope2-ar-_204.jpg
  • surfacing-IMG_0096.jpg
  • survey-IMG_0201.jpg
  • timber-IMG_0175.jpg
  • trenque_041107_8462_horsea_compressed.jpg

Gresham ship project

Researching a Tudor ship from the Thames

Discovery of the Gresham Ship

In 2003, the Port of London Authority (PLA) uncovered part of a ship while clearing the Princes Channel, in the River Thames. Working with the PLA, maritime archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology recorded substantial sections of the vessel, and recovered a number of artefacts associated with it.

The finds included some 40 iron bars, lead ingots, an anchor, Spanish olive jars, organic items such as leather shoes, barrel staves and rope. In addition there were four guns, one of which bore the insignia 'TG' and a grasshopper motif. This is presumably associated with Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), the famous Elizabethan financier and founder of the Royal Exchange. Further confirmation of a C16th-date for the ship came from analysis of dendrochronological samples from timbers from the hull: this suggested a felling date of c. AD 1574.

The surviving sections of the hull were subsequently raised and transported to Horsea near Portsmouth, where they are now lying in a shallow brackish-water lake an environment that which help to preserve them

Clearly this discovery is of great importance to Tudor historians, maritime archaeologists and to all interested in the history of the Port of London and its great river. Consequently a Research Programme has been developed to ensure that the Gresham Ship receives the attention it deserves.

The programme will be a collaboration between the PLA, UCL, Gresham College, the Museum in Docklands, the Museum of London, the Nautical Archaeology Society and the University of Southern Denmark. The PLA has decided to transfer most of the artefacts to University College London on a temporary basis, to form the focus of a five-year study based at the Institute of Archaeology from 2007-2012. The Project will be co-ordinated by a Steering Group chaired by Professor Clive Orton (UCL).


The key elements of the proposed GRESHAM SHIP PROJECT include


A series of reports on technical, analytical, methodological and research themes will be produced, under the general supervision of Dean Sully, who lectures on conservation for archaeology and museums at UCL. This programme will hopefully include collaborative work with other bodies including English Heritage, the Royal Armouries and the British Museum.


The hull remains currently in Horsea Lake, near Portsmouth will become the focus for an underwater survey programme to record the vessel in better visibility and greater safety than was possible in 2003. This work will be co-ordinated by Jens Auer, who lectures in Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southern Denmark, in collaboration with the Nautical Archaeology Society. We also hope to develop underwater heritage trails in the lake, so that more people will be able to share the experience of diving on a Tudor shipwreck.


Gresham College, the City institution founded in 1597 through the will of Thomas Gresham, will be organising two major conferences with an associated lecture series, as part of our research programme. These will be held at the College, in Barnard's Inn, Holborn, and at the Museum in Docklands, at West India Quay. The programme will be co-ordinated by Geoff Pavitt, the Archivist at Gresham College, and the papers presented at these events will be brought together for publication.

The first conference,"the Making of our City: the Elizabethan Port of London" will be held in 2009. This is the Port of London Authority's centenary year, and also the 450th anniversary of the reform of the Tudor Port in 1559, which saw the introduction of the 'Legal Quays' and the building of a new Custom House. It would bring together five or six studies in Tudor maritime history in a major lecture series, followed by a full-day conference on the archaeology of the Tudor Port.

The second programme would be held in 2012, on "Tudor Ships & Shipping". Once again it would incorporate a lecture series by distinguished
historians, followed by a major conference on the archaeological study of C16th shipwrecks. The conference itself would also serve as the launch event for the Gresham Ship Project's major research monograph.


It is proposed that four major publications be produced:

  1. The first report will be an account of the initial discovery by the PLA and study conducted by Wessex Archaeology, in 2003-5. This should appear in April 2008 in the Journal of Post-Medieval Archaeology.
  2. The second report will be the published proceedings of the 2009 lecture series and conference on 'The Making of Our City: the Elizabethan Port of London', and will include a research update on Gresham Ship Project.This should appear by 2010-11.
  3. The third report will be the major monograph bringing together the all the finds studies, hull studies and related research on the vessel. This would be scheduled to appear in 2012.
  4. The final report will be the published proceedings of the 2012 conference on 'Tudor Ships & Shipping' and the associated lecture series.

The publication programme will be managed by Gustav Milne, who lectures in the Archaeology of London at UCL.


UCL students from the Museum Studies course will help promote the project through initiatives such as temporary exhibitions set up in the Museum of Docklands to support the conference programme and the development of a pioneering underwater heritage trail in Horsea Lake, where the remains of the Gresham Ship now lie.


Auer, J & Firth, A (forthcoming) "The Gresham Ship: an interim report on a sixteenth century wreck from Princes Channel, Thames Estuary",  Journal of Post-Medieval Archaeology

Gustav Milne and Dean Sully
UCL Institute of Archaeology
February 2008

Bookmark and Share