National treasure conserved in county

Gun carriage
Gun carriage
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It is an extremely rare and incredibly well-preserved 350-year-old wooden gun carriage saved from the seabed and now it has been transported to York for vital conservation work to be carried out.

Experts were in the city this week to examine the national treasure which was raised from the wreck of the warship the London which went down off Southend-on-Sea in Essex in 1665 following an explosion. It is the only known example of a warship’s gun carriage in existence from this period and key to the greater understanding of Britain’s sea-faring past.

Alison James, maritime archaeologist with Historic England said of the gun: “It’s incredibly rare. There’s no other gun carriages of the same date that are so intact.

“It was found with all the gunners instruments so all of the tools that the gunner would have had needed were found as well,” she added.

Skilled conservation work will now be carried out in York where the gun carriage has been taken which is designed to stabilise the waterlogged archive and gradually bring it to a state where it can be put on public display.

The London, one of England’s most important 17th century shipwrecks, was blown up in March 1665 after gunpowder stored in a magazine on board caught fire during a journey from Chatham to the Hope, near Gravesend in Kent. It played a significant role in British history and earlier in 1660 the warship was part of a squadron that brought back Charles II from the Netherlands to restore him to the throne.

The London was raised from the seabed in August amid concerns about its deteriorating condition by Historic England and with Cotswold Archaeology and licensed divers. It was then taken by road to York where it will be conserved over the next year by York Archaeological Trust.

Ian Panter, head of conservation at York Archaeological Trust, said: “This is the first complete gun carriage I have worked on so its quite exciting.”

He said the work would take a year to eighteen months and would see the waterlogged carriage, which is the same weight as a rhinoceros, stabilised by being conserved with a specialist wax and it will then be treated in a large freeze drier which will gently remove the water.

The process will be gradual and the aim is that it will eventually be able to go on public display in a controlled environment.

It was discovered by divers in pristine condition in sticky clay in the Thames Estuary late last summer, after being partly exposed following the movement of seabed material. But over the past eight months, parts of the gun carriage have become more exposed and were at risk of breaking up due to strong currents and exposure to sea worms and so a decision was taken to move the carriage in August to preserve the treasure.