The site comprises the buried remains of a C19 mud berth or dock built to accommodate HMS Beagle when it was serving as a Coastguard Watch Vessel on the River Roach and an associated brick hard.
Reasons for Designation
The remains of the mud dock and associated brick hard at Paglesham Reach, Essex, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Period: the remains are highly representative of the under researched use of Watch Vessels as a part of the work of the late C19 Coastguard Service, including its attempts to monitor an area and intercept smuggling;
* Potential: the Pagelsham Reach mud dock forms a primary source of evidence relating to the social history of the Coastguard Service and its officers and their families as well as potential surviving evidence of the Watch Vessel itself;
* Historic interest: although at present it remains unconfirmed that remains of HMS Beagle are located in the mud dock, historical records show the dock almost certainly hosted the Beagle’s final years from 1851 to 1870 when it was in use as a Coastguard Watch Vessel before being broken up in 1870; it is considered that the lower portions of HMS Beagle have settled into the mud (along with potentially other vessels);
* Survival: recent survey work has confirmed that the mud dock, its outline profile and associated elements survive well. An earlier 2003 survey suggested a substantial amount of timbers from below the waterline remain in place;
* Rarity: Pagelsham Reach is one of only five confirmed mud docks anywhere in England.
HMS Beagle was launched on 11 May 1820 as a 10-gun Cherokee-class brig-sloop. The ship participated in celebrations of the coronation of King George IV but is most famous for its three voyages of exploration to survey the coasts of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego (1826-30), Tierra del Fuego (1831-36) and Australia (1837-1843). The naturalist Charles Darwin participated in the second voyage as a self-financing passenger - his diary of this voyage was later published as ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’.
In 1845, the Beagle was refitted and dismasted as a static coastguard watch vessel (CGWV) and transferred to the Customs service to control smuggling on the Essex Coast. Moored mid-river in Paglesham Reach, the Beagle (now renamed CGWV No 7) kept watch over part of the River Roach Tidal River System. Census records from the C19 show that the ship accommodated seven coastguard officers and their families.
In 1851, oyster companies and traders who cultivated and harvested the European flat oyster, petitioned for the Customs Service to remove the ship as it was obstructing the river and its coastal oyster-beds. The 1851 Navy List, dated 25 May, shows the vessel renamed Southend "W.V. No. 7" at Paglesham with a corresponding chart and early Ordnance Survey mapping showing an indentation on the river bank at Paglesham Reach where CGWV No 7 would have been berthed in a purpose-built mud dock constructed after 1847. The 1st epoch Ordnance Survey map (1843-1893) clearly shows a boat-shaped mud dock at Paglesham Reach with a hard, later confirmed as a brick platform, extending alongside the dock (and therefore the ship) allowing pedestrian access across the foreshore down to low water.
Construction of the Rochford mud dock would have included the need for shoring (to stabilise the dock sides) and stocks (to support the ship) while an accumulation of archaeological deposits within can be expected as refuse; which will have been discarded overboard into the dock. A mud dock of the type at Rochford can be seen in John Constable’s 1814 painting ‘Boat-building on the Stour’.
In 1870, the ship was sold to be broken up in the dock; the lower portion of the vessel (comprising the keel, futtocks and inner planking) is considered to have settled into the mud and therefore potentially survives. It is believed that timbers from the upperworks were repurposed and used in local building construction.
Investigations in 2000 by the late Dr Robert Prescott, University of St Andrews, investigated the area of the mud dock which was associated with many fragments of Victorian pottery and discarded toys. A geophysical survey carried out in November 2003 recorded traces of timbers forming the size and shape of a vessel’s lower hull, indicating a substantial amount of timbers from below the waterline remain in place while a GPR survey in the same year revealed anomalies consistent with a vessel similar in size to CGWV No 7. A programme of coring in 2009 recovered timber samples - though an auger survey in 2017, limited to 5 cores, did not.
Fieldwork across the mud dock commissioned by Historic England in 2019 comprised a drone survey and two geophysical surveys. This integrated survey examined not only the health of plant life over the dock and brick platform (using the principle of differential growth to identify sub-surface deposits) but also sought to identify buried archaeological features through magnetic and electrical differences. These surveys identified the outline of the mud dock at Paglesham Reach which matches the location and size of the indentation of the riverbank recorded on Ordnance Survey mapping and the associated brick platform.