Wooden Wreck on Camber Sands


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Camber Sands, East Sussex


Ordnance survey map of Wooden Wreck on Camber Sands
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Camber Sands, East Sussex
East Sussex
Rother (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Remains of a substantial oak-built sailing vessel lying parallel to the beach in the intertidal zone on Camber Sands, Rother, East Sussex. A site visit by Historic England (October 2016) measured the exposed remains as being 47.2m long by 9.5m wide. There are no National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) or local Historic Environment Record (HER) records for such a large wreck site, suggesting that it has not been previously exposed to the extent that it was in late 2016.

Reasons for Designation

The Camber Sands wreck, located on the foreshore at Camber Sands near Rye, East Sussex, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Archaeological Potential: the analysis of the Camber Sands wreck timbers has the potential, in combination with historical accounts, to further aid understanding of the sourcing, of timber employed in shipbuilding, and ship repairs, in eastern North America; * Period: given that the wreck may comprise a vessel that may have been built in North America, possibly for use in high latitudes (as indicated by the unusual thickness and reinforced elements of the hull timbers), the asset has the potential to answer questions about the C19 transatlantic timber trade; * Survival and rarity: the presence of previously unrecorded vessels of such size and potential date are rare. The timbers survive as a clearly 'readable', coherent assemblage. Initial analyses indicate that the timbers comprise the intact lower portions of the hull of the vessel, which have the greatest potential for future analysis.


On 29 September 2016, Historic England was alerted to the presence of a newly exposed substantial wooden wreck on Camber Sands, Rother. A local resident had previously only ever seen a ‘stump’ visible but now ribs and ‘other stumps’ were reported as showing. Initial liaison with the Archaeology Section of East Sussex County Council noted that the new wreck may be the same as one already recorded in the Historic Environment Record under number MES7343 which is for a ‘timber wreck’ seen in the 1960s and 1980s (though the location of the wreck recorded in the HER requires confirmation).

Following initial survey by Historic England (October 2016), the wreck was identified as being the remains of a substantial oak-built sailing vessel measuring 47.2m long by 9.5m wide and lying parallel to the beach. The depth of survival is not yet known but given the extent of visible surviving remains, as well as the wreck lying in the intertidal zone, it is, as yet, inexplicable as to why there is no known record of the wreck’s survival either in the NRHE or local HER.

A search of aerial photographic collections held in Historic England’s archive in Swindon identified only a single high altitude vertical image of the relevant stretch of coast which may show the exposed wreck. This image dates to 1977 and is copyright of the National Rivers Authority, now the Environment Agency.

Interestingly, the former Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) assessed a wooden wreck ‘off’ Camber Sands in August 1991. This wreck had been re-discovered by divers after it had been uncovered in February in that year during a low spring tide. The ADU dived on the site and concluded that the remains were a rare example of a small mid-C19 merchant vessel, possibly a snow (a square rigged vessel with two masts) or a brig (ADU report ref 91/14 / NRHE 813023). However, the given location of this wreck, fixed by horizontal sextant angles, lies 616m south-east of the remains recently identified and, given it’s ‘small’ size, it is unlikely that the two wrecks are the same.


Initial investigation of the timbers shows that the scantlings (the width and thickness of timbers) are suggestive of a heavily-built ship and reinforced diagonal outer-planking indicates possible use in high latitudes perhaps dating to the late C18 or early C19.

To further aid identification, dendrochronological sampling & analysis was undertaken in liaison with Natural England as the wreck lies within the Dungeness, Romney Marsh & Rye Bay SSSI. This investigation showed that the upper part of the vessel sampled comprised a mixture of oak and larch (i.e. hard and soft woods) used for the frames of the vessel, with felling dates ranging between 1684 and around 1863, with the possibility that all of the dated oak timbers were felled in period AD 1827-1863. Interestingly, some of the timbers are of North American origin showing that the vessel was at least partially constructed with, or repaired using, North American sourced oak from the eastern seaboard.

An examination of records held in the NRHE indicates that the brig (a two-masted square-rigged ship) Avon might be a candidate for the Camber Sands wreck. The Avon is reported to have ‘stranded and drifted alongshore to the east side of Rye Harbour, and received considerable damage’ in August 1852 en route from Le Harve with a cargo of timber. Brigs were fast and manoeuvrable and used as both naval warships and merchant vessels.

Dendrochronological analysis has proved inconclusive on this occasion in spite of the comparison of timber samples with chronologies from the British Isles, elsewhere in Europe and North America. While the Avon is recorded as being built in Nova Scotia in 1843, it is not yet clear whether this comprises the building of an original vessel, the repair of an older vessel or the re-use of earlier timbers.

Further dendrochronological sampling and analysis, coupled with archival research may aid conclusive identification of the wreck.


Books and journals
Dunkley, M, 'Help Needed! Newly Exposed Wooden Wreck on Camber Sands' in Sussex Past and Present, (April 2017), 8
Aerial Photograph (Historic England Archive - ref. MAL/77031 LN7466 V 051 2 OCT 1977)
Historic England (2018) Wreck on the Foreshore at Camber Sands, East Sussex: Interim Statement on the Dendrochronological Analysis


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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