Early Modern and Industrial

Virginia Dellino-Musgrave and Jesse Ransley with Jon Adams, Kevin Camidge, David Gaimster, Graham Scott, Gareth Watkins and Julian Whitewright


In the relatively short period between 1650 and 1850 the world changed. In contrast with the High to Post-Medieval period, England’s maritime world expanded, becoming outward-looking. The origins of this can be traced back to the previous centuries, but it was the fundamental changes that occurred with the rise of England’s windborne mercantile fleets in the 17th century and the contestation and consolidation of her maritime Empire and navy  in the 18th, that created a globalised maritime nation. By the time steamships began to dominate ocean-going seafaring in the late 1800s, England was at the heart of the British Empire, a ‘modern’ nation.

A new world emerged in this period: previously remote parts of the globe were connected; empires and trade routes were  reconfigured; new  centres of global  power  developed,  governing  the  lives  of people thousands of miles away. Cultures and even landscapes were ‘reworked as people, ideas and material objects were transported and recombined elsewhere in unprecedented ways’ (Ogborn 2008, 1). The processes that began to shape modern Britain – capitalism, colonialism and consumerism were formulated in the flows of people, materials, and ideas into and out of England. Within this expansion new communities developed and there were new global possibilities for individuals as well as nations. However, alongside this new wealth and power, new structures of oppression and forms of exploitation developed. Since all these radical transformations are evidenced in the archaeological record, that material resource for this period   in particular is both contested and crucial to the present. It is, for example, in the archaeology of  the slave trade and in the colonial and commercial networks of the 18th century that we can see the origins of contemporary transnational identities and the identity politics of modern Britain (Tabili 1994; Visram 1986).

The period was characterised by complex social dynamics and ‘revolutionary’ movements, both ideological and industrial. The ‘First Industrial Revolution’ (from c 1750) was bound up with the acceleration of economic growth and social transformation, but also drove these processes (Hobsbawn 1999). These changes supported and were fed by colonial  expansion and a series of national  and international conflicts (Fig 8.1). The 17th century saw the English Civil War, the Republic and the Restoration, which were then followed by a series of international conflicts with European powers, both in Europe and in the wider world. Britain established, fought for, and finally, with the American War of Independence, lost its North American colonies, whilst its West Indian sugar plantations, the ‘Triangular Trade’ that supported them, and the monopoly of trade and Empire building in south Asia were all secured. The Atlantic world emerged and Britain consolidated its power in Australasia and the Indian Ocean. The beginning of the 18th century also saw the Union with Scotland, and amongst all these conflicts and colonial expansion British Naval power and maritime trade became central to developing notions of a British identity (Dellino-Musgrave 2006; see also Colley 2002). By the end of the period and the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’ (beginning c 1850), a British maritime empire had emerged.

Figure 8.1 Timeline of national conflicts and key events from 1650 to 1850

All these social, political, and economic changes relied on England’s ports and ships, on mariners and port communities, but equally on the fisheries and salt production, coastal trade, and the network of small harbours. Even those whose lives seemed at some distance from the sea were affected by it. Seaborne wealth altered their built environment, the goods they used and consumed, and the fashions they followed, so that material entanglements with the maritime sphere stretched deep inland. It is in the flow of goods and people, and in the new ideas and social processes that developed with them,  that we can trace the formation of what we now understand as ‘modern’ Britain and discern the transition from a ‘Medieval’ to ‘Modern’ world. As  a consequence, the depth and breadth of Britain’s Early Modern and Industrial  maritime  heritage  is remarkable and international, and needs to be understood in context at local, regional, and global scales.

Given that everything from the Queen’s Dock in Liverpool to the sugar in your tea is bound to this period in our maritime past, this chapter can only characterise the research thus far undertaken or the areas that deserve further investigation, so it should be read in conjunction with regional frameworks and RCZAs. Moreover, all the themes in this chapter are interwoven so that individual research questions need to be seen in the context of the whole chapter; the maritime networks are entangled  with ship technology and the physical changes to England’s coast but also with new identities and conceptions of maritime space (and even the world) that were moulded during the same period.

