The remains of an 'Old Brig' is marked on a 1770 chart of Seasalter, showing that the wreck was noted to be old by the late eighteenth century. A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts and these were seen as fast and manoeuverable. They were used as both naval warships and merchant vessels. It is not yet clear whether the Seasalter wreck comprises the remains of a naval or merchant vessel.
Reasons for Designation
The remains of the ‘Old Brig’, located on the foreshore at Seasalter nr Whitstable, Kent, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Potential: forming a primary source of evidence relating to indigenous Hanoverian shipbuilding techniques;
* Survival: recent work indicates that the vessel’s exposed hull was noted to be exceptionally well-preserved (comprising inner planking, framing timbers and decking) and surviving to a depth in excess of 0.7m;
* Period: potentially related to the smuggling activity within the locality and its re-use as accommodation and storage connected with the local oyster fishery, and;
* Rarity: as one of only three known Hanoverian coastal traders in England.
During the medieval period the economy of the wider Whitstable locality was largely driven by fisheries and salt production. The wreck lies on The Pollard oyster fishery ground – a high bank of intertidal sand off Seasalter, Kent. The fishery was leased from the church by the Seasalter Company and from the 1740s until the mid-19th century the coast at Seasalter was known to be a preferred area for landing contraband goods.
The remains of an 'Old Brig' is marked on a 1770 chart of Seasalter, showing that the wreck was noted to be ‘old’ by the late eighteenth century. A brig is a fast and manoeuvrable sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. Although such craft were used as both naval warships and merchant vessels, it is likely that the Seasalter wreck comprises the remains of a merchant craft. Nevertheless, the wreck appears to have been used in the late C18 as accommodation and a packing store for the oyster fishery when it was known locally as ‘the stage’. The wreck lies close to a loading platform that is depicted on the C18 century chart as ‘The Stage’.
The wreck was first investigated archaeologically by members of the Whitstable Historical Society in the early 1960s which uncovered basic constructional details of the hull and produced a first plan of the site. The work also recovered a number of finds relating to the vessel’s original sail plan and its subsequent re-use as a store and accommodation for the ‘Pollard men’. The initial assessment of the wreck at this time was based on the observation that the recovered rigging elements were consistent with a vessel of the C17.
In October 2017 the site was noted during a walkover assessment by local archaeological group Timescapes Kent who highlighted that the wreck had become more visible due to movement of the surrounding mud and sand. At that time, it appeared to be of relatively low historic interest, showed little potential for evidential material within the site, and exhibited signs of erosion by tide and wave action.
In 2018, Historic England commissioned Wessex Archaeology and the University of Wales Trinity St David to undertake a short programme of archaeological evaluation and timber sampling with the support of volunteers from Timescapes Kent with permission from landowners Seasalter Shellfish (Whitstable) Ltd. The preliminary results of the dendrochronological assessment suggest that the SSW site is likely to date to the second part of the first half of the C18, with a construction date for the vessel after 1720. Further recording the following year recovered additional samples and a range of small finds, including: a complete clay pipe, a pipe stem, several pottery fragments, a pulley block complete with rope, part of a yard, a shoe heel, the back and sides of a wooden chair, and a complete but broken barrel with a royal weights and measures mark.
Further excavation in 2019 identified the vessel’s stempost (a vertical post forming the main part of the bow), which showed draft marks on the port face of the post. These marks were formed by carved Roman numerals “III” and “IIII” over horizontal lines that were one foot apart with further horizontal lines marking the half foot.
The exposed hull identified in the evaluation trenches was noted to be exceptionally well-preserved (comprising inner planking, framing timbers and decking) and surviving to a depth in excess of 0.7m. The hull form suggests that the wreck comprises the remains of an C18 carvel-built vessel between 50 and 100 tons and it is possible that the hulk could be that of a cutter, a sloop or a hoy, all of which were in use for trading goods and passengers along the Kentish coast. Preliminary dendrochronological assessment of the timbers dates the construction of the vessel to the first half of the C18 (approximately 1720s) and suggests that the timbers were sourced in England.
It is unclear whether all of the items contained within the hull were originally part of the cargo or are associated with the later phases of the use of the hulk as accommodation and storage within the oyster fishery. The presence of Seville-type olive jars amongst the assemblage is suggestive that the cargo perhaps contained at least some commodities imported from abroad.
Following its wrecking or deliberate beaching, the vessel was later re-used in the late C18 as accommodation and storage by the men that were employed in harvesting and packing oysters on the Pollard. This was due to its closeness to a foreshore platform locally known as the ‘stage’ from which other smaller craft were loaded with oysters.
At present, neither the identity nor date of the wreck is known. The existence of a map dated to 1770 that charts a wreck named ‘old brig’ in a position that closely corresponds to the location of the Seasalter wreck could hint to the latest possible date of the loss of the vessel.