Divers begin £70,000 quest to salvage treasure from ship mysteriously blown up 350 years ago off Southend coast

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  • HMS London sank in 1665 after mysterious explosion off the coast of Essex
  • Historic vessel discovered in 2005 but it was never fully explored by divers
  • English Heritage is now covering the cost of a new salvage operation
  • Experts hope the mission will uncover more about Britain’s seafaring past

Charitable Trust Cotswold Archaeology will salvage the ship’s artifacts from the rapidly deteriorating vessel and everything they bring to shore will eventually go on display at the Southend Museum, Essex.

The excavations began this week, with more dives planned for the coming months.

English Heritage archaeologist Mark Dunkley said: ‘We are hoping to recover some rare and well-preserved items which will provide a great insight into the English Navy during an unsettled time when Britain was emerging as a global power.

The recovery and display of vulnerable artifacts will aid our understanding of life on board ship in the late 17th century and enable us to remove the wreck from our Heritage at Risk Register.’

The wreck is about a mile from the end of Southend’s famous pier and lies between eight to 12 metres deep, depending on the tides.

The cost of the excavations will be covered by English Heritage’s heritage at risk budget, as it feared the artifacts on board could be lost forever if the wreckage continues to break up.

The ship was discovered in 2005 by contractors surveying the estuary for the Port of London Authority.

The ship was immediately placed on English Heritage’s at risk register as its fragile archaeological remains were being exposed by movement on the seabed.

Clare Hunt, of Southend Council’s Museums Service, said: ‘This hidden wreck lies just off Southend Pier, which is visited by thousands each year, yet the wreck remains largely unknown.’

She added: ‘It’s part of our local as well as our national history and we’re inviting local people to get involved in recording these ship finds.’

Fishmonger Steve Ellis, who is an experienced diver, was part of a team who won the right to dive to wreckage in 2011.

He said: ‘Although the underwater dive conditions are difficult with limited visibility, we are looking forward to bringing up some exciting finds.’

Exploratory dives suggest artefacts such as cooking utensils, ship fixtures, an anchor cable and even cannon balls may be found – although Mr Ellis admitted diving conditions may be tough.

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