Broad research issues

Despite the potential of the marine historic environment of this period, much of the research this chapter draws on is descriptive, site-specific, and technically focused. There is a depth of information but it needs to be contextualised within the broader dynamics of social transformation as well as compared with other places and people, so the complexity and diversity of human experience can be emphasised. Moreover, though there are plentiful historical accounts and careful historiography, the material expressions of our Early Modern and Industrial past are less well researched or theorised. Importantly, it is in the material evidence that silences in the historical literature can be addressed, particularly in regard to those whose lives do not feature in the historical documents, ie the working class and subaltern (Hall 1999).

In general, future research needs to include:

  • An emphasis on how studies of material culture and materiality (landscapes, buildings, artefacts) contribute to and even challenge maritime history;
  • Integration of different sources of information, including historical accounts, frameworks of analysis, and the largely untapped ‘grey literature’ resource, as well as extant maritime archaeological archives (particularly of shipwrecks);
  • Integration between local, regional, and global scales of analysis and more use of comparative case studies at these different scales;
  • Expansion of shipwreck site research to include questions of shipboard society, social and material practices, and how they reflect different scales of social action;
  • Investigation of the maritime dimension of new communities and identities and of altered percetions of maritime space

Theme 8 1: Coastal change

8.1.1    Coastal change and land reclamation

Among the large meta-narratives of colonial expansion and global trade in this period, the more local or small-scale accounts of change, both environmental and material, are often lost. Sea-level and climate change had ceased to be driving factors in coastal evolution by this time (Long 2000; Murphy 2009), and the storm surges of the 1200–1400s were no longer common by 1650 (Murphy 2009, 33–6). There were still isolated severe storms, which caused cliff erosion and the breaching of coastal barriers (Haslett and Bryant 2007, who also suggest that some of these events are associated with tsunami activity in the Atlantic), but it was anthropogenic change that principally reshaped the coastline from 1650.

The general trend for reclamation of coastal fens and marshes for mixed agriculture from the 13th century had stabilised in most areas by the late 1600s, only to accelerate again in some regions during the late 1700s with the Industrial Revolution and through the Napoleonic Wars. The Humber Estuary saltmarshes behind Spurn Point were, for example, progressively reclaimed over 200 years from the 1760s (Van de Noort 2004), whilst in Suffolk the increasing population and high agricultural prices from 1750 made reclamation of areas  of the northerly marshes economically viable (Williamson 2005, 27–49). Sluices, drains, banks, and wind pumps were developed to convert the marsh to arable grazing, until the rising prices in the Napoleonic Wars led to grain cultivation for a brief period (ibid). Reclamation was sometimes resisted by inhabitants of wetland areas whose products and ways of life were undermined by these changes and the entrepreneurs financing them; for example, in the 1700s, drainage works and reclamation structures in the Fens were sabotaged by the ‘Fen Tigers’ (Lord 1995, 74).

Though individually often small scale, cumulatively these reclamation projects enacted significant transformations over time. Estuaries were reshaped completely with the major dock and harbour expansions in large port cities at the start of the 18th century. For example, in 1709 work began on the natural ‘Pool’ in Liverpool to convert it into a commercial dock. Completed in 1715, it was the first commercial enclosed wet dock in the world; both it and continued works across the century moved the coastline 250m seawards (Johnson 2009). Anchorages, coastal routeways, and intertidal fisheries were all transformed  by the reconfiguration of the physical environment, ecosystem, and water and sediment regimes as small rivers and tidal creeks were altered, marshes were drained, and estuarine islands were reincorporated into the coastline. These alterations can be traced in the geoarchaeological and archaeological record, as some of the estuary survey projects demonstrate (eg Van de Noort 2004). Many of the anthropogenic features in the landscape which supported reclamation are recorded in the RCZAs. However, few of these features are dated or incorporated into reconstructions of local change. Fewer still have been connected to the larger narratives of changes in coastal inhabitation, increasing maritime activity, and the driving forces of expansion and conflict, Empire and global enterprise, of the period.

8.1.2    Key research questions for coastal change

  • Can we recontextualise the archaeological remains of land reclamation into local/regional narratives of coastal evolution?
  • Can the impacts of new industries, expanding maritime trade, and national conflict be identified in reconstructions of this change at local, regional or national scales?
  • What effect did the processes associated with land reclamation have on maritime landscapes and ecosystems (eg on anchorages, small hards, fishing grounds, navigability)?

