Protecting historic wrecks

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Two historic wreck sites have recently been granted protected status: UC-70, a German Imperial submarine, was bombed off Whitby in 1918 (the control room is shown).

Two shipwreck sites spanning some 300 years and lying 280 miles apart have been safeguarded under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.

Off Chesil Beach in Dorset, the remains of two vessels 200m apart were found by divers from the Weymouth-based Shipwreck Project in 2010. Thought to be wooden merchant vessels, they held 15 cast-iron English cannon, including 24 23-pounders cast between 1650 and 1725, and while sediment has prohibited close examination, the wrecks have been provisionally identified as the Dutch West Indian De Hoop, stranded at Chesil Cove in 1749, and the British cargo vessel Squirral, which was lost on Chesil Beach in 1750.

The second, rather more recent, wreck site to be accorded protected status is home to a First World War German submarine lying off Whitby. Commissioned in 1916, the German Imperial Navy UC-70 minelayer carried out ten patrols and sank 40 ships before it was bombed by the destroyer HMS Ouse on 28 August 1918. The submarine’s entire crew lost their lives, and human remains have been observed through a hole in the craft’s stern – given their location, the bones probably belong to a torpedo man, stoker, or machinist, Historic England suggests.

A number of 17th- and 18th-century cannons were found at a site off Chesil Beach in Dorset.

More enigmatic was the discovery of a Chinese plate dating from the reign of the Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722), which had previously been recovered from the wreck. As there was a German naval base at Tsingtao, it has been suggested that this may have been a crewman’s souvenir.

‘These wrecks are separated by 280 miles and almost 300 years, but both comprise important elements of our maritime heritage,’ said Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England. There are currently 53 protected wreck sites off the coast of England. In addition to the newly granted status of the Chesil Beach and UC-70 sites, two already-protected wrecks, HMS Colossus (off the Isles of Scilly) and the warship Hazardous (Bracklesham Bay, West Sussex) have recently had their protection areas increased due to the discovery of archaeological material outside the originally designated zones.

A newly discovered wreck off Tankerton, near Whitstable in north Kent, is also under investigation by Historic England. There, local volunteers have found the lower timbers of an oak-built boat which has been dendrochronologically dated to c.AD 1200-1800. Further details on the Chesil Beach site and UC-70 can be found on the National Heritage List for England; visit and type in their list entry numbers (1433972 and 1446103 respectively). Guidance on protecting shipwrecks can be found at

Images: Crown Copyright

Text by Gregory Morton

This article was published in CA 332

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