Following the momentous discovery of a royal ship off the Norfolk coast, UEA researchers are fundraising to bring together leading historians to discuss their findings as part of the University’s new Gloucester Project.
The Gloucester was found by brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell in 2007 but has been a closely guarded secret until now. The seabed near Great Yarmouth is rich in wrecks of German U-boats and 18th-century warships that were caught by the shallow sandbanks. This find, however, is far more unusual.
This is the only surviving example of a third-rate Cromwellian warship, which lay hidden on the seabed for 325 years. The Barnwell brothers successfully located its wreckage after a search spanning 5000 nautical miles, when they uncovered a battery of cannon on the seabed.
Disaster on the seas
Contemporary accounts and paintings told of the catastrophe that befell the Gloucester but, until now, its precise location and the stories of many of those onboard were lost to the sea.
James Stuart, the future King James II was lucky to escape the ship, which ran aground and sank in 1682. After a disagreement on the best course through notoriously treacherous waters, James (then Duke of York and High Admiral of the Navy) ‘pulled rank’ which disastrous repercussions on 5th May , 1682. While the heir to the throne was successfully rescued, his decision proved fatal for between 150-200 souls on board who lost their lives when the Gloucester hit the Leman and Ower sandbanks.
An undisturbed treasure trove
A surfeit of items recovered from the seabed stand to answer many questions about 17th-century life.
Divers have rescued spectacles in a decorative case, the ship’s bell, a jar of ointment, navigational instruments, women’s clothes and many wine bottles still with corks intact.
Excitingly, there may be unopened chests still to be recovered from the wreckage, each of which could contain tantalising new objects opening windows on the past.
Professor Claire Jowitt and Dr Ben Redding will use the discovery to build a comprehensive picture of life on board and understand the wider impact of the terrible and tragic story.
Valuable research possibilities
Prof Jowitt said, “There’s a lot we don’t know. A lot we need to uncover. The tension between the highest in the land and the ordinary lives is fascinating. But it’s not just the high politics, the monarchic shenanigans and the luxury of the voyage. We’re interested in the wider historical context and concerned to tell all people’s stories.”
“The old history is of great men,” Prof Jowitt continues. “We need to move beyond that. Now we need to see history, not just of kings, but of all people.”
Documenting the voyage fully and properly is crucial . The dream is that The Gloucester will prove to be Norfolk’s Mary Rose.
Philanthropic support is vital
The Gloucester Project offers an unparalleled opportunity to research the life and times of the voyage. UEA will host leading academics and researchers to discuss the findings at The Gloucester Project Conference. But this conference can only happen with the generous support of our philanthropic community. If you would like to help UEA uncover the lost history of the 17th century, please get in touch with the Development Office at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our supporters may also be interested in attending ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester: Norfolk’s Royal Shipwreck 1682’, an upcoming exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery (opens late February 2023). UEA is the academic partner for the exhibition, the result of a partnership with the Barnwell brothers and Norfolk Museums Service.
Alongside UEA, Norfolk County Council and Norfolk Historic Shipwrecks, foundational partners in the project are the Alan Boswell Group, Ministry of Defence, National Museum of the Royal Navy, York Archaeology Trust, Leverhulme Trust and the Maritime Archaeology Trust. The exhibition is also being generously supported by Birketts LLP.