The Northumberland

The Northumberland, a third-rate man-of-war, was lost with all hands during the Great storm of 26-27 November 1703 on the Goodwin Sands – famously known as ‘the ship swallower’. She was rediscovered in 1980 by local divers following the location of her sister ship, the Stirling Castle. Since then, the primary concern has been to record exposed structural remains, ordnance and artefacts, and interpret the wreck formation of the site. Much of this work has been conducted by maritime archaeologist Bob Peacock and his team from SeaDive. Pascoe Archaeology has been working and diving with Bob since 2008.

The overall character of the site

The wreck of the Northumberland is a complex site and its appearance frequently changes with the shifting sands. Structure, ordnance and artefacts periodically emerge and can be reburied on a seasonal and even a daily basis. The site is c. 50m long by 20m wide. orinetated on a SE/NW axis, consisting of a mound that rises from a depth of 20m to 15m at the highest point. There is a concentration of guns scattered along the northern side of the site and numerous areas of periodically exposed coherent structure, fragile organic material and other ships artefacts (Pascoe and Peacock 2015, 134).

The south-eastern end of the site is believed to be the forward part of the ship because of the artefacts found in this area. Along the centre line of this part of the wreck is a large concretion thought to be one of the ship’s shot lockers. When sand levels are reduced this concretion can stand up to 3m high and 4 m wide. The height of the concretion deflects the flow of the current causing scouring to the wreck. The scouring has exposed two sections of structure: on the south side, a section of the lower hull, consisting of the keel, floor timbers, first futtocks and inner and outer planking; and, directly forward of the concretion, a large section of exposed planking with evidence of frames beneath, which is thought to be from the upper parts of the ship (Pascoe and Peacock 2015,134).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Artefacts recovered

The ship’s bell

During the early investigations of the site the ship’s bell was recovered. The bell is marked with the date 1701, below which is the broad arrow mark. The bell of the Stirling Castle was also dated 1701 and reveals both ship’s bells were manufactured before the finish dates of their refits in 1702. The bell would have been located in the belfry situated at the break of the forecastle deck above the cook room (Pascoe and Peacock 2015,141).


The bell of the Northumberland

A copper kettle

A large copper kettle was also recovered during the early investigations and is on display with the bell at Ramsgate Maritime Museum. There would have been two on board located in the cook room, which according to the building contract of a similar ship, the Yarmouth, was situated on the centre-line of the ship towards the aft end of the forecastle. These kettles were used to cook the officer’s and crew’s daily meals (Pascoe and Peacock 2015, 140).


Copper kettle from the Northumberland at Ramsgate Maritime Museum.

A chock

Chocks are pieces of timber used to join framing timbers by plugging the gaps between the heels and heads of the timbers. They were irregular in shape and custom made to fit the gaps between frames. The chock below is likely to have filled the gap between a floor timber and a second futtock (Pascoe and Peacock 2015, 137).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A chain pump

Third-rate ships were fitted with fitted with two chain pumps. They were located amidships just behind the main mast. The construction of the pump consisted of a pump tube, made of elm or oak. The bottom end of the pumps were located in the well in the bottom of the ship either side of the keelson. The pump ran vertically up from the well, through the hold and orlop, and onto the gundeck. A continuous chain loop, with leather valves located every few feet, would pass up through the tube drawing water from the bilges. The water would then be discharged back out into the sea via the dales and scuppers on the gundeck (see images below).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

CT scan of the recovered chain pump

In 2011 English Heritage funded a project to research and record the chain pump. The pump was taken to the u-VIS CT imaging Centre at the University of Southampton to be CT scanned. The results produced a 3D reconstruction of the pump and revealed all the individual components of the pump that were hidden by thick layers of concretion (see 3D animations below (Pascoe et al 2015).

Pascoe, D., Mavrogordato, M. and Middleton, A. (2015). A chain pump recovered from the wreck of the warship Northumberland. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 44.1, 145-159 DOI:10.1111/1095-9270.12075

Pascoe, D. and Peacock, B. (2015). The wreck of the warship Northumberland on the Goodwin Sands, 1703: an interim report. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 44.1,132-144 DOI: 10.1111/1095-9270.12074

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s