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List Entry Summary

This site is designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 as it is or may prove to be the site of a vessel lying wrecked on or in the sea bed and, on account of the historical, archaeological or artistic importance of the vessel, or of any objects contained or formerly contained in it which may be lying on the sea bed in or near the wreck, it ought to be protected from unauthorised interference. Protected wreck sites are designated by Statutory Instrument. The following information has been extracted from the relevant Statutory Instrument.


List Entry Number: 1000071


Named Location:

Location Description:

Mary Reef, Erme Mouth, off Devon

Competent Authority:

The site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Latitude: 50.30742903

Longitude: -3.95429760

National Grid Reference: SX 60933 47103

Date first designated: 01-May-1991

Date of most recent amendment: Not applicable to this List entry.

Legacy System Information

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System: AMIE - Wrecks

UID: 1082131

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Information provided under the Statutory Instrument heading below forms part of the official record of a protected wreck site. Information provided under other headings does not form part of the official record of the designation. It has been compiled by Historic England to aid understanding of the protected wreck site.

Summary of Site

Remains believed to be of more than one wreck on Mary Reef in the Erme Estuary, indicated by a cannon assemblage containing material ranging from the fifteenth- to the eighteenth centuries, one of which is dated after 1490 to 1550, another cannon being a Swedish finbanker dated 1690 to 1750.

No vessel remains have been identified, but any vessel on this site from this period would have been constructed of wood and powered by sail, and would presumably have stranded on the reef. However, cannon are not necessarily evidence for wrecks, since they may have been jettisoned to prevent wrecking, or to lighten the ship to be got off, for example, consistent with grounding on the Mary Reef.

Reason for Designation

Statutory Instruments



This designated site contains material ranging from the fifteenth- to eighteenth centuries, and may be an assemblage derived from more than one wreck. The most obvious feature of the site is the collection of iron cannons, which are periodically exposed by shifting sediment levels. The wide range of artefacts and the lack of any structural remains prevents the dating of the site.

The site was discovered in 1990 by Steve George who observed four cast iron guns, a wrought iron swivel gun and an anchor. Although some items were recovered before designation they were plotted relative to a site grid. These finds, and others recovered under licence, have all been drawn, photographed, placed in passive storage and declared to the Receiver of Wreck.

Following publication of the site's position as a newly designated wreck in 1991, a number of instances of unauthorised diving were reported by bailiffs on the local Mildmay Estate. The licensed team believes that two guns were stolen from the site at this time.


Designation History: Designation Order: (No 1), No 1110, 1991 Made: 1st May 1991 Laid before Parliament: 2nd May 1991 Coming into force: 3rd May 1991 Protected area: 250 metres within 50 18.41 N 003 57.19 W

No part of the restricted area lies above the high-water mark of ordinary spring tides.

Documentary History: The site consists of an assemblage of cannon and other items ranging in date from the fifteenth century to the eighteenth century, probably from more than one wreck. The size and spread over the reef area leads to the conclusion that only part of the wreck was washed over the reef.

The most obvious feature of the site is the collection of iron cannons, but these have been buried under sand for some years.

Archaeological History: In 1980, the site was dived but nothing archaeological was observed. However the area was dived again in April 1982 and an 'old' cannon was found and photographed; about 9 feet in length, possibly a Pederaro.

Eight years later in 1990, 4 cast iron guns, a wrought iron swivel gun and an anchor was discovered by a snorkeler whilst off Mothecombe. Excavation followed between 1992-4 and although some items were recovered before designation they were plotted relative to a site grid. These finds, and others recovered under licence, have all been drawn, photographed, placed in passive storage, and declared to the Receiver of Wreck. Five cannon and a complete swivel gun with breech, ammunition and tampion with a rope knot on the breech handle. (Dated 1490-1550). One cannon is a Swedish finbanker (1690-1750). A French silver coin (1610-1640) and a lead pan weight (1549-1780), a pestle and a small bronze figurine have been recovered

Most of the area north of the reef, which runs east to west across the estuary, is currently covered with a thick blanket of sand. There are no strong currents across the site, but the amount of rainwater runoff has a dramatic effect on underwater visibility. The average site depth is 9 metres, and although there is virtually no current, the visibility is reduced by freshwater from the Erme.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
'Nautical Archaeology Society newsletter' in Nautical Archaeology Society , ()
1991, Oldham, N , The Erme Estuary wreck site report 1991, (1991)
Oldham, N , The Erme estuary wreck site survey report 1992/93, (1993)


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End of official listing