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Investigating an Ainsdale shipwreck

25 April 2014 by Sam

Someone using technical equipment to survey a partly-exposed shipwreck on a beach

Surveying the site of the shipwreck

Mark Adams, Senior Archaeological Project Officer at the Museum of Liverpool’s archaeology department, has been uncovering a mystery hidden by the sand on a nearby beach. He explains:

“Last Wednesday and Thursday I swapped the office for Ainsdale Beach to conduct a geophysical and auger survey of a shipwreck off the Ainsdale coast with volunteers from the Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership. The wreck is the remains of a wooden vessel, last seen in the early 1980s before it was exposed again by last winter’s storms. Its date and name are unknown, we didn’t even know basic things like its size because only the stern has ever been seen.

After some basic training the volunteers surveyed the wreck site using a fluxgate gradiometer, essentially a very sensitive metal detector, in an attempt to find out just how big she is. As far as I’ve been able to find out this type of survey has only been done on a beach wreck once before in the UK, so it was nice to work with volunteers on something close to the cutting edge of archaeology. I had no idea whether it would work at all, but first impressions are that it has worked rather well.

rough image of the wreck area created from computer data

The survey of the shipwreck site shows anomalies hidden under the sand.

The plot in the photo shown here is from the raw data and needs to be put onto a base map, but north is at the top and it covers an area of 60 x 60 metres. There are two very large anomalies (the black and white blobs in the centre), one at either end of the wreck. From these it looks like the wreck is about 30 m long and 7-10 m wide and lying NNW-SSE with the stern at the north end. The anomaly at the north east corner of the survey area is presumably general beach debris, I ran a quick scan around it and it doesn’t look like it extends any further to the north or west.

We also ran a couple of transects across the site with a hand auger. That didn’t work so well, generally speaking it only seemed to hit compacted sands at around 1.2-1.3 m deep, though that does at least give the minimum depth of sand cover. There’s no evidence of the sides of the vessel surviving well, so perhaps the vessel has been flattened or compressed by the weight of sand cover, I suspect it’s normally covered by 2-3 m of wet sand.

People surveying the beach with equipment that looks like a giant corkscrew

Volunteers using a hand auger to survey the site

The auger may have hit an obstruction relating to the anomaly at the NE end of the wreck at a depth of 1.2 m, I’m not sure, but the depth of sand cover suggests that the anomalies relate to objects which are large and deeply buried rather than small and close to the surface.

Now we know how big the wreck is, which way she lies and how deeply buried, we can start to think of ways of identifying her.”

  1. John Winrow says:

    Could this be the German barque Star of Hope? This vessel was lost in a force 10 gale whilst entering the Mersey on 20 January 1883. Sailing from the USA with a cargo of cotton the ship ran aground on this beach. Fortunately the Captain and his crew survived.

  2. Mark Adams says:

    Hi John, It could be the Star of Hope, though Martyn Griffiths (http://www.martyngriff.co.uk/page02.htm) has always believed that’s the wreck which lies about 300 m to the west of the one we surveyed, the westerly site is exposed more frequently. I was lucky enough to have Martyn with me on the survey days and we spent some time discussing this on site. It could be that the western site just got labelled as the Star of Hope because it’s seen more often. There are several other sites along the coast I’d be keen to get a look at using this method (The Bradda might be next). Another thing I’d like to do now I know magnetometry works on Sefton’s wrecks is to use a rapid scan method to try to locate more. I’m sure that there must be dozens of wrecks buried beneath the sands on that stretch of coast.

  3. Steve Brown says:

    I am the NWIFCA officer for the area and patrol the sands frequently. There are several wrecks or pieces of wreckage that show up from time to ime in the area. Taking the “Star of Hope” as the center a short distance from her starboard side lies part of a far more substancial wooden wreck. Head (roughly SSW) towards the wreck of the Atlantic and there is a substancial part (port side forward I think) of a more lightly built ship possibly a small schooner, ketch or similar coastal vessel. To landward of these wrecks the stern of a Flat with the charictaristic timber heads of that type occasionally shows. A short distance off the “Star of Hopes” port bow lies another quite substancial wreck layng parrallel to the shore. Only the bottom of the ship remains. At one time you could see her capstain with a few of the capstain bars still shipped clearly as the vessel had broken or been broken up the capstain had fallen into the lower part of the ship. The vessel had been braced with iron knees some of which remain fastened with yellow metal clench bolts. I suspect given that unusual combination of fastenings that she would date from the early decades of the 19th centuary.

  4. Mark Adams says:

    Hi Steve,

    The wrecks along that stretch of coast have never been formally recorded (few/none of them are even on the National Monuments Record) and there’s a lot of local knowledge like yours and Martyn Griffiths’ out there which should be collated into a coherent whole. If I’ve read you correctly it’s possible that the wreck we surveyed was the Flat you mention, though the survey results suggest that it might be a little too long. It would be interesting to talk to directly and get your notes on to a map. If you drop me an email via our contacts page we could set something up.

    Best Wishes,

    Mark Adams

    • Steve Brown says:

      Mark

      Next time something interesting pops up I will note down the position properly and post the relevant information. It’s a while since I have seen the Flat but there was no mistaking what it was. I have heard tales of a large wreck from old fishermen that was fairly high up the beach at Ainsdale but have never seen any remains. It could well be that this is the mystery wreck, there is certainly a lot more under the sands to be found.

      Other wrecks that I have seen include part of a substancial wooden wreck in the Penfold Channel it’s some time ago and it certainly wasn’t showing when I was out there today. I am told that there is a substancial wooden wreck between the Penfold and S Gut channels but have not seen it in my 27 years on that part of the beach. The top of a spar bouy has recently shown off the bow of the steel wreck at the mouth of the Penfold Ch. One of the old fishermen told me it dated from 1918 or 19.

      Further south off Formby Point to the landward of the Ionic Star is a steam engine with a few wooden ribs showing up whatever craft this was she was quite lightly built. To the north of the Ionic Star and only visible on exceptional ebb tides is another quite substancial wreck. I have seen her drying but could not get to her, all I can say is that she is definitly there.

      I am not particularly good with computers but have a keen interest in our maritime past now that I have found this site I will post anything of interest that crops up.

      Steve Brown.

  5. Mark Adams says:

    Steve,

    That’s really interesting, it would be great if you could pop into our offices for a chat and we could get these plotted onto a map. Alternatively I could go out with you on your next visit and plot the sites with GPS. The wreck near the Ionic Star sounds like one Martyn Griffiths provisionally identified as an Isle of Man trawler, I’m not sure about the others. If you want to get in touch directly this link http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/about/contact/ContactForm.aspx?EnquiryID=179 should take you to an email or you could ring through our switchboard 0151 478 4545. I’m away from the office next week but will be around in June.

    Best Wishes,

    Mark

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