THE extremely rare remains of a medieval ship and its cargo from the 13th century have been discovered in Dorset and granted the highest level of protection.

Exceptionally rare and well-preserved shipwrecks have been discovered off the Dorset coast have been granted the highest level of protection by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries on the advice of Historic England.

The 13th century Mortar Wreck discovered off the Dorset coast with its cargo of gothic Purbeck stone gravestones is the oldest known protected wreck in English waters with timbers dating from1242-1265 during the reign of King Henry III.

The discovery makes this the earliest English designated wreck site where hull remains can be seen.

The ship was discovered in Poole Bay on the edge of the Swash Channel by local charter boat skipper Trevor Small of Rocket Charters who reported the discovery to archaeologists from Bournemouth University.

Trevor said: “I was born into a seafaring family. I've skippered thousands of sea miles looking for shipwrecks from my home port of Poole. In summer 2020, I discovered what I believed to be an undetected wreck site. Recent storms had revealed something unknown on the seabed.

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"I was granted permission to dive the wreck. The rest is history! I've found one of the oldest shipwrecks in England.” 

Maritime archaeologist, Tom Cousins who is part of the team at Bournemouth University assigned to uncover and preserve the wreck said: “Very few 750-year-old ships remain for us to be able to see today and so we are extremely lucky to have discovered an example as rare as this, and in such good condition."

Bournemouth Echo: Collection of mortars at the BU archaeology deptCollection of mortars at the BU archaeology dept

The vessel, known as a clinker ship in its design, is made from overlapping planks of wood and was carrying a cargo of Purbeck stone.

The shipwreck is referred to as the ‘Mortar Wreck,’ since much of the cargo contained within the wreck also includes several Purbeck stone mortars, which are large stones used by mills to grind grains into flour. 

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, who have been working closely with the university said: “The 13th century ship with its cargo of medieval Purbeck stone is fascinating because it is the earliest English protected wreck site where hull remains are present.” 

Rebecca Rossiter, engagement and collections manager at Poole Museum, who will be exhibiting the cargo finds from the Mortar Wreck said: “It’s exciting that finds from the Mortar Wreck will be going on display in one of Poole Museum’s three new maritime galleries."