The London 1665 – An Explosion at Sea

The warship London sank in the Thames Estuary on 7th March 1665 while preparing for the second Anglo-Dutch war,  which had been declared by Charles II only three days earlier.

One of the cannons recovered from the London Wreck
One of the cannons recovered from the London

The ship was en route from Chatham to Hope, awaiting the arrival of the Admiral, Sir John Lawson, when it was torn apart by an internal explosion attributed to the mass detonation of the gunpowder in the magazine. Samuel Pepys, the noted diarist and at the time a naval administrator, recorded the loss in his diary entry dated 8th March 1665.

‘This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of ‘The London’, in which Sir J. Lawson’s men were all bringing her from Chatham to the Hope, and thence he was to go to sea in her; but a little a ‘this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up. About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned: the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance. She lies sunk, with her round-house above water. Sir J. Lawson hath a great loss in this of so many good chosen men, and many relations among them. I went to the ‘Change, where the news taken very much to heart’. 

The site was re-discovered in 1962 and was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 in 2008.  Cotswold Archaeology has worked on the site since 2014.

The sudden loss of the ship and crew (and others on board) means that the archaeological remains have the potential to answer many research questions about life on a seventeenth century ship. In four seasons of excavation CA, working alongside the licensee Steve Ellis and his team, has recovered a whole host of exceptionally well-preserved artefacts.

Detailed studies of five of the bronze guns recovered from the site have revealed that three were fully loaded and had tampions (stoppers placed in the muzzle when not in use) in place, one was partially loaded, and one was empty. This suggests that the master gunner was preparing the ship for battle at the time of its loss.

The large number of used clay pipes recovered from the site may hint at the cause of the explosion of the ship, heavily laden as it was with gunpowder…

A wooden powder box
A wooden powder box
Clay tobacco pipes – was one of these responsible for the explosion?
Clay tobacco pipes – was one of these responsible for the explosion?
Bandoliers were leather straps hung from the shoulder across the body, from which wooden powder boxes were hung
Bandoliers were leather straps hung from the shoulder across the body, from which wooden powder boxes were hung

Gunns Mill, Forest of Dean

Over the past few years, Cotswold Archaeology has been carrying out drawn and photographic recording at Gunns Mill in the Forest of Dean, which include the remains of the oldest surviving blast furnace in the country. The site, a Scheduled Monument and a Grade II* Listed building, is on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register but has been rescued from the threat of extreme dereliction by the Forest of Dean Building Preservation Trust, who are undertaking a programme of conservation and restoration work to restore this unique building.

Gunns mill before erection of scaffolding

The mill was originally built as a blast furnace as early as 1683, and very probably before. In 1740 the furnace was converted into a paper mill, and was then used as a farm building from the 1880s. Despite this, many features of the original blast furnace survive largely intact, including the charging house and blowing chamber. The mill represents a very visible reminder of the importance of the Forest of Dean in the early development of ironworking, both nationally and worldwide. Read more about our work at Gunns Mill.

Just published – Medieval and post-medieval occupation at Glebe House, Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury

We’ve just published a summary account of an excavation we undertook in 2015 at Glebe House, Shrewsbury. The site is located to the east of Shrewsbury town centre and the River Severn, approximately 50m north of Abbey Foregate, which lies immediately to the north of the remains of the medieval Shrewsbury Abbey.

Glebe House view of the siteThe excavation was carried out at the request of Morris Property Limited, ahead of residential development, and identified elements of Shrewsbury’s early development dating back to the 11th century AD. Residual Early Medieval pottery hinted at even earlier activity, although the only archaeological features recognised dated from after the Norman Conquest.

The earliest features identified, which dated from the 11th to 13th centuries, were quarry pits for the extraction of coarse sand and gravel aggregates, along with a trackway, perhaps used to transport the quarried material.  This material may have been used in the development of medieval Shrewsbury.

Evidence for later medieval activity included a well, cess pits and general waste pits, suggesting that the area was on the periphery of domestic settlement during the 13th to 15th centuries. Some features, including ditches and postholes, may have formed elements of property boundaries, perhaps for burgage plots, fronting Horsefair, located to the south.

Features relating to the post-medieval period predominantly related to ephemeral timber structures, mostly defined by postholes, although it was difficult to define their nature or extent. However, documentary evidence indicates the industrial nature of the Foregate suburb of the town in the post-medieval period, with metal and leather-working recorded from the 16th century. One of the most distinctive features from the earlier post-medieval period was a barrel base (see below), found within a clay-lined pit. This was probably associated with the leather industry, with a deposit of lime probably having been used in the preparation of animal hides as part of the tanning process. It is possible that other contemporary ephemeral features and building remains were also associated with industrial activity on the site.

