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Historic England Research Records

Blackfriars Ship I

Hob Uid: 405065
Location :
Greater London Authority
City and County of the City of London
Non Civil Parish
Grid Ref : TQ3167080810
Summary : Site where the remains of a Roman cargo vessel were discovered in 1962 during the construction of a riverside wall at Blackfriars in the City of London. She lay between the Blackfriars Road bridge and the railway bridges just to the east, and about 20m south of the then existing embankment wall. The forward half was excavated, the aft section built over. The vessel was carvel-constructed of oak planks, with hazel wood shavings and pine resin as caulking materials, and a stem- and stern-post were both present. The planks were fastened by large iron nails to oak frames - massive floor-timbers in the bottom, and lighter side-frames at the sides. The bottom nails had partly cone-shaped heads hollowed to contain a caulking of thin slivers of hazel in pine resin, and the sides had fully cone-shaped heads similarly caulked. The pointed ends of all nails had been turned over the inboard face of the frames. Between the strakes was a caulking of hazel shavings in a pine resin. The ship did not have a keel in the usually accepted form. Instead she had two thick flat keel-planks which lay side by side with a central seam between them. Dendrochronology and associated artefacts dated the sinking to around AD 150 or slightly later. The construction style has been variously interpreted as native British and Roman, leading in turn to interpretations of her function as a river barge and as a transport/supply vessel of the Classis Britannicae. Her cargo was Kentish ragstone as building material from the Maidstone area for London. Forward of the mast-step in the bottom was an unfinished millstone, either from the Pennine Hills of northern England or, more likely, from the Namur region, Belgium. The manner of loss is believed to have been a collision of sufficient force for the vessel to capsize, since she and her cargo were both found listing to port, after which she foundered.
More information : Blackfriars Bridge, 1962-3 (TQ 31678081):

During the construction of the Blackfriars underpass, the remains of an ancient wooden ship were found in the river mud between Blackfriars Bridge and the railway bridge. One portion was examined at low tide in 1962, and another portion (near the southern end of the vessel) was subsequently enclosed in a coffer dam and could be excavated. This portion was removed to the Guildhall Museum in August, 1963. The ship was a barge-like craft without a keel, probably about 55ft long, carvel-built with planks of varying thickness secured to the massive ribs with huge iron clench-nails. In the mast-step was a copper coin, or as, of Domitian, dated to AD 88-9, which had presumably been put there for luck, as was the common practice in more recent times. A millstone lay in the bows, and a quantity of ragstone was found lying in the bottom of the ship, perhaps ballast, but more probably the remains of a cargo of building material brought from the Medway.

Other objects found in the ship included fragments of sandals and a piece of leather with a design cut to represent a dolphin. (1)(2)(3)

(3) includes an account of the excavations with photographs, excavation and post-excavation recording, reconstruction plans and sections, including a section showing the vessel on the riverbed and the collapse of the sides.

Representative samples of dried fragments of the forward part of the vessel which was excavated, were noted at the time of writing in (3) to be retained by the Museum of London, with surviving frames going to the Shipwreck Heritage Centre, Hastings, the Tower Pageant exhibition, Tower Hill, London, and the Science Museum, London.

The aft section remains in situ on the north or inshore side of the new embankment, and the extreme upper end of the the sternpost is thought to remain on the river bed, south of the embankment wall.

The vessel is compared to the 3rd century Romano-Celtic ship at St. Peter Port, with parallels drawn between the 'forefoot' and illustrations of Romano-Celtic vessels on contemporary coins. Teredo infestation suggested that the vessel had been seagoing at some time during its life.

The date of loss is circumscribed by the votive coin of Domitian, dated to AD 79, found in the vessel, and by the pottery sherds found around the wreck, datable to around AD 150. Dendrochronological analysis suggests a date for felling of the timbers around AD 130 to 175, so it seems likely that the vessel was lost around AD 150 onwards.

The presence of cargo and lack of surrounding Roman-era structure make it unlikely that this vessel was deliberately sunk as the foundation for a structure. Instead, since it was found heeled to port with a stone cargo also lying in that direction, this suggests that the vessel was probably lost in a collision with an object or structure which provided sufficient force to cause her to heel over. She then probably drifted on the current away from the scene of the accident. The position of her bottom at 3.59m below Ordnance Datum corresponds to the riverbed level at the time of loss, suggesting that the vessel was probably lying in 2.6 to 4m of water. Subsequent alluvial deposits helped to break up and crush the remains of the vessel. (3)

Vessel interpreted as a river barge of the 2nd century AD. (4)

An argument made for regarding the vessel in the light of the domestic transport and supply requirements of the Classis Britannicae, and reflecting the introduction of Roman building techniques to Britain. (5)

Dimensions of remains cited as 16m (52ft) long x 6m (20ft) beam, with an account of the wreck and the construction of the replica to go on display at the Tower Pageant. (6)

Vessel interpreted as a sea-going cargo carrier capable of carrying up to 50 tonnes of cargo, with a flat bottom enabling her to be beached, although on her last journey she was on a domestic coasting voyage. (7)

Some remains are on display in the Docks and Diving gallery at the Science Museum, London, as at 2012. (8)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : The Roman city of London
Source details :
Page(s) : 196
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 2
Source : The journal of Roman studies
Source details : D R Wilson & R P Wright: "Roman Britain in 1963: I: Sites Explained", 1964, accessed via http://www.jstor.org/stable/298662 on 20-APR-2012
Page(s) : 168
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 54
Source Number : 3
Source : Ships of the Port of London : first to eleventh centuries AD
Source details :
Page(s) : 33-96
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 3
Source Number : 4
Source : International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Source details : Peter Marsden, "Blackfriars Wreck III: A Preliminary Note", 1972
Page(s) : 130-132
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 1
Source Number : 5
Source : International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Source details : Gustav Milne, "Blackfriars Ship 1: Romano-Celtic, Gallo-Roman, or Classis Britannicae?", 1996
Page(s) : 234-238
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 25
Source Number : 6
Source : English Heritage book of Roman London : urban archaeology in the nation's capital
Source details :
Page(s) : 103-105
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 7
Source : World Wide Web page
Source details : < http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/laarc/catalogue/siteinfo.asp?id=3339&code=GM182 > accessed on 20-APR-2012
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 8
Source : Oral information, correspondence (not archived) or staff comments
Source details : Ex. inf. Mark Dunkley, per e-mail correspondence, on 19-APR-2012: < http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/galleries/docks_and_diving.aspx > accessed on 19-APR-2012
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Built Circa Ad 150
Monument End Date : 160
Monument Start Date : 140
Monument Type : Cargo Vessel, Barge
Evidence : Find, Vessel Structure
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Lost Shortly After Ad 150
Monument End Date : 199
Monument Start Date : 150
Monument Type : Barge, Cargo Vessel
Evidence : Find, Vessel Structure

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : TQ 38 SW 542
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, BLACKFRIARS BRIDGE, PUDDLE DOCK
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1962-01-01
End Date : 1963-12-31