Remains of an English Third Rate Ship of the Line, which foundered after grounding on the Goodwin Sands during the 'Great Storm' of November 1703. This storm accounted for many shipping losses over the space of a few days, including other English warships such as the designated Northumberland and Restoration.
The Stirling Castle, a 70-gun warship built in 1678 at Deptford, was one of twenty third-rates constructed on the order of Samuel Pepys as part of a programme to regenerate the English navy. The site was found in 1979 by divers from Thanet, whilst investigating a fisherman's net fastenings as part of a survey of the Goodwin Sands. The wreck had been exposed by a dramatic shift in the Goodwin Sands, and when originally discovered, the hull and its contents were coherent and in an exceptional state of preservation.
The site was designated in 1980 but by 1982, the site was covered in sand and it was thought the hull had collapsed. In 1998 sand movement revealed the vessel to be still near complete and a two-week project to record the exposed remains was organised during the summer of 1999. Since then, deterioration has been monitored.
Evidence for thinking this is the Stirling Castle wreck includes the recurring initials of I.I. and I.B. on objects of pewter, brass, lead and wood; the Captain of the Stirling Castle was John Johnson and the First Officer James Beverly. In addition this wreck, as with the other Third Rates Northumberland and Restoration has dimensions that make it unlikely to be the Mary, a Fourth Rate lost at the same time.
Designation Order: (No 1) No 645, 1980
Made: 7th May 1980
Laid before Parliament: 16th May 1980
Coming into force: 6th June 1980
Protected area: 50 metres within 51 16.50 N 001 30.45 E
Designation Order: No 1306, 1980
Made: 1st September 1980
Laid before Parliament: 9th September 1980
Coming into force: 30th September 1980
Protected area: 50 metres of position 51 16.426 N 001 30.516 E
Designation Order No 2395, 2004
Made: 12th September 2004
Laid before Parliament: 14th September 2004
Coming into force: 5th October 2004
Protected area: 300 metres of position 51 16.426 N 001 30.516 E
No part of the restricted area lies above the high-water mark of ordinary spring tides.
The Stirling Castle was a 70-gun Third Rate built in Deptford in 1679, rebuilt 1699, and was one of the victims of the Great Storm of 1703 which also claimed the designated warships Northumberland and Restoration on the Goodwin Sands. Like the others, she had been at anchor in the Downs, was dismasted and continued to fire her cannon as distress signals every half-minute right up until the moment she struck. Only 70 of her crew of 349 were saved, including her Third Lieutenant, chaplain, cook, surgeon's mate and four marine captains.
The storm 'was a sight full of terrible particulars, to see a ship of eighty guns and about six hundred men in that dismal case; she had cut away all her masts, the men were all in the confusions of death and despair; she had neither anchor, nor cable, nor boat to help her; the sea breaking over her in a terrible manner, that sometimes she seem'd all under water; and they knew, as well as we that saw her, that they drove by the tempest directly for the Goodwin, where they could expect nothing but destruction: the cries of the men, and the firing their guns, one by one, every half minute for help, terrified us in such a manner, that I think we were half dead with the horror of it...'
The site lies in approximately 15 metres of water on the Goodwin Sands, an area of fine sand which move easily into suspension in the water column with the strong currents in the vicinity. This leads to poor visibility, except after extended periods of calm weather. In 1999 scouring around parts of the hull was noted as having become more pronounced with the further exposure of the overall structure of the wreck, and is particularly noticeable around the starboard bow and at the stern. These are in fact the areas most affected by the snagging of fishing nets.
The site consists of a confused mass of displaced timbers which lie in sandy silt. In 1979 these timbers were in excellent condition and about two thirds of the vessel (only the bow and stern in a state of collapse) was visible. The shifting seabed conditions have dictated which parts of the wreck have been visible over time. In 1979 when the wreck was exposed to the keel, the general depth was around 45 feet. Since then the supporting matrix of sand has continued to shift and the wreck, having little mechanical strength of its own, has collapsed. In 1984 the bow section and bowsprit were 7 feet above the seabed. When it was surveyed in 1991 the least echosounder depth was 12.4 in a general depth of 15.3m. The scour depth was 17.5m with a side scan sonar height of 2.5m. When the Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) assessed the site in 1993 the wreck was covered and no archaeological material was visible.
The wreck was discovered in June 1979 following the recovery of timbers by local trawlermen. Members of Thanet SAC and the marine archaeological section of the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Unit examined the site at a time when the wreck was exposed by a shift in one of the sand banks of the Goodwin Sands. About two thirds of the vessel was visible and she was observed to be standing on her keel, 6-8m high and 57m long, and partially embedded in a cliff of sand. Divers labelled forty or so iron guns and raised a bronze Dutch gun with a broad arrow on it. A ship's bell was found with the date 1701. Heavy artefacts were moved using the winches of the trawler Shelandora. Other recovered items including clothing, artefacts belonging to the crew. (20)
Designation followed in 1980 but investigations ceased as sand migration began covering the wreck again. Pioneering survey work was undertaken by the 'Goodwins Archaeological Survey' in 1983.
