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Swash Channel

Location: Swash Channel, Poole Bay, Dorset
Age / period: post medieval (early 17th century)
List entry number: 1000082
Reason for designation: archaeological and historical importance

Galley Area
Galley Area © Wessex Archaeology

Wreck history and loss

This site is the wreck of an unusually coherent and well-preserved early 17th century vessel, which seems to have only recently been exposed: there is little or no marine growth on large areas of the ship. Both the ships timbers, and cordage present on the site are in remarkably good condition. Some of the well preserved timbers exhibit maker's marks, tooling and constructional detail.

At least 27m of hull survives in two sections around 15m apart. There is also a separate 5.5m long wooden structure 50m away from the main wreck. One of the most striking elements of the structure is the presence of an in situ brick-built galley which is rare both in the UK and elsewhere. Poole Harbour has a long history of maritime activity (see also Studland Bay) and it is presumed that this merchantman foundered making its way routinely in or out of the harbour.

Discovery and investigation

The wreck was discovered in October 2004, during archaeological assessment work undertaken in advance of proposed channel deepening in Poole Harbour, on behalf of Poole Harbour Commissioners (PHC).  The vessel appeared as a large anomaly during geophysical survey and brief investigation of the site confirmed the significance of the find.

The wreck was designated in December 2004 on the basis of the excellent condition of the vessel, the rarity of the galley and the vulnerability of the newly exposed site.  The association to the Studland Bay site and historic Poole Harbour itself also contributed. PHC's willingness to adjust their dredging regime was material in reaching our current understanding of this site.


Investigations show that at least three cannon are present on the site, two within the wreck structure and one to the north. Other artefacts uncovered so far include a fragment of Rhenish stoneware with decoration that was current by 1630, a date consistent with the form and character of the vessel and a millstone.

The presence and condition of organic material such as cordage and the extraordinary in situ galley suggests that much of the material associated with the wreck may have survived in situ within the main structure, with very little subsequent disturbance.

Further work

Initial investigation of the vessel and surrounding areas suggests that the erosion which exposed the majority of the wreck was rapid, and is still occurring. Additionally the organic matter present is very fragile and the ships timbers themselves are likely to be weak. Subsequent work has been carried out by Bournemouth University, supported by PHC.

Generally the wreck is under threat. English Heritage is therefore in the process of finalising a management plan for the Swash Channel site in order to combat this problem.

The archaeological and environmental conditions of the site will be assessed and this information will be used to formulate a strategy for protection of the site. It is likely that the vessel will be recorded as far as possible in its current state, and items considered to be at risk will be recovered; subsequently the structure will be reburied or stabilised, with an ongoing programme of monitoring.

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