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Erme Estuary

Location: Erme Estuary, Devon
Age / period: medieval and bronze Age
List entry number: 1000071
Reason for designation: archaeological potential

Wreck history and loss

This site is a scatter of artefacts possibly ranging from the 16th to the 18th century. This location is a known shipping hazard as a reef blocks the estuary entrance, and ships have been known to lose their bottoms here. The date range of the artefacts seems to suggest that, unsurprisingly, the remains of more than one ship are present on the site. There are no traces of ship structure, however, visible on the seabed.

Anchor underwater
Anchor underwater © SWMAG

Discovery and investigation

The site was discovered in 1990 by Stephen George who was snorkelling off Mothercombe when he found some cannon and an anchor. He enlisted the help of Neville Oldham and Dave Illingworth, and the team raised a wrought iron swivel gun for identification. The following year a further gun was raised from the seabed before the site was designated; these items were recorded relative to a site grid.

Excavations of trial areas were carried out on the site, however no vessel structure was found and the artefacts recovered from the protected area come from the sediment which currently covers the wreckage. An article was published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (IJNA) in 1993.


At least four cast iron guns remain buried on the seabed of the Erme Estuary site. The two smaller swivel guns which were recovered in the early 1990s were dated 1450-1550, and 1690-1729 respectively; the latter was identified as a Swedish finbanker.

Other finds include a bronze pan weight stamped in the reign of Charles I (1625-1649), a bronze pestle, bar shot, a deadeye and an eroded figurine. These finds have been drawn and photographed and placed in storage after being declared to the Receiver of Wreck. Some artefacts are loaned to the local museum in Salcombe on occasion.

Further work

The site is currently buried under a blanket of sand and is monitored regularly. Dave Parham from Bournemouth University is also compiling a desktop evaluation for the site.

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