In the 16th century, a merchant ship sank to the bottom of the Thames where it lay undisturbed for 500 years. It was discovered by the Port of London Authority during investigations for the Princes Channel deepening, and it was clear from the outset that the find was something special.
The wreck was named 'The Gresham Ship' following the discovery of an emblem and initials relating to Elizabethan financier and founder of the Royal Exchange and Gresham College, Sir Thomas Gresham (c.1519–79), on one of the vessel's cannons from this typically well-armed merchant ship.
The find is significant on several levels:
- It is a rare example of the relatively well-preserved structure of a small English-built merchant ship of the Elizabethan period
- It is the only known archaeological example of the practice of 'furring' (rebuilding a ship to increase its breadth)
- It provides insights into many aspects of shipbuilding from timber sourcing and working, to shipyard practices; 16th century shipbuilders remain unknown and rarely recorded the methods they used
The wreck became the authority's responsibility once salvage teams removed it from the shipping channel. Recognising that the find was of great importance to Tudor historians, maritime archaeologists and to all interested in the history of the Port of London and The Thames, the PLA, along with Wessex Archaeology (WA), mounted a rescue operation. Subsequently, to ensure that the Gresham Ship receives the attention it deserves, the PLA has launched a £44,000, five-year Gresham Ship Research Project, in collaboration with:
- University College London (UCL)
- Institute of Archaeology
- Gresham College
- Museum of London Group
- Nautical Archaeology Society
- University of South Denmark