Theme 8.2 Maritime settlement and marine exploitation

8.2.1 Coastal activities and marine

The majority of this coastal transformation facilitated agriculture and regionally specific coastal and estuarine industries processing marine products, all of which were themselves shaped by changes in population and settlement patterns. Among these were salt-making, the alum industry, and seaweed processing. Medieval salt production characterised by the saltern mounds (Bell et al 1999; Murphy 2009, 39) was replaced by industrial processes in the 1700s, using holding ponds, wind pumps, and iron cisterns. On the south coast there are a number of saltern sites from the 1700s, with the site at Lymington associated with stone-built town quays from where the salt was shipped to Poole and on to international markets for fish salting (Gale 2000, 48–50). As an industry, it had often been bound to local fisheries, for example the salt works in Southwold (Murphy 2009, 40). However, with industrialisation, coastal salt production fuelled by coal became increasingly concentrated in the North, along the Northumberland coast and around South Shields (Fulford et al 1997), before it eventually declined due to competition from inland rock salt sources (Petts and Gerard 2006).

Producing mordants, namely alum and copperas (copper sulphate), was also a key coastal industry from the 1600s. The coastal shales of north Yorkshire supported the development of a nationally important industry in the 1600s which only declined in the mid-19th century (Jecock 2009; Marshall 1995; Miller 1987). The quarries, alum houses, rutways, and quays are now a well-recognised part of the North-East’s coastal heritage. However, copperas production in the Thames Estuary and the remains of the industry on the south coast (such  as  the pier and harbour built for exporting alum at Kimmeridge, Dorset) (Williams and Brown 1999, 21; Wessex Archaeology 2004a, 10) are less thoroughly understood. Seaweed processing was also a significant industry in the South-West. Kelp-burning, to produce soda ash, began in the Scillies in 1684. It was central to the islands’ economy until the 1840s and some of the 40–50 stone-lined kelp-burning pits can still be seen along the shore (Gale 2000, 43; Johns et al 2004).

The soda ash produced in the Scillies was shipped to Bristol and Gloucester (Gale 2000, 43), reflecting another key industry: seaborne coastal trade. Transporting goods by sea to regional markets or to larger ports – everything from domestic  goods, raw materials, and foodstuffs to commodities such as wool and timber – was crucial to national and international trade until the mid-19th century when the railways began to dominate. A network of smaller ports, harbours, coastal villages, and anchorages were tied into this system, with hards and boat repair yards as well as quays, warehouses, and markets in coastal towns and along the estuaries and embayments all around the coast. On the Thames, families lived and worked on the water in thousands of Thames sailing barges, the lifeblood of the port, moving goods and supplies around the estuary (Davis 1970). The material remains of this trade are under-researched, in part because most documentation of maritime trade was driven by taxation, but shipping trading with other English ports was exempt from taxation, and thus much coastal trade is unquantifiable through  histori-cal records. The different local, regional, and even national networks of routes, harbours, and anchorages, supplies for the vessel and crew, and even the different communities and small ports that crews experienced daily, warrant further investigation.

There were also fishing fleets (marine and inter-tidal) all around the coast. Many of the fisheries established in the Early Medieval period and inter- vening centuries still thrived.There is direct evidence for fish traps in the Humber Estuary dating to the 1720s (Van de Noort 2004, 43), whilst Murphy highlights Tidenham, Gloucestershire, where 56 basket weirs are noted in Domesday Book and 1100 were in use in 1866 (Murphy 2009, 47–8; Elrington and Herbert 1972). There are numerous fish trap structures still surviving and recorded in the RCZAs and HERs, but questions of when they were in use and by whom are rarely well understood. There were also a number of shellfish fisheries, for oysters, mussels, crab, and even lobster, which thrived during this period by selling shellfish inland. Oysters and mussels were still a plentiful and cheap food up until 1850 (Starkey et al 2003), and were profitable and sometimes disputed fisheries (see Reynolds 2000 on the Helford Estuary oyster  industry  in the South-West). The material evidence for these fisheries, beyond the hards and quays of local towns and villages, is often pits in the saltmarsh or coastal rock, known as ‘hullies’ at Seaton Carew (Fulford et al 1997, 145), which are difficult to date. It is also worth noting that many of these regional industries had particular associated small crafts, such as the oyster luggers, bound to the industry and in some cases even the estuary (McKee 1983); their remains sometimes survive as foreshore hulks.

