Conservation of Alderney’s maritime heritage is the main purpose of the Trust. Although the Trust’s remit encompasses the identification, study and protection of all of the shipwrecks in Alderney’s waters, since its inception its primary focus has been on the wreck of the Elizabethan ship.
The Elizabethan Ship and the Site
Ideally sites of shipwrecks should be preserved undisturbed. Very many ships have come to grief in the treacherous waters around the Island and Alderney has limited resources to do more than record their location and assess their significance. The Elizabethan ship is an exception. As the most complete wreck of a ship of the period it clearly has the same importance as the Mary Rose of Elizabeth’s father’s reign. It throws light on the immediate post Armada time when England was still threatened by Spain and was supporting French efforts to remove the Spanish army from northern France.
The ship is located within a three sided outcrop of rocks in which it has been covered by sand, and this has protected it and helped to preserve much of its contents. Some of the ship’s fittings have survived too, and this has enabled us to suggest the sort of vessel it was. It may be that larger structural remains lie buried in the sand, but we would hesitate to expose them because this would make them more vulnerable to attack from marine organisms that would in time completely destroy the ship’s timbers and any other organic based materials.
It would be prohibitively expensive to lift the remains of the ship’s hull – if it survives – given the huge costs that recovery, conservation and eventual care of it and the associated finds and their display would entail. For this reason our policy is wherever possible to try to avoid removing anything from the site that we cannot afford to conserve. Given these constraints, our policy is to manage the site as best we can. Even this modest objective has its challenges. The site lies close to the depth limits of our diving volunteers, and because the currents are so strong it is not possible to dive to the site except during the brief periods – about half an hour twice a day of slack water when the tides are turning.
From a conservation point of view the effect of the prevailing currents is the constant movement of the sand which exposes objects previously buried and reburies objects that had been exposed. Small and even some substantial objects such as muskets that have been seen one year may be completely lost by the next. This means that the Trust’s annual dives are mainly concerned with re-establishing the location of major items such as cannons that provide stable datum points from which to measure the position of anything that may be exposed or excavated. We have learned from bitter experience that anything on or near to the surface of the sand must be recovered and brought ashore before it is lost.
Read more about the need to conserve.