London Gateway is a major development of a new container terminal built on the north bank of the Thames near Stanford-le-Hope. A capital dredging scheme accompanied its construction in order to increase the depth of the navigable channel to the new port.
In 2001 application for consent to build the new port was accompanied by the development of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Archaeological investigations for the EIA were undertaken by Wessex Archaeology handling the wet side elements and Oxford Archaeology handling the dry side. The role of Archaeological Curator for the wet side fell primarily to English Heritage, with Essex County Council taking responsibility for most of the dry side. Kent County Council was responsible for curatorial input for dry side elements of the scheme on the southern bank of the Thames.
Following submission of the EIA in 2002-2003, archaeological consideration turned to the enabling works that would need to be carried out before dredging could commence. Significantly, it was acknowledged that a series of wrecks and obstructions lay along the navigable channel that needed to be investigated and cleared before dredging could take place. The pre-dredge clearance was to be undertaken by the Port of London Authority (PLA), who commissioned Wessex Archaeology to assist with all archaeological investigative aspects of the anticipated wreck clearance programme.
Existing data was reviewed in order to develop a framework for mitigating the impact of clearance, followed by a series of desk-based, geo-physical and diver-based investigations to prepare Clearance Mitigation Statements (CMS) for each of the wrecks/obstructions of archaeological interest that might be impacted by clearance. The marine archaeological investigations accompanying the consent process began in April 2001. The final CMS’s were then completed in 2008, by which time London Gateway had received its consent. Major clearance activities then took place in 2010, with the Thames Discovery Programme undertaking on-site recording, and dredging initiated in March of the same year.
“Coping with uncertainty was a…major question for both archaeologists and developers. Because of its environment, its long history of maritime activity, and its importance in a series of conflicts, many boats and ships have come to grief in the Thames. The environment has also rendered the Thames inscrutable for the majority of this history, so knowledge of what lies beneath its waters was lacking, certainly at the start of the investigations…Even where wrecks are known to be present, their identity and age were often unknown.”
Extract taken from p.7 of London Gateway: Maritime Archaeology in the Thames Estuary. By Anthony Firth, Niall Callan, Graham Scott, Toby Gane and Stephanie Arnott.
A total of thirty significant sites were identified within the Navigational Channel and Dredge Impact Area, with CMS’s prepared for each one. Amongst them were sites 5029 and 5019, the wreck of the London, lying as two areas of wreckage some 400m apart. Others included HMS Aisha, HMT Amethyst, The SS Letchworth, a German Aircraft, an Anti-submarine Boom, an ‘Ancient Wreck’ and MV Ryal.