The marine fisheries are more fully understood archaeologically and historically. For example, there are established narratives of east coast fishing. In the mid-1600s increasing pressure from the Netherlands’ fishing fleets, with new drift net technology, led to legislation in the 1651 Navigation Act to protect the English fishing industry by preventing the importation of fish in foreign ships (Gale 2000, 37; Farnell 1964), but nonetheless, the pivotal east coast herring fishery suffered, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. As a consequence, the 18th century was to see the development of the Icelandic cod fishing (boats were sailing from Grimsby as early as the 1500s; Murphy 2009, 86) and whaling industries (Credland 1995; Robinson 1987). In the South-West there were fleets of deep-sea trawlers based principally in Plymouth, Weymouth, and Brixham; in fact it was in Brixham in the 19th century that the beam trawler was developed (Murphy 2009, 86). There were also important pilchard and mackerel fisheries, along with the associated processing industries – salting and barrelling in the case of pilchards (Parkes 2000; Reynolds 2000). Pilchards from the Cornish fishery supplied the Royal Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries (Parkes 2000).

Whaling was also a significant industry during this period, though it had died out by the mid-19th century. Following the early exploratory expeditions of the late 1500s, the Muscovy Company was established in early 1600s and English whalers were active in the Arctic (Credland 1995). The French, Flemish, and Dutch all competed with English vessels. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Dutch dominated (with the development of their shore bases in the Arctic). The Anglo-Dutch war undermined this dominance in the 1780s, and by 1788 there were 76 whalers (adapted collier brigs) sailing from Hull and 20 from Whitby (ibid). Despite the sometimes violent disputes among European fleets in the Arctic, reflecting international relations, and despite the role it played in Hull’s development, the English whaling industry requires further research. Murphy notes that the surviving visible archaeological evidence is slight (2009, 89), but it may be that the modern unpopularity of the industry affects research into its historical counterpart.

8.2.2 Coastal settlement

There was a gradual shift in the 17th and 18th centuries away from the network of smaller coastal and riverine harbours and havens towards engineered coastal ports and harbours that could support the larger vessels and increased scale of goods and commodities that resulted from new international trade (Jackson 1983). Larger regional ports increasingly dominated the network of small harbours  and yards; several developed as a result of specific industries. New colonial wealth also gave rise to  the development of seaside resorts and recreational uses of the coast in the 18th century (Brodie and Winter 2007; Travis 1993). Some of these resorts had a new monumental built environment, most notably Brighton. Importantly, these resorts and recreational activities did not begin to be democratised for another 200 years.

The development of the northern industrial harbours of Whitehaven, Maryport, and Blyth as a result of growing coal and iron export industries is well documented (Collier 1991; Johnson 2009; Tolan-Smith 2008). A number of new ports were built in conjunction with planned towns, often driven by individual aristocratic families and the exploitation of new resources and industries (eg Whitehaven, which was originally developed to support the Lowther family’s exploitation of the Cumbrian coalfield (Collier 1991)). However, most notable, and archaeologically less well-examined, is the development of the west coast ports of Bristol and Liverpool as a result of the new wealth and trade derived from the sugar plantation economy of the West Indies and the slave trade that supported it. Bristol was already an important port, second only to London, but it was the ‘Triangular Trade’, comprised of molasses (sugar), slaves and gold moving around the Atlantic Ocean between the English slave-trading posts in Africa, the English West Indies and England (see Marshall 1998; Williams 1973), on which the westward-facing port built its fortune in the 1700s (Dresser 2001). Whilst historical studies and heritage projects have increasingly addressed this (eg Bristol’s slavery trail, http://exploreenglandspast.org.uk/schools/projects/ slavery-trail-bristol), it remains under-addressed in archaeological studies. The material and archaeological remains of the results of slavery in England still require further research. Most  archaeologies of slavery focus on  the  plantations  and  colonies of the West Indies and there is scope to reconnect ‘England’ into narratives of the trade, both through slave-ship archaeology (Webster 2008a; 2008b), the archaeology of ports (which were connected not only by trade goods, but by individual merchant families and architectural forms (Leech 2003; forthcoming)), and through archaeological examination of the wider deployment of the wealth it created.