Assessment by the ADU in 1992 recorded that a large amount of archaeological material was exposed by further sand migration with frames, planks, guns and anchors visible. The site was noted as having reached an apparent short-term stability. However, fluctuating sand levels continued to cover and expose material
Routine monitoring visit was carried out to the site by the Seadive organisation in 1998 and early signs of the wreck beginning to emerge again were detected. An in-depth survey was then planned for 1999. A Project to survey the ship called 'Operation Man O'War' was planned by Seadive, a group of local divers for two weeks in July 1999. In April large amounts of fishing nets were cleared from the site and a 28cm lead sounding weight was removed with the netting and deposited at the Ramsgate Museum. Divers studied details of two decks of gunports, the bow, stern along with the 15ft rudder assembly. The stern section was largely intact, complete with its rudder, the stern port side has a break showing the whole make-up of the hull, revealing frames and inner and outer planking. On the port side complete gunports are visible with cannon in place. At the start of the season the midships and starboard side were covered with sand but were becoming exposed day by day. The bow timbers had suffered damage from becoming entangled and snagged in netting. A digital video archive of over 320 minutes was also taken.
An intact log line reel, 65cm wide was discovered at this time but by the time a recovery licence was obtained it had broken up and most of it lost as was a wooden platter. However a bronze cooking sieve and candlestick were recovered. It also appears that damage was being caused to the site by fisherman as the sternpost, which comes within 5 -7m of the surface at low-water springs was twisted 30 degrees out of line.
In 2000, Seadive continued to survey the site which was also visited by Mr Clive Solely MP. Mr Solely's visit had been arranged to publicise the problems being faced by voluntary archaeological diving organisations on Protected Wreck Sites. The first dives on the site in 2000 were carried out in May. On the second dive, two pewter tankards were uncovered. DCMS was approached and a surface recovery licence issued immediately. During June the whole of the stern port side was uncovered. By the end of July sediment on the gun deck had moved down to the stern end exposing new artefacts. The first to be found was an intact gun carriage with cannon and truck wheels in pristine condition. By the beginning of August a second cannon and carriage had been uncovered, but by mid-August, this cannon had rolled over and smashed through the port side stern ripping off both truck axles. The first cannon and carriage, weighing 3.5 tons, was recovered and has been placed in Ramsgate's inner harbour and covered awaiting conservation. Survey indicated substantial sand movement and structural collapse.
In 2001, work on the site ran from 20th May to the 28th August. Increased sediment reduction was noted on the site from midships to stern port side, exposing artefacts. The reduction in sediment levels has completely uncovered the stern on the port-side revealing the keelson, garboard strake and associated out hull planking. In the midship area the remains of a sea chest were exposed, possibly a surgeons due to the associated medical bottles. A large section of ceiling or main deck floor was removed in all probability by tidal action. However on the port side a sediment build up has covered gun ports and previously exposed ribs from the bow for about 18 metres. Further reduction in sand at the stern and midships revealed the Surgeon's box and contents, since eroded away or taken by unauthorised divers.
Material recovered from the site is largely in storage at the offices of the Trust for Thanet Archaeology or on display at Ramsgate Maritime Museum. Recovered material includes sword hilts, German stoneware jar, pewter plate, a ship's bell with a wooden stock (both dated 1701 with broad arrows along them) as well as about 300 small finds including: leather shoes and book covers, shaving kit, a hand-carved draughtboard and a brass candlestick. It has been claimed that there are about 40 x 4lb cannon still in position in their gun-ports. In addition, a woven rattan bag containing red grapes still on their vines was recovered. (14)
In July 2002, a comprehensive multibeam survey of the site was carried out by the ADU with the assistance of Reson Offshore UK. This produced bathymetric images of the wreck. A film was also made by RDF Media for Channel 4. By 2003, the stern port side has started to cover up again but exposing the starboard stern side.
However, a comparison of multibeam data collected by the University of St Andrews in April 2005 and the earlier 2002 ADU dataset indicated that several metres of sediment had accreted in places around the stern and to the north east of the wreck since 2002, although substantial scour was identified in other areas. Further comparisons between 2005 and 2006 data have demonstrated a net deposition of sediment, though the monuments' stern-post and one of the attached transom cross-timbers was noted to have fallen further astern. In 2007 and 2008 however, the general trend for increased sedimentation was observed by Seadive.
Natural erosion of the sand around the wreck remains the most obvious long-term threat to the site, and the current rate of exposure and consequent loss of material of archaeological interest indicate a high rate of attrition, with the process of sand movement around the wreck being poorly understood.
The remains of an eighteenth century merchant vessel lie within 55m of the Stirling Castle within the Designated Area.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 15/12/2020