Wreck at Minehead, possibly the Bristol Packet


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Wreck on Madbrain Sands, off Warren Point, Minehead Strand, Minehead, West Somerset.


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

Location Description:
Wreck on Madbrain Sands, off Warren Point, Minehead Strand, Minehead, West Somerset.
Somerset West and Taunton (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


The remains of a wooden sailing vessel of late 18th to early 19th century date, located in the inter-tidal zone at Madbrain Sands, Minehead, Somerset, and believed to be the remains of the Bristol Packet, lost in 1808.

Reasons for Designation

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

* Rarity: shipwreck sites of the late 18th to early 19th centuries are rare and under-represented by comparison with the documentary record, in particular those of vernacular vessels and those providing evidence of transitional construction methods;

* Survival: despite the effects of coastal erosion, the vessel type and manner of loss are legible in the surviving remains, with burial providing strong environmental protection for the majority of the wreck site;

* Group value: the vessel has group value with the Westward Ho! and Northam Burrows wreck sites in date, similarity of manner of loss, and the Bristol Channel location;

* Potential: the site has considerable potential for providing an insight into the transitional construction methods adopted by vernacular vessels and informing an understanding of American-built vessels;

* Historic: as evidence of trade with the United States at a key period of bilateral significance between the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, during the Napoleonic Wars with France, and following the abolition of slavery in 1807, all of which had a profound effect on transatlantic trade relations.


The wreck of a wooden sailing vessel on Madbrain Sands, Minehead, has been revealed at least four times in recent history, due to sand erosion on the beach following winter storms in 1974-5 and 2013-4 and on other intervening occasions in the mid 1980s and circa 2001.

The site is datable through both internal evidence of its transitional construction methods incorporating both treenails and copper fastenings, and external comparisons with similar sites to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This date, its materials of pine and larch, and its legible manner of loss through stranding are consistent with documentary evidence for the loss of the American-built and owned Bristol Packet, which stranded at Minehead in February 1808, while en route from Teignmouth for Bristol.

These changes in shipbuilding techniques and use of softwood materials characteristic of North American ship construction, provide evidence for the persistence of strong links and mutual influences at a period of bilateral change in the transatlantic trade following the American Revolutionary War (1775-83), and contemporary with the Slave Trade Act of 1807.


The wreck believed to be the remains of the Bristol Packet lies in the inter-tidal zone on Madbrain Sands, Minehead and uncovers infrequently when beach levels are significantly depleted, although it may then remain exposed for long periods of time. When uncovered one side of a vessel is seen to be canted at an angle in the sand within a scour pit with the remainder of the vessel lying buried. Some 'amdiships' material may be revealed.

The manner of loss is legible in the extant remains, suggesting that the vessel was driven onto the sands on its beam ends or collapsed after being so driven.

In 2015 the vessel was measured as some 30m long with a minimum extent of 16.4m when it has been much less extensively exposed. Based on the dimensions of contemporary examples at Westward Ho! and Northam Burrows, the width is likely to be around 9m.The visible remains consist of distinctively thick framing and deck planking with timber sheathing, the whole constructed of softwood identified as pine and larch. It is fastened with treenails in its framing with copper nails used to fasten the thinner planks, a transitional building technique likely to date in vernacular vessels well after the adoption of copper fastenings in the Royal Navy from the late 18th century. It is otherwise comparable in build with the Westward Ho! and Northam Burrows wrecks, as well as vernacular vessels dated to the late 18th to early 19th centuries, with which it shares strong group context in vessel type and broader location of loss in the Bristol Channel.

The details of its build and loss point to the most plausible candidate for its identification as the American-built Bristol Packet, lost in 1808 at Minehead. The site is significant in being a rare example of a vernacular vessel type made of materials rarely found in the contemporary archaeological record, providing evidence of transatlantic trade at a key pivotal period of Anglo-American relations following the American Revolutionary War and the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

Extent of Scheduling: The scheduled area has been defined from the centre point of the wreck at SS 9851346734 with a radius of 35m to ensure that the site, including any buried remains, is adequately protected.


Books and journals
Parliamentary Papers: Vol. VI. House of Commons: Reports from Committees: 23 January to 11 July 182151-6
Darvill, T (author), Ancient Monuments in the Countryside , (1987), 57
Minehead Sea Defence Scheme: Archaeological Report: Vol.1: Assessment, Survey and Evaluation, Richard McDonnell, 2001, pp10-11


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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