Wreck off Northam Burrows


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Wreck located at SS4327129956 in the inter-tidal zone off Northam Burrows, Devon.


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

Location Description:
Wreck located at SS4327129956 in the inter-tidal zone off Northam Burrows, Devon.
Torridge (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


The wreck of a wooden sailing vessel, likely to be a Severn trow (a locally distinctive coastal sailing vessel of south-west England), lost off Northam Burrows between the mid 18th to early 19th centuries.

Reasons for Designation

The wreck of this mid 18th to early 19th century sailing vessel is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

*Rarity: late 18th century shipwreck sites are rare and under-represented by comparison with the documentary record, in particular those of smaller vessels of the coasting type like this wreck;

*Survival: despite the effects of erosion, the vessel type (a Severn trow) and manner of loss (wrecking) are legible in the surviving remains. The vessel is better preserved in this context than much later examples of the same type in riverine locations;

*Potential: the site has considerable potential for providing an insight into mid to late 18th century vessel construction and for illuminating the development of West Country coasting vessels, especially the locally distinctive Severn trow type that was common on the Rivers Severn and Wye;

*Group value: the vessel has group value with the nearby wreck at Westward Ho!, with which it is likely to be a close contemporary, and potentially lost at the same time;

*Historic: mercantile vessels of local type were a highly significant part of England's domestic merchant fleet during the Industrial Revolution, existing (although not surviving) in large numbers engaged in small-scale trade around the coastline, especially in relation to industries such as the coal, stone and other extractive minerals trades.


The wreck of a wooden sailing vessel off Northam Burrows has been revealed on a regular basis at least since the late 20th century through periodical sand erosion in storm conditions.

The wreck was again exposed in 2014-16 and site observations suggest that the vessel's manner of loss is legible in the archaeological evidence. It was originally either driven in during storm conditions on its beam ends (e.g. sideways), or subsequently collapsed onto its side following the stranding event. Similarly the rate of erosion of a key local geological feature, a nearby pebble ridge, suggests that the vessel was lost between the mid 18th to early 19th centuries, since it is unlikely to have breached the ridge as it came ashore.

The Bristol Channel saw a rise in traffic through Britain's westward-facing expansion of international trade and domestic circulation of goods and raw materials by sea, fuelled by the Industrial Revolution. Barnstaple and its neighbouring ports benefited from these volumes of shipping with a commensurate rise in traffic exposed to the natural hazards posed by the headlands on either side. Barnstaple (or Bideford) Bay thus became a key location for contemporary vessel losses with significant numbers of vessels known to have been driven ashore nearby but with few surviving sites formally identified.

Although the wreck is regularly uncovered, occasionally it has been revealed to an extent sufficient to determine that it has the distinctive flat keel (the main supporting frame of a vessel) indicative of a Severn trow. The form and date are contemporary with the development of the trow during the Industrial Revolution into a seagoing vessel capable of navigating well beyond its traditional Upper Severn range. The known remains of vessels for this period are under-represented in comparison with contemporary documented losses, which amount to almost one-third of all recorded losses in English waters. Naval and significant mercantile vessels dominate the 40 known contemporary wreck sites. Besides examples of naval vessels, preserved vessels exhibit a diversity of types not captured in the archaeological record, including a coasting vessel from a different region, the Thames estuary.


The wreck is located in the inter-tidal zone off Northam Burrows and has been uncovered on a regular basis for at least the last few decades.

Between 1996 and 2016 the visible remains have been measured at between 15.25 and 17m long, and 4m to 5.5m wide, which may relate to different extents of exposure. When visible, the almost complete side of a hull structure may be seen with eroded frames protruding above the sand level, with a stem- or stern-post and occasionally part of the other side also visible. It is entirely fastened with timber fastenings (treenails) that are consistent with a date of build in the second half of the 18th century as observed on other known wrecks. Such a vessel could plausibly have been lost at any time up to around 1830. This interpretation is supported by the local geology, since the vessel is unlikely to have breached the pebble ridge, which has retreated landward since that time.

The manner of loss is legible in the extant remains, suggesting that the vessel drove in to the beach on its beam ends or collapsed onto its side after stranding.

The site is significant in being a rare example of an 18th century coasting vessel, probably a Severn trow (a type of cargo boat found in the past on the rivers Severn and Wye, in use between the mid 18th and late 19th centuries, and distinctive for their flat hull and dis-mountable mast to allow the vessels to travel under inland bridges), as suggested by its build, dimensions, and location of loss, of a type rarely legible in the surviving archaeological record, but which has strong links with the contemporary development of coasting trades fuelled by the Industrial Revolution.

Extent of Scheduling: The scheduled area has been defined around the known remains of the vessel with a radius of 15m from its centre point to ensure that its full extent, including buried structure, is adequately protected.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 06/10/2016


Books and journals
Hughes, B, 'Notes on Two Wrecks at Westward Ho!' in North Devon Museum Trust Newsletter, , Vol. 8, (1996-7), 17
Devon and Dartmoor Historic Environment Record (HER) MDV50899, accessed 28 January 2016 from http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=MDV58099&resourceID=104


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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