13th century shipwreck found off Dorset coast given protected status

Credit: Bournemouth University

A medieval shipwreck lying off the coast of Dorset has been granted the highest level of legal protection.

Known as the "Mortar wreck", the 13th century vessel was discovered in the waters off Poole Bay.

It was given its name because of the mortar bowls used for grinding grain that were among the first artefacts found on the site.

The timber used to build the ship was studied and found to date between 1242 and 1265, during the reign of King Henry III.

There are no other known wrecks of seagoing ships from the 11th to the 14th century in English waters, although two bronze-age wrecks have been discovered in Devon and Kent.

Credit: Bournemouth University

As well as the mortars, two pristine pre-carved gravestones made from Purbeck stone were found on the site, both featuring a different gothic design.

One depicts a wheel headed cross and the other has a splayed arm cross, both of which were common 13th century styles.

These types of gravestones were a mark of high status and are found in churchyards across the south coast.

Also found was large cauldron for cooking soup, and a smaller cauldron for heating water.

Credit: Bournemouth University

The wreck was first discovered by Trevor Small, a local diver.

Mr Small, who has 30 years experience diving Dorset's waters, said: "I was born into a seafaring family. I've skippered thousands of sea miles looking for shipwrecks from my home port of Poole."

"In summer 2020, I discovered what I believed to be an undetected wreck site. Recent storms had revealed something unknown on the seabed. I was granted permission to dive the wreck."

"The rest is history. I've found one of the oldest shipwrecks in England. It is not known where the vessel was headed or how it came to grief, but Mr Small, Historic England and a team of archaeologists from Bournemouth University continue to investigate the wreck."

Maritime archaeologist Tom Cousins, who is part of the team at Bournemouth University studying the wreck, said: "Very few 750-year-old ships remain for us to be able to see today and so we are extremely lucky to have discovered an example as rare as this, and in such good condition."

"A combination of low-oxygenated water, sand and stones has helped preserve one side of the ship, and the hull is clearly visible."

Credit: Bournemouth University

Two other two vessels found off the Isle of Wight have also been designated protected wreck sites.

A 16th century Shingles Bank Wreck and 17th century Shingles Bank Wreck, were found by divers Martin Pritchard and Dave Fox in 2020.

Surviving wrecks dating pre-1700 is extremely rare, Historic England said, as is finding previously unrecorded wrecks in the Solent, which is a busy shipping route.