5th October 2012:
A site investigated by OA at Chatham’s historic dockyard became national news recently when the ship timbers uncovered during the investigation were discovered to be the remains of a famous 18th-century British warship.
Over five months in 1995, OA’s buildings archaeologist Rob Kinchin-Smith meticulously removed and recorded successive floor layers of boards and linoleum from the former Wheelwright’s Shop, a Scheduled Ancient Monument (built in c.1780). But it wasn’t until the final days of the investigation when Rob made the spectacular discovery of some 170 ship’s timbers reused as supports for the lowest floor – the one crucial element that could not be seen in the sondage made before works began!
From Rob’s work, it was clear that the timbers belonged to an 18th-century warship, and was a discovery of major importance, but the name of the ship remained unknown. However, during further analysis by Chatham Historic Dockyard, the timbers were dated, and stamps on the wood were found to show the shipwright’s initials, finally identifying the vessel as HMS Namur.
HMS Namur, built in 1756, was a 90-gun ship which saw action in the Seven Years’ War against the French at the Battle of Lagos, and between 1811 and 1814 was anchored in the Thames Estuary to serve as a guard ship to watch for French ships and smugglers. The vessel was taken out of service in 1833. Among its captains was Sir Charles Austen, the brother of Jane, and one of its crew was Olaudah Equiano, an African slave, who, after gaining his freedom, campaigned against slavery.
The story received a huge amount of coverage in the national press and archaeological magazines. Though there was no specific mention of Oxford Archaeology’s contribution, the fact that such a remarkable ship has been so firmly identified is testament to the dedication of staff from OA, in particular Rob Kinchin-Smith.