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The University of Southampton

TV's Time Team and Southampton scientists reveal the secrets of Henry V's greatest warship

Published: 4 February 2005

Television's Time Team has been uncovering the secrets of Henry V's great ship, Grace Dieu with wreck experts at the University of Southampton and Southampton Oceanography Centre. The programme goes out on Sunday, 6 February and features the 15th Century wreck - purchased by the University some 35 years ago for just £5.

Dr Justin Dix, a maritime geophysicist with Southampton Oceanography Centre said: "Grace Dieu was built in 1418, three years after the battle of Agincourt. She was the largest ship ever built in England and at 250 ft long was three times bigger than almost everything else for another two hundred years. She is about twice the size of Henry VIII's Mary Rose.

"She was built for war with France but never saw action and by 1420 was in reserve, functioning more as technological marvel to impress foreign dignitaries. In 1439, while moored in the Hamble river, she was struck by lightning and burnt to the waterline. The remains of her lower hull still lie in the river where she sank, preserved in a remarkable condition."

Dr Jon Adams, a maritime archaeologist with the University of Southampton and Director of the University's Centre for Maritime Archaeology continued: "At one time it was believed that the wreck was the remains of a Viking ship burnt by the Saxons and it wasn't until recent times, during the inter-war years that her true identity was discovered."

The University of Southampton purchased the wreck from the MoD for £5 in 1970 and since then several seasons of fieldwork have been carried out. The University's Centre for Maritime Archaeology has been investigating the site since 1997. The Time Team linked up with the Centre to film work on the last field season in July 2004.

Firstly the wreck had to be surveyed by the marine geophysics team. Dr Justin Dix who led the survey said: "This was particularly challenging because the water is so shallow, less than four metres deep. Any noise from a boat's engines disrupts the images so we had to a silent survey with divers pulling the sonar equipment over the wreck by hand. Without the help of the Hamble Harbour Master and his staff this project would not have been possible."

Then Dr Jon Adams led a team of archaeologists excavating on land and under water. It was this underwater work that solved some of mysteries of the ship's construction that have been puzzling historians for years. He said: "At 250 ft long, 50ft wide and weighing in at 1,400 tons Grace Dieu was three times bigger than the largest vessels in this period. Henry VIII's Mary Rose was half the size at 700 tons and some 170ft. It was not a simple case of 'scaling-up' using existing methods of construction, the builders would have had to use new techniques that only now have been revealed. The outcome of the collaboration with the Time Team and how medieval shipwrights would have built such a vessel can be seen on Sunday, 6 February on Channel 4."

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Notes for editors

  1. Southampton Oceanography Centre is a joint venture between the University of Southampton and the Natural Environment Research Council. From 1 May 2005 the centre will be known as the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.
  2. Members of the team working on project also included students at the University of Southampton.
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