In the summer of 2002, thousands flocked to the banks of the River Usk in Newport (Casnewydd), to see a piece of history.
In the middle of a building site, the mud had been cleared to reveal the 500-year-old remains of a trading ship.
Built in 1447, it is the world’s best preserved example of a 15th Century vessel. Nearly ten years after it was uncovered, archaeologists are still making new discoveries about life on board.
They hope that in the next decade the ship will be rebuilt and put on display in its own museum.
Charles Ferris, from the Friends of the Newport Ship group, remembers the excitement as news of the discovery spread.
“It was amazing, it was absolutely palpable. I often think the Newport ship floats on a sea of goodwill,” he said.
“The Newport public did us proud and came out to support her in their thousands. People used to queue for two to three hours just to see her.”
The timbers were uncovered during work to build the Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre. After a campaign to ensure it was preserved, the ship was moved timber by timber to an industrial unit nearby.
Around 2,000 oak timbers have been preserved in chemically-treated water tanks.
For almost 10 years, archaeologists have been carefully working through hundreds of boxes of artefacts that were also salvaged from the mud.
Toby Jones, curator of the Newport medieval ship project, said: “We have literally thousands of things like shoes, coins, animal bones, fish bones, nuts, seeds, pollen.
“It’s all very interesting and can tell you so much about what life was like back in the medieval period.”
But it would be wrong to assume that by now, all of the ship’s secrets have been revealed. As the tenth anniversary of its discovery approaches in 2012, experts are still making new findings.
Mr Jones added: “A piece of rope was found during the excavation. It’s incredibly well preserved.
“It’s so well preserved we can tell its structure, how it’s made and the material it was made from, its overall size and how strong it would’ve been and, therefore, what it was used for in the ship.
“We only dug this out of the mud two weeks ago. This is what routinely shows up. Really nice examples that we didn’t even know we had.”
Items found include a medieval shoe once considered the height of fashion
The industrial unit is more of a laboratory than a museum and so a study is now being carried out to find a suitable site, or building, to permanently display the ship.
The plan is to rebuild it, timber by timber, but space is an issue. When it was built, it would’ve been the length of three double-decker buses.
“Building the ship is actually going to take two to three years in itself,” said Mr Jones.
“We’re actually going to build the ship in the same order that they built the original ship in the medieval period. We’re going to learn just as much in that phase of the project as we’ve learned so far.
“When you go to see the ship in a museum in five or six years, rebuilt, you’re not going to need any imagination. It’s going to look like a ship and it’s going to blow you away.”
Newport’s medieval ship goes into the deep freeze
NEWPORT’S historic medieval ship will be preserved for generations to come following the start of a freeze drying process yesterday.
The ship, believed to date back to the 15th century, will have all of its 2,000 timbers placed in a six tonne, custom-built freeze dryer.
The process, expected to be completed in 2014, will remove excess water and once complete, will leave the timbers dry to the touch meaning they can be handled more easily.
The preserved timbers will then be stored until arrangements are made for them to be placed on display.
The ship’s curator, Toby Jones, said it was a great way to mark the ten year anniversary of its discovery.
He said: “The ship will now be preserved for generations to come to discover and enjoy, and means that work can continue to discover even more about its exciting history.”
The vessel was discovered in the banks of the River Usk in June 2002 during construction of the Riverfront Theatre.
It was excavated piece by piece by a team of archaeologists and is one of the largest and best preserved examples of a ship from this period ever found in the UK.
It is currently stored at an industrial unit in Maesglas but it is hoped it will eventually be housed in its own museum.
The authority recently applied for a £21,000 Welsh Government grant to fund a digital reconstruction of the ship based on archaeological evidence, traditional ship building knowledge and historical research.
It is hoped this could be used to help guide the reassembly of its timbers once they have been preserved.
To celebrate the ten year anniversary of its discovery, a series of videos have been produced detailing the preservation process.
THE ship is believed to have been built in the Basque Country, northern Spain, circa 1450. Previous guesses included Portugal or Bayonne, which lies in the region straddling the Basque Country and Gascony in southern France.
A coin found on board dates from 1447, but new findings reveal the ship is slightly younger than first thought.
The ship was damaged when it arrived in Wales in the midst of the War of the Roses, explained Newport City Councillor Charles Ferris, patron of the Friends of the Newport Medieval Ship.
“The ship was laid up in 1467, but it wasn’t obsolete at that point,” said Cllr Ferris.
“It was owned by Warwick the King-maker who was a notorious pirate and we know he gave passage to a ship called the Marie of Bayonne from the Basque Country, so our ship could have been the Marie.
“It could also have been taken in an act of piracy.”
Born in 1428, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was called ‘the king-maker’ because of his political influence.
It is possible that pirates operating under the Earl’s sponsorship may have captured the ship, but it never left Newport, possibly due to the Earl’s death.