New port geographies and built environments developed during this period, reshaping the character of larger ports and reflecting both their maritime functions and the communities that lived and worked within them. Specialised buildings directly associated with trade and shipping appeared (eg customs houses) and the quays and dockside environment became the focus of activity, a dynamic part of the town with warehouses and new merchants’ houses developing alongside the institutions that grew up to support the maritime communities (eg sailors’ homes and seamen’s churches).

In general, research into ports has focused on urban development at specific sites in larger ports (eg Divers 2002; Divers 2004); smaller ports and harbours have received less attention or systematic analysis. Though there are increasing data  sets of remaining archaeological features, due to development (the AIP Grey Literature database lists 27 investigations of harbours, 16 of ports and 96 of quays) and the RCZAs, this is largely descriptive data. Most studies focus on the recording and analysis of the material remains of the port infrastructure. The wider infrastructure (railways etc) and the historic routeways and networks need further research to provide a fuller picture of a port’s position within the surrounding social and physical landscape. In general, studies reflect a bias towards the economic and engineering aspects of port and harbour development (eg Hyde 1971), heritage management of the built environment, and, in the case of smaller ports and harbours, the interests of local historical societies (eg Carter 1998). However, there is potential to address the social aspects of ports. These were dynamic and growing communities which not only housed mariners and their families, but also those involved in the industries of building, repairing, and furnishing vessels, in dock work  and in ship provision, in port administration, and ship ownership, as well as those involved in any of the associated fishing or coastal industries. These complex communities had networks of material and social interactions that extended beyond the port itself. The material and spatial evidence of the lives of these communities, in both the built environment and the archaeological record, requires further investigation and needs to be addressed in light of the international connections that even small ports developed and the larger events and social processes at work.

8.2.3 Coastal defence and organisation

The European conflicts of the period shaped not only England’s navy, but also her coastal defences and patterns of inhabitation. Naval ports became increasingly important economically and regionally, with the supply and shipbuilding industries associated with maintaining the  fleet  support ing large communities. Portsmouth, for example, expanded as a naval base because of its proximity to both France and London (Coad 1989; MacDougall 1982). The repeated conflicts of the 17th to 19th centuries can also be traced in coastal fortifications and defences; these, along with the development of the various naval bases, is largely well understood both archaeologically and historically (eg MacDougall 1982). For example, during the Civil War new defences were built by both the Royalists and Parliamentarians. In the South-West the earthwork forts constructed during the siege of Plymouth are still evident (Cunliffe 1988), as is a series of new batteries and earth breastworks in the Isles of Scilly (Johns et al 2004). Coastal space, particularly in the South and East, became increasingly organised around defence and naval expansion. The Anglo-Dutch Wars for example highlighted deficiencies, prompting development both of new coastal defences and of Devonport, Plymouth, as the second naval base after Portsmouth from the 1690s (Coad 1989). The Napoleonic Wars saw the development of the Martello tower system along the south-east and East Anglian coasts: 24 were built between 1805 and 1812 in Kent and East Sussex, with 103 completed by 1829 (Gale 2000). Fifty-nine survive today, with some along the Suffolk coast still preserving the intervisibility of the forts which was central to the system (Williamson 2005, 145). Unfortunately, the naval militia ‘Sea Fencibles’ and other responses to the repeated invasion scares during this period have left less material trace, and it is in connection with social, rather than political or economic, factors that these coastal defences require further study.

Finally, it is also worth noting that in this period civic and, eventually, national management of sea markers and lighthouses developed. Lights established on hazardous shorelines were generally private enterprises in the mid-17th century, built under licence from the Crown or Trinity House. Finance for the lights was provided by a levy on vessels leaving large ports and, with this expanding source of income,  lighthouses  could  be  profitable enterprises. However, private owners did not always  provide  a  reliable  service  (Murphy  2009, 108) and in 1836 Trinity House took responsibility for lighthouses after legislation enabled compulsory purchase of all private lights (Gale 2000, 119). From an  archaeological  perspective,  further   research is needed into this part of the built environment, specifically integrating it into our understanding  of people’s perception of land and sea in this period and of how they made use of and moved through that space (Bender 2001, 78).