Base of a barrel in a pit, containing a lime mixture probably used during leather tanning base of a barrel in a pit, containing a lime mixture probably used during leather tanning - section

Later features included late 18th century pits, probably from the time when late medieval/early post-medieval structures had been demolished and prior to the 19th-century urban expansion of the town. From the 19th century onwards the site was occupied by a semi-detached residential building, which had been demolished prior to the establishment of the car park which occupied the site prior to the archaeological investigations.

Finds from the site included medieval to early modern cooking pots, pitchers and jugs, floor tile fragments, iron nails, a possible container for storing needles, clay tobacco pipe fragments and fragments of wine/spirits bottle glass.

Examples of pottery found on site

The summary account is published in the Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol. 92, 2017. Our full report on the excavation is available to download from our Reports Online webpage.

The Joy of X (rays)

Unprepossessing lumps of rusty iron are very common finds from excavations. As part of the post-excavation process we x-ray these objects to see behind the corrosion.  Usually the x-rays reveal a nail or a fragmentary scrap item, and while all objects have the potential to add to our understanding of a site, individually these objects are not usually very compelling.  Just occasionally, however, x-rays reveal something far more interesting.

Very rusty object before conservationX-ray reveals a Roman dagger attachment

For instance, this very corroded D-shaped object was found on an excavation just outside Gloucester. The x-ray showed it to be an object of complex form, with areas of what appeared to be white-metal plating (tin or silver). A bit of research revealed it to be an attachment from a Roman legionary’s dagger or pugio, probably dating to the 1st-century AD.  Surviving examples of military daggers of this period indicate that these were often beautifully-made ‘status’ items, highly decorated with silver inlay. A find such as this may be of considerable value in helping interpret a site. But only if it is x-rayed!

Ed McSloy

Reconstruction drawing of a Roman legionary’s pugio, based on an example from Velsen, Netherlands, showing the iron attachment from Gloucester in context’
Reconstruction drawing of a Roman legionary’s pugio, based on an example from Velsen, Netherlands, showing the iron attachment from Gloucester in context

Remodelling of Crumlin Road Courthouse, Belfast

Cotswold Archaeology assists with the remodelling of Crumlin Road Courthouse, Belfast, into a high-quality Signature Living hotel.

The term to be ‘sent down’ has several connotations, but in Belfast it literally described what happened when a defendant was sentenced by a judge in the Crumlin Road courthouse, as they were taken beneath Courtroom No. 1, through a long brick-lined tunnel, to emerge inside Crumlin Road jail and begin their sentence. Built in 1850 to a neo-classical design, Crumlin Road courthouse witnessed some of the largest trials in UK history and was an iconic landmark during The Troubles, where, in 1983 alone, 22 IRA suspects were jailed for a total of 4000 years. A number of ‘supergrass’ trials were also held in the courthouse during the early 1980s.

Surveying Crumlin Road Courthouse

Now ruinous, the courthouse closed in 1998 and has suffered from vandalism, several fires and general neglect. Several previous attempts to restore and re-use the former courthouse failed to develop, but Signature Living, based in Liverpool, have evolved a viable high-quality hotel scheme that has been welcomed in Stormont, the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Crumlin Road Courthouse 3D model

Crumlin Road Courthouse ceiling


Cotswold Archaeology’s Historic Building Consultants and Geomatics Team are working closely with Signature Living to record the building during this exciting development. Courtroom No. 1 is to be reconstructed and we are providing expert advice on the courthouse’s historic fabric to aid in the remodelling. We are delighted to work with and support Signature Living in this significant and impressive re-use of one of Belfast’s most iconic buildings in this ongoing project.

Garry Campion  

Stunning mosaic found in Roman Villa near Boxford

The project.

Since 2015 Cotswold Archaeology has been involved in a three year community archaeology project “Revealing Boxford’s Ancient Heritage”. A joint project involving the BHP (Boxford History Project), the Berkshire Archaeology Research Group and CA, the project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involved investigating three closely linked Roman sites near to the village of Boxford in West Berkshire.

Supported by our archaeologists, the local community groups and volunteers explored the function, status, chronology, extent and relationship of the three sites, which represented a significant focus of high-status Roman occupation in the Lambourn Valley. During the first year of the project such investigations uncovered a large villa and bath house, with a farmstead following in the second year. Following on from a successful two years, the final year of the project did not disappoint!

Roman Boxford Dig 2017.

