HeritageGateway - Home
Site Map
Text size: A A A
You are here: Home > > > > Devon & Dartmoor HER Result
Devon & Dartmoor HERPrintable version | About Devon & Dartmoor HER | Visit Devon & Dartmoor HER online...

See important guidance on the use of this record.

If you have any comments or new information about this record, please email us.

HER Number:MDV63741
Name:Wreck off Northam Burrows


Wooden wreck visible above the clay and sand at low tides. It is probably that of a Severn Trow, a small merchant ship working locally around the Bristol channel coast aroub 200 years ago. The angle of the wreck suggests that it was driven ashore during a storm.


Grid Reference:SS 433 299
Map Sheet:SS42NW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishNortham
Ecclesiastical ParishNORTHAM

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS42NW/190

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • WRECK (Wrecked, XVIII - 1701 AD to 1800 AD (Between))

Full description

Heal, S. V. E., 1990, Westward Ho! Foreshore Observation March/April 1990, Photos (Un-published). SDV9558.

Wooden wreck visible above the clay and sand at low tides. Ribs, some strakes, ceilings, stem and stern posts are protruding. Heavy timber construction joined with trenails.

Collings, A. G. + Manning, P. T. + Valentin, J., 2007, The North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Phase 1. Archaeological Survey. Summary Report, No. 319 (Report - Assessment). SDV339712.

Historic England, 2016, Wreck at Northam Burrows, Devon (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV359752.

In 2012, Wessex Archaeology (acting in their capacity as the Government's archaeological contractor)
identified a number of vessels for further assessment as part of the strategic Pre-1840 Ships and Boats
Project, of which this wreck site (known as the wreck at Northam Burrows, and numbered as wreck WA
No.254 by Wessex Archaeology) was one.

The site lies in the inter-tidal zone at Northam Burrows and has been regularly exposed over decades,
similarly to the nearby site at Westward Ho! but less frequently. The storms of early 2014, which similarly exposed other foreshore sites elsewhere, also uncovered this wreck. Although it has covered at intervals since then, it has also been visible in June 2015 and January to March 2016.

The visible portion of the site consists of one side of a vessel with a length of approximately 15.25 - 17m fully exposed, with a stem- or stern-post (the end timbers of a vessel) and part of its other side also exposed. Observations on the site suggest that the vessel lies on its side, with potential for additional timber structure to survive below the existing sand cover.

The wreck is believed to be that of a small cargo vessel of coasting type, probably a Severn trow (a type of cargo boat found in the past on the rivers Severn and Wye, in use between the mid 18th and late 19th
centuries, and distinctive for their flat hull and dis-mountable mast to allow the vessels to travel under inland bridges). From its location some 238m west of the seaward edge of the pebble ridge at Northam Burrows, and relative to the nearby site at Westward Ho!, with which it shares many common features, this site is believed to have the potential to date as far back as the mid 18th century in build, and to have been lost in the late 18th to early 19th centuries.

The site lies in the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Northam Burrows Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the Bideford to Foreland Point Marine Conservation Zone.

Further archaeological and documentary evidence is required in order to make any definitive claims regarding the identity of the wreck.

The remains of the wreck of Northam Burrows are recommended for scheduling for the following principal reasons:
The vessel is likely to have been built and lost within the period 1750 to 1830 from evidence of its
construction as a vernacular type fastened entirely with treenails (timber hull fastenings), lagging behind technological developments such as the adoption of copper fastenings and/or sheathing in larger vessels of this period.

Although the wreck is regularly uncovered, occasionally it has been revealed to an extent sufficient to
determine that it has the distinctive flat keel (the main supporting frame of a vessel) indicative of a Severn trow. Its dimensions at its maximum uncovered extent of 17m long by 5m wide are consistent with this identification. The form and date are contemporary with the development of the trow during the Industrial Revolution into a seagoing vessel capable of navigating well beyond its traditional Upper Severn range. The known remains of vessels for this period are under-represented in comparison with contemporary documented losses, which amount to almost one-third of all recorded losses in English waters. Naval and significant mercantile vessels dominate the 40 known contemporary wreck sites. Besides examples of naval vessels, preserved vessels exhibit a diversity of types not captured in the archaeological record, including a coasting vessel from a different region, the Thames estuary.