8.2.4 Key research questions for maritime
settlement and marine exploitation

There is a need to address coastal industries, fisheries, seaborne trade, and settlement in combination, at local, regional, and national scales, and to examine how these inter-dependent systems were affected by wars, growing international trade, and the social transformations of the period. Key research questions include:

  • How did the different coastal industries within regional areas interact? What was the effect of the rise/decline of one industry on the maritime structures and networks it was connected to?
  • Can we improve our understanding of the English whaling industry through its material remains, whether structural or artefactual?
  • What was the scale, and social and material networks, of coastal and estuarine trade?
  • What was the local and regional interaction between fisheries and the lives of those involved? What were the impacts of change in other maritime industries on these fisheries and their support and supply networks? Can the remains of their vessels help reconstruct the lives of those involved and the impact of change?
  • Can we understand ports better through the expansion of archaeologies of port infrastructure into reconstructions of the port as a whole? How did material changes in port infrastructure reflect their position in the wider social and physical landscape? Can we see the international connections of even small ports in the archaeological record?
  • How did the rise of regional, specialised ports impact on harbours and smaller ports as well as the coastal landscape/seascape during the period? How did the character of port towns change as a result of development/expansion?
  • How does the archaeological record of ports such as Bristol and Liverpool reflect the economic and social networks of the slave trade and plantation economy?
  • How did the development of coastal defences on the south coast affect/reflect people’s perception of their environment?
  • How did changes during the period affect people’s perception and use of the maritime landscape? Can we identify effects at local, regional or national scales?

Theme 8 3: Seafaring

8.3.1 Civil and naval shipbuilding,
maritime conflict, and ship technology

By the beginning of the Early Modern and Industrial period, shipbuilding was established as a major industry at principal naval and civil yards, with a plethora of smaller private yards scattered along suitable estuaries, creeks, and foreshores. While the smaller rural yards have left fewer visible remains archaeologically, the larger yards and the ships they produced reflect an industry very much connected to the maritime agendas of the emerging nation state. The distribution of shipbuilding activity shows distinct regional emphases that are little explored, possibly because of the size of the database. The period also saw significant shifts in the focus for the building of certain types of vessel. For most of the 17th century the regional focus for both naval and merchant building was in the South, particularly in the royal dockyards and principal private yards on the Thames and in East Anglia. After the third Dutch War in 1674, the captured Dutch vessels used by English merchants and ship owners in the continental trade dried up (Davis 1978, 12). Naval ships, and East and West Indiamen, continued to be built in the South, but it was the north-eastern yards, notably Newcastle, Shields, Sunderland, Hull, and Whitby, that began supplying the brigs and barks needed for the continental and Baltic trades (Davis 1978, 13; Adams 2003, 146–8). While their design reflected mercantile enterprise, their construction was inextricably linked to the ‘First’ Industrial Revolution, advances in the production of coal and iron, and latterly to the related development of the railways. All these factors are manifested in the collier barks and cat ships (box-shaped merchant sailing ships designed to  carry  coal  and  timber) of the North-East. Archaeologically  this  process  is highly visible in the remains of the ships themselves, eg the collier SL 4 recovered off Rotterdam (Adams et al 1990), but also in the associated port infrastructure, which comprises a maritime aspect of the Industrial Revolution that has unrealised research potential.

Commercial shipyards

Notably, commercial shipyards were rarely present in harbours and ports, due to competition for space, and were usually sited on the margins of ports,     on beaches or estuary waterfronts, up-river or on canal sides. The central features of such yards were wooden slipways, normally at least two to allow for continuity of work carried out in stages, for example to allow a break for seasoning between framing and planking. Slips were orientated to allow stern- first or broadside launching, depending upon the space available in the waterway. Wood was used to construct shipyards long after stone was used for harbours and dry docks; the switch to stone seems to have coincided with iron shipbuilding, although further research is required. These commercial yards have received little attention from archaeologists until relatively recently; for example, Crossley’s (1990) summary of Post-Medieval archaeology deals with shipwrecks but not shipbuilding (Fulford et al 1997, 222). Preliminary studies have demonstrated a wealth of documentary evidence but a corresponding lack of knowledge of their archaeological remains (eg Stammers 1999). Stammers’ study suggested that, in contrast to the more visible royal dockyards, above-ground survival is rare and that where structures have survived, generally on inland waterways, they are often associated with ship repair or smaller boatbuilding (Stammers 1999, 263); this remains a significant gap in research.

