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Studland Bay

Location: Studland, Poole Bay, Dorset
Age / period: medieval (c 1520)
List entry number: 1000045
Reason for designation: rarity and archaeological significance
Depth: 12m

Wreck history and loss

This wreck is believed to be the remains of a lightly armed merchant vessel (Naos) of 100-200 tons burden from the Basque region of Spain. It is dated to around 1520 by the pottery found on board and the carvel style of ship construction.

Its Spanish origin is also based on the cargo, which consisted of pottery known as 'Isabella Polychrome' made in Seville for export in the West Indies and rarely found in Britain, and ballast stones identified as having a Basque origin.

The ship is located to the south of the entrance to Poole Harbour, which has a long history of maritime use, and it is possible that she hit Hook Sands which covered this area in the 16th century on her way into the port.

She is likely to have been heavily salvaged at the time. Poole customs records from the beginning of the 16th century record the arrival of ships from northern Spain bringing iron and figs among other items, in return for wheat and cloth.

Discovery and investigation

The site was discovered in 1983 by divers from Hamworthy Sub-Aqua Club, investigating a fisherman's net fastening, and was designated in 1984. Subsequently the Studland Bay Wreck Project was formed by Ian Horsey and Keith Jarvis of Poole Museum with the Borough of Poole, Hamworthy Sub-Aqua Club and the Poole Maritime Trust.

Excavations were carried out on the site between 1984 and 1992 by volunteer divers. Wreckage is scattered over a wide area, of which there are three main areas;

  • an articulated starboard side ship structure
  • an articulated keel, planks and midship floor timbers, and
  • a shallow, incoherent deposit of material associated with the site.

It was decided to leave substantial areas of the wreck unexcavated and the two articulated areas were stabilised using sediment and polypropelene sheets after excavation in 1988 and 1992.


Around 750 objects were recovered from the wreck during excavations; these included many wooden artefacts such as ships timbers, barrel staves and hoops, and firewood as well as cordage, leather - such as a book panel and a complete shoe - textiles like woven rush matting, seeds and bones, including the butchered bones of a mallard.

Two guns were also recovered, a large wrought iron gun and a smaller swivel gun, one of which was loaded. Additionally a particularly fine ointment jar and lid were recovered and the walnut base and leather flap of a pump - the earliest found in England.

There is now a permanent exhibition in Poole Waterfront Museum.

Further work

Recently work has been carried out on both the hull structure and the pottery (likely to have been a small quantity as a subsidiary cargo) of the Studland Bay wreck. Mikkel Thomsen's work on the ship structure shows that the vessel had been repaired and refitted more than once during her lifetime and was likely to be quite old when she sank.

The re-fitting of the rigging also makes the ship particularly interesting from an evolutionary point of view.

The study of the pottery has helped to interpret the ship and has added new patterns to the known range of decoration. The wreck is regularly monitored and Dave Parham of Bournemouth University is currently undertaking an Archive Assessment of the site commissioned by English Heritage with a view to publication.

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