Among designated wreck sites the closest parallels are the Mersey flat Daresbury at Sutton, Cheshire
(1415793), and two North-East coast colliers at Bamburgh, Northumberland (1418570) and Seaton Carew,
Hartlepool, County Durham (1000077). Like these vessels, the Northam Burrows wreck is representative of a formerly common coasting type not otherwise surviving in the archaeological record, and similarly
characteristic of its trading area in both its physical form and of its location of loss. The only surviving vessel of this type in the National Register of Historic Vessels is the Spry of c. 1894, now on display in Blists Hill, Ironbridge, Shropshire. The Northam Burrows site is therefore rare, not only in type, form, and age, but also in marking the western extent of the trow’s seagoing range and in being lost in a classical wrecking process (i.e. during a storm of similar environmental event), rather than through abandonment as a hulk. Further, the survival of two stranded vessels is an unusual manifestation in a beach context, since such groupings of vessels that survive are normally found in rivers or estuaries and formed by hulking (deliberate abandonment and stripping). not in wreck contexts such as these, which lends the site significant group value with the Sally, nearby.

The wreck has been uncovered on a number of occasions in the last three decades and has been well
documented archaeologically and in photographs since that time, including visits by Historic England in 2015 and by the local Conservation Officer in 2016. It is recorded by the Hydrographic Office and is consistently described as having a length of between 15.25m and 17m, depending on the extent of sand erosion, with a beam of between 4 and 5m. An exact position for the vessel has been provided by GPS, centred on SS43271 29956.

The exposed timbers are legible as a coherent hull structure, while the depth to which the vessel is buried suggests significant potential for further surviving hull structure below the current beach level.

There is strong potential for archaeological investigation of the structure to reveal more of its build, use, loss and identity; also for additional documentary research into the vessel's name and history.
Additionally, a long service life is characteristic of vernacular coasting vessels of this type, suggesting that the vessel has potential to have been constructed towards the beginning of the suggested date range, and likewise wrecked towards the latter end of the suggested period. It therefore has potential to inform on a traditional trading route characteristic of the Bristol Channel at a key period in the evolution of the trow during the Industrial Revolution.

The wreck of this mid 18th to early 19th century sailing vessel is recommended for scheduling for the
following principal reasons:
Rarity: late 18th century shipwreck sites are rare and under-represented by comparison with the
documentary record, in particular those of smaller vessels of the coasting type like this wreck;

Survival: despite the effects of erosion, the vessel and manner of loss are legible in the surviving remains, with what is clearly a shipwreck not deliberate abandonment. The vessel is better preserved in this context than much later examples of the same type in riverine locations;

Potential: the site has considerable potential for providing an insight into mid to late 18th century vessel construction and for illuminating the development of West Country coasting vessels;

Group value: the vessel has group value with the nearby wreck at Westward Ho!, with which it is likely to be a close contemporary, and potentially lost at the same time;

Historic: mercantile vessels of local type were a highly significant part of England's domestic merchant fleet during the Industrial Revolution, existing (although not surviving) in large numbers engaged in small-scale trade around the coastline, especially in relation to industries such as the coal, stone and other extractive minerals trade.

Historic England, 2017, Three historic shipwrecks given protection, 9 (Article in Serial). SDV363851.

A wreck on the sands at Northam Burrows which has recently been given statutory protection by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The wreck is probably that of a Severn Trow, a small merchant ship working locally around the Bristol channel coast around 200 years ago. The angle of the wreck suggests that it was driven ashore during a storm.

Historic England, 2020, National Heritage List for England, 1432949 (National Heritage List for England). SDV363414.

Wreck off Northam Burrows. The wreck of a wooden sailing vessel, likely to be a Severn trow (a locally distinctive coastal sailing vessel of south-west England), lost off Northam Burrows between the mid 18th to early 19th centuries. See listing description for full details.
Date first listed: 11th August 2016

Sources / Further Reading

SDV339712Report - Assessment: Collings, A. G. + Manning, P. T. + Valentin, J.. 2007. The North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Phase 1. Archaeological Survey. Summary Report. Exeter Archaeology Report. 06.22 (rev.1). A4 Stapled + Digital. No. 319.
SDV359752List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Historic England. 2016. Wreck at Northam Burrows, Devon. Addition to Schedule. Digital.
SDV363414National Heritage List for England: Historic England. 2020. National Heritage List for England. Digital. 1432949.
SDV363851Article in Serial: Historic England. 2017. Three historic shipwrecks given protection. Devon Archaeological Society Newsletter.. 126. A4 Stapled + Digital. 9.
SDV9558Un-published: Heal, S. V. E.. 1990. Westward Ho! Foreshore Observation March/April 1990. A4 Stapled + Digital. Photos.

Associated Monuments: none recorded

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Sep 23 2020 12:56PM