There are a few more recent studies that highlight the potential of such research. For example, the wooden slipways of an important rural shipyard that built naval vessels, including the Agamemnon, have been excavated at Buckler’s Hard on the River Beaulieu, Hampshire (Fig 8.3). These investigations have recovered not only shipbuilding tools but also evidence of ship fasteners and the complex timberwork required to support the ships and shipwrights during construction (Adams 1994; Delgado 1997, 383). In addition, they have enabled a greater understanding of the relationship of the slips to the surviving built heritage and have demonstrated the potential of below-ground survival. However, such studies are site-specific, rare, and geographically dispersed, and, rather than targeted systemic research, most new evidence has come to light through developer-led investigation of waterfront sites (eg Pitt and Goodburn 2003).

Figure 8.3 Excavations at Buckler’s Hard in the mid-1990s reveal a wooden slipway (source: J Adams)

The importance given to future research into commercial shipyards varies regionally. The framework for the Greater Thames Estuary recognises its importance (Williams and Brown 1999, 21), in contrast to that of the South-West (Webster 2008a). In the North-East, the RCZA emphasises the relative lack of knowledge of small yards outside the shipbuilding centres of Hartlepool and the Rivers Tyne and Wear (Petts and Gerrard 2006). Moreover, the information we have so far remains largely uncontextualised at regional, national or global scales. At one level, the connections between commercial expansion such as the East India Company’s trade with the East or the development of the slave trade, and the changes in the distribution, development, and organisation of these yards needs to be examined. Equally, the influence of regional industries – whaling or iron/coal export – on local shipbuilding and the communities involved in it is not well understood archaeologically. Neither is the demise of shipbuilding yards, such as Buckler’s Hard, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and the local and regional impacts of their closure. Similarly, historical research by Doe (2009a and b) on female shipyard owners and investors    in the 1800s suggests there is potential to expand archaeological studies to address the local and even individual social transformations connected to the industry.

Royal dockyards

In contrast, the royal dockyards have much better above-ground survival and are well understood historically, if not always  archaeologically.  Prior to the reforms of the 1660s the navy, and naval shipbuilding, was a  public/private  partnership. The late 17th century saw the beginnings of a sustained programme of naval shipbuilding which swallowed up much of the Government’s budget. This was driven by the wars of the late 1600s and early 1700s, as well as the pressures of consolidating and securing trade and colonies in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Central to this were the royal dockyards, established to build and maintain the growing strength of the Royal Navy. The development of naval shipbuilding is, in general, well understood, from the rich historical archive and both shipwreck and port sites. The Seven Years War (1756–63), for example, was pivotal (Parry 1971, 113–29): before the war, French warships were considered to be better designed and faster than the English ships (Lavery 1983; Parry 1971, 119); subsequently, the English shipping industry, naval and commercial, flourished with ship designs based on captured French vessels such as Hazardous (Owen 1991; HWMTA 2005)1 and Invincible (Bingeman 2010). HMS Swift and her sister ship were the first English vessels built based upon the French designs (Murray et al 2003).

From the 18th century the royal dockyards, most notably Chatham, Devonport, and Portsmouth, became the largest shipbuilding yards in England, employing one-third of Britain’s shipwrights by 1804 (Coad 1989). These self-contained and highly integrated manufacturing units were the largest industrial establishments in Europe until at least the mid-19th century and they dominated warship production and maintenance until the emergence  of ironclad vessels in the 1860s (English Heritage 2007, 9). A wide range of specialised buildings and structures were developed and, in comparison to civilian yards, form an established, well-surveyed part of the built historic environment. Unusual survivals include the warship timbers reused to construct floors and pillars in the shipyard buildings at Chatham (Atkinson 2007). Yet there is still potential to explore further the material influence of these important centres on the habitation of surrounding areas. There was, for example, a close working relationship with civilian manufacturers and engineers, illustrated by the establishment of steam factories at both Portsmouth and Devonport from the 1830