Monday, 17 June 2013


Speaking as an occasional amateur archaeologist I can recall the excitement surrounding the discovery of the Newport Ship (a fifteenth-century sailing vessel) when it was discovered (and excavated) by archaeologists back in 2002. The remains of the ship were found on the west bank of the River Usk, during the construction of the Riverfront Arts Centre. The then Labour in Newport Council had no plans to preserve the ship, which save for a highly effective public protest and the thousands of people who turned up and formed a long and  orderly queue to see the excavations (and to show their support) it would have been quietly turned to matchwood.

Flocking to see the Newport Ship (in 2002)
Faced with protests the decision to excavate and preserve the Newport ship (as it became known) was made – this was (and still is) the correct decision for an artefact of such historical significance. As a result all of the ship's timbers were raised and transferred to a dedicated industrial unit, possibly the biggest wood conservation centre in the UK now that that the Mary Rose project in Portsmouth has been completed. Preservation and research continue, despite problems with future funding, iinitial estimates suggested that the preservation process would cost around £3.5 million pounds, this funding stream came from the Welsh Government, Newport City Council and the from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Newport ship was originally around 80 feet (24 metres) long, which made it more than capable of continental voyages.  Recovered artefacts suggest that the ship was trading with Portugal in the fifteenth century. The abundance of artefacts linked with Portugal argues even that the ship was also built there. Dendrochronology has given a likely felling date of 1465 and 1466 for some of the timbers used in both its construction and its repair. Remnants of a cradle found beneath the ship suggested that it had been berthed for repair but then abandoned.

Waiting to see the Newport Ship (in 2002)
Preservation is only part of the process, as the recovered remains (which include some 1700 ship timbers and the artefacts) are too large to be put on display  in the basement of the new arts centre, the Newport Ship needs a new home. As had been said elsewhere the Ship is one of the Europe's most important pieces of medieval archaeology and is an important piece of maritime history. Some eleven years of hard work has been spent cleaning, recording, conserving and studying it. The Ship should be re-assembled and put on public display in Newport in a purpose built new maritime museum.

A new maritime museum with the Newport ship as a central exhibit should provide Newport with a unique selling point, bringing visitors and jobs when completed. Publically reassembling the ship should be a major tourist and educational attraction. South Gwent has moiré than enough potential exhibits including the remains of the Barlands Farm Romano Celtic boat and the other smaller historical artefacts (including the lifeboat of the Anglo-Saxon) which are currently on display elsewhere or sat in storage.

Excavating the Newport Ship (in 2002)
This should be a real and lasting opportunity to begin the process of regeneration of the city, which despite the attempts of the planners still retains plenty of outstanding historical attractions including the Roman Legionary fortress at Caerleon, the Transporter Bridge, Tredegar House, St Woolos Cathedral, the remains of Newport Castle and the collection of finds from Roman Caerwent. With the process of timber conservation estimated to be coming to an end by 2017, there is a need to commit to planning and building a new maritime museum so with a new museum within the city where the process of re-assembling the Ship can take place.

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