warships The Namur floor cavity and socketed into its brick foundations. Despite becoming an integral part of the Wheelwrights’ Shop fabric, these massive timbers preserve clear traces of their original role. Once used to support the ship’s decks, where these beams were too short to span the hull, two would be carefully combined using jagged tapering scarf joints. Slots where other parts were held in place and even traces of the original paint scheme show that these deck beams were reused the right way up. Nailed on top of them was a layer of thick planking that served as the new floor. Dangling from some of these boards were wads of oakum – the material forced into gaps between planks to waterproof them. Made of old rope strands and goat hair mixed with pitch, the presence of oakum identified the floorboards as hull planks that once formed the ship’s skin. So far, so utilitarian.
It is what lay concealed in the voids between the deck beams and beneath the flooring that divorces the Wheelwrights’ Shop refurbishment from everyday recycling. A range of smaller ship’s timbers were carefully placed there, filling almost all of the available space. Parts such as the futtocks – which were joined in sets of four to create curving ribs running all the way from the ship’s backbone at the keel to the main deck – lay useless above HMS Victory, a Chatham-built vessel, is the best preserved ship of the line anywhere in the world. Bristling with 100 carriage-mounted guns, her cannons can be seen projecting from some of the gun ports in the hull. Naval warfare in this period depended on manoeuvring a ship into a position where it could unleash a devastating broadside from these.
current archaeology | www.archaeology.co.uk between the deck beams. Too short to reach the brick foundations of the building and completely unnecessary to support the planking, these sections of the ship’s frame served no purpose in the new floor. The result is far more timber than could possibly be justified by the requirements of the Wheelwrights’ Shop refit. Dockyards were busy places and the work required to transport and install ship parts that were obviously redundant to the new floor represents wasted effort. So why do it?
Study indicated that the timbers probably came from a single vessel. Enough were present to show that she must have been either a small second-rate or large third-rate Royal Navy ship of the line. These warships were designed for combat involving the ‘line of battle’ tactics most famously deployed at Trafalgar in 1805. Such fighting saw columns of ships vying to unleash devastating broadsides from carriage-mounted guns firing through their hulls, a form of warfare that the watertight gun ports on the Tudor Mary Rose (see CA 272) represent the first steps toward. Given that the ship beneath the floor would have been an important naval vessel, establishing the name of this former high seas warrior became a tantalising prospect. Indeed, the more that archaeologists and naval historians puzzled over
December 2012 |