The story of the Gloucester

On May 6, 1682 a royal ship carrying James Stuart, Duke of York and heir to the throne ran aground on a sandbank off the Norfolk coast.
It was discovered in 2007 by Norfolk divers brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell and their friend, retired ex-Royal Navy submariner and diver James Little. The ship’s identity was confirmed in 2012 and its discovery was made public in June 2022.

A rare glimpse into
17th-century life

The items which the brother have recovered from the Gloucester have been amazingly well preserved.
Spectacles kept in a decorative case, the ship’s bell, a jar of ointment, navigational instruments, women’s clothes, and many wine bottles, some with their corks intact and original contents inside.

Timeline of the Gloucester

1652

The Gloucester is commissioned to be built by shipwright Matthew Graves at Limehouse dockyard, East London

Spring 1654

The Gloucester is launched with Benjamin Blake as captain

1654-1656

The Gloucester departs with William Penn’s fleet for the West Indies as part of a colonial expedition to expand the English Commonwealth by capturing Spanish colonies in the Caribbean.

1665-1667

The Gloucester participates in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, including the Battle of Lowestoft (1665) and the Four Days battle (1666)

1672-1674

The Gloucester is involved in combat in the Third Anglo-Dutch War, including the Battle of Solebay (1672) and the Battle of Texel (1673)

1678-1680

The Gloucester undergoes an extensive refit at Portsmouth. After its completion it can be considered a new ship in many ways.

6 April 1682

Sir John Berry is commissioned as captain of The Gloucester

4 May 1682

The Gloucester departs for Edinburgh from Margate Road, off the Kent coast, with James, Duke of York and Albany, and many other English and Scottish noble passengers on board.

6 May 1682

The Gloucester strikes the Leman and Ower sandbanks at 5.30am and sinks within the hour, with the loss of an estimated 130-250 lives.


Twenty-first century

2001

Lincoln Barnwell reads Shipwreck Index of the British Isles: The East Coast of England by Richard and Bridget Larn.

2003

The search for the Gloucester begins.

2005

The Barnwell brothers meet James ‘Tiny’ Little.

2007

The Barnwells and their diving companions discover a significant wreck site they believe to be that of the Gloucester. They find exposed areas containing cannon, as well as parts of the ship’s structure including the galley hearth and exposed timbers.

2007-2012

Regular surveys are undertaken to record surface features on the seabed, inspect and photograph exposed artefacts, and look for definitive proof of the wreck’s identity.
A series of at-risk artefacts are rescued including a cannonball, clay pipes, a lead scupper, a brass trumpet mouthpiece, glass bottles, a pewter button, spoons, and a tankard lid.

May-August 2012

Further at-risk artefacts are recovered, including a pewter porringer and forty-seven additional glass bottles, twenty-six still retaining their corks and contents.

August 2012

The ship’s bell is found. Its markings WW’ and ‘1681’ firmly establish the identity of the wreck as the Gloucester.

August 2015

Two wooden chests are found, now known as Chests ‘A’ and ‘B’.

2015-2016

A total of 144 at-risk objects are rescued from Chests A and B.

2018

The Maritime Archaeology Trust are approached to undertake surveying and photogrammetry.

2019

Norfolk Museums become involved, advising on conservation and a potential exhibition. The University of East Anglia join the team, starting to research a cradle-to-grave history of the Gloucester.

2021

The University of East Anglia are awarded a major grant from the Leverhulme Trust to undertake three years of intensive historical research.

10 June 2022

The finding of the Gloucester publicly announced around the world.
The first research article ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester (1682)
The Politics of a Royal Shipwreck’ published in English Historical Review.

27 February 2023

‘The Last Voyage of The Gloucester‘ exhibition opens at Norwich Castle Museum.

Find out more

Researchers at the UEA are restoring the discovered artefacts and unearthing the mysteries surrounding the ships tragic end. Find out more at UEA Stories.

Prof Jowitt and Dr Redding are writing a cradle-to-grave history of this 17th-century warship, to assess its contribution to naval history and the wider importance to our understanding of early modern social, political, and cultural history.

Image credits: Artefact images ©️ Norfolk Historic Shipwrecks Ltd.

Stay in touch

We would like to keep you informed as this exciting project unfolds and hear what you have to say.