Intertidal Wreck at Tankerton Beach


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Tankerton Beach, near Whitstable, Kent
Statutory Address:
Off coast at Tankerton, Whitstable, Kent, CT5 2BB


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Statutory Address:
Off coast at Tankerton, Whitstable, Kent, CT5 2BB

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

Location Description:
Tankerton Beach, near Whitstable, Kent
Canterbury (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Dendrochronological analysis coupled with intrusive evaluation has confirmed that the wreck comprises a 16th century or early 17th century small or medium sized merchant ship.

Reasons for Designation

The Tankerton Beach wreck, located on the foreshore at Tankerton nr Whitstable, Kent, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Archaeological potential: forming a primary source of evidence relating to indigenous Tudor / early Stuart shipbuilding techniques;

* Historic interest: potentially related to the late Medieval copperas industry along the north Kent coast, and;

* Rarity: as the only known surviving late Medieval shipwreck in south-east England.


Recorded simply as an 'oval feature' in the Kent HER (ref. TR 16 NW 1019), the wreck is was first observed in 1996 by Timescapes Kent (a local historical/archaeological group) and confirmed in 1998 during the North Kent Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey. A visit by Historic England staff in April 2017 (along with colleagues from Timescapes Kent and CITiZAN) confirmed the presence of the bottom timbers of a once much larger wooden vessel.

In order to assist with understanding the wreck, Historic England commissioned the University of Wales Trinity Saint David to undertake dendrochronological sampling and analysis of visible remains in July 2017. This initial investigation of 15 samples determined that one oak plank is of southern British woodland origin with a felling date of AD 1531. Three other oak samples were tentatively dated to the sixteenth century, with elm, larch/spruce and beech timbers being identified in the build.

The lack of cross-matching observed on the samples by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David team could indicate multiple sources of timber for the ships’ construction or indicate that the timbers represent different episodes of construction, modification or repair.


Excavation of two trenches undertaken by Wessex Archaeology in October 2017, accompanied by further dendrochronological sampling, revealed the presence of well-preserved hull timbers from the keel up to the turn of the bilge. This includes structural components still in situ such as frames, keelson, outer planks, ceiling planks, stringers, futtocks, frames but also important features such as a wooden knee which was found loose on site and potential deck timbers that may have collapsed into the lower hull. The keelson is mortised with a mast-step to take the heel of a mast and possible deck-planking suggests the presence of at least one collapsed deck.

The predominant use of treenails observed on the hull planking suggests a Northern European construction and the identified use of ferrous fasteners on timbers lower down in the hull is indicative of a late C16 / early C17 galleon-type building tradition.

From the available evidence, it appears that the wreck comprises the remains of a C16 or early C17 carvel-built single-masted merchant ship of 100-200 tons (historical records record that Whitstable had local traders and fishing boats that tended to be within the range of less than 40 tons).

The proximity of the wreck to a known copperas works may provide some context. Copperas (also known as green vitriol – hydrated ferrous sulfate) was largely used in the textile industry as a dye fixative and in the manufacture of ink. It was produced from the decomposition of pyrites (iron sulfide - found exposed on local beaches) and copperas works are known at Whitstable from 1565. Copperas works soon extended eastwards to Tankerton with the finished product being shipped in barrels or casks.

It is possible that the Tankerton Beach wreck was previously engaged in transporting copperas before being abandoned at the coast-edge in an area of what was once tidal salt marsh.


Books and journals
Allen, T, Cotterill, M, Pike, G, Copperas: An account of the Whitstable Works and the first industrial-scale chemical production in England, (2004)
Goodsall, R H, 'The Whitstable Copperas Industry' in Archaeologia Cantiana, , Vol. 70, (1956), 142-159
Ancient shipwreck buried under clay near Tankerton discovered by historians, accessed 31 October 2017 from
Shipwreck found off the coast of Tankerton, accessed 09/10/2017 from
Historic England, 2017, Wreck on the Foreshore at Tankerton, Kent: Interim Statement on the Dendrochronological Analysis
Kent HER record number TR 16 NW 1019
NRHE record number 1611566
Wessex Archaeology (2017) Tankerton Bay Wreck, Undesignated Site Assessment for Historic England, ref. 108281.06


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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