Roman plunge pool
Roman plunge pool

This year kicked off to a great start, with finds recorded on the first day comprising a child’s bracelet and coins. Led by CA’s Matt Nichol, with the help of Agata, Alice, Keighley and Joe, the volunteers worked quickly to uncover the remains of the main villa, a probable barn, a gateway into the courtyard and other associated features. Finds also include Roman pottery and tile (one of which is complete and has an animal paw print), animal bone and much more. Although the villa was of modest size and of a common design, with a series of rooms adjoining a corridor running the full length of its front, it had evidently been subject to significant investment and upgrades over time. These included the addition of a bath suite with a small cold water plunge pool located in the corridor at the villa’s northern end. The most  spectacular addition, however, was a mosaic placed in a room at the southern end of the building.

Volunteers hard at work on the potential site of a Roman barn.
Volunteers hard at work on the potential site of a Roman barn.

The mosaic.

Our star find of the project was discovered during the initial stripping of the site, and measured over 6m in length. The mosaic comprised a highly decorated central panel surrounded by a plain border. Despite only one side of the mosaic being revealed within the trench, it is clear that the figurative mosaic is packed with mythical characters and beasts based on Greek legends.

Mosaic experts have visited the site and were explicit in their excitement and delight.  Anthony Beeson, one of the experts, said that:

 “This is without question the most exciting mosaic discovery made in Britain in the last fifty years and must take a premier place amongst those Romano-British works of art that have come down to modern Britons.”

Our own Roman expert, Neil Holbrook noted that:

“The mosaic is a truly important find. Not only is it a fantastic new piece of Roman art from Britain, but it also tells us about the lifestyle and social pretensions of the owner of the villa at Boxford. That person wanted to project an image of themselves as a cultivated person of taste – someone familiar with classical mythology and high Roman culture, despite the fact that their villa was of relatively modest size in a remote part of the Roman empire. While this person was most probably of British origin, they wanted to be regarded by their friends, neighbours and subservients as a proper Roman.”

Matt Nichol working on the mosaic
Matt Nichol working on the mosaic
Volunteers cleaning the mosaic
Volunteers cleaning the mosaic


For those interested in the iconography, Anthony Beeson suggests that the sideways scene may be interpreted as Bellerophon, a hero of Greek mythology, at the court of either Iobates or Proteus.

Bellerophon was sent to kill the chimera, a fire breathing monster with the head of a lion, the torso of a goat and a serpent’s tail.

The chimera illustrated on the mosaic at Boxford is one of only two known from Britain which turns back to attack in the traditional manner. The others all flee.

Other figures on the mosaic possibly include Hercules fighting a centaur, Cupid holding a wreath, and depictions of telamons in the corners, who appear to hold up the central panel.

Other examples of Romano-British Bellerophon mosaics are known from Frampton and Hinton St Mary in Dorset, Lullingstone in Kent and Croughton, near Brackley in Northamptonshire.

Left to Right: Potentially Hercules fighting the Centaur & Cupid with a wreath in his left hand
Left to Right: Potentially Hercules fighting the Centaur & Cupid with a wreath in his left hand

What now?

A site tour during the open day (Saturday 25th August)
A site tour during the open day (Saturday 25th August)

The Open Day last Saturday was attended by over 250 people who were able to view finds from the excavation, as well as the villa and mosaic. While the site has now been backfilled, it is hoped that future investigations will allow us to further our understanding of some of the features discovered, including the bath suite, and will reveal the mosaic in its entirety.

We have thoroughly enjoyed being involved in this project, and agree with the Chairman of the Boxford History Project who said: “Thanks to everyone who has contributed in any way to this amazing success. What a fantastic way to end this three-year project!

Steve Clark from the Berkshire Archaeology Research Group also commented “We’re very grateful for all the support provided by Neil Holbrook and Duncan Coe over the course of project and for the professionalism and patience of CA’s field staff in guiding us through the excavations. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have been led by somebody like Matt who has gone the extra mile to get the most out of our limited time on site each year”.

Our own Duncan Coe, who has been involved with the Boxford project for the last 6 years, stated that “this is one of the best examples of a project where a local community, local volunteer archaeologists and professional archaeologists have worked together to produce some truly inspiring results. We hope that the local community take away a greater understanding of the world around them and the time depth within the place they call home”.

For more information about the mosaic and dig go to:
The mosaic after cleaning, note the Victorian land drain in the corner, and the manner in which the building has been terraced into the slope
The mosaic after cleaning, note the Victorian land drain in the corner, and the manner in which the building has been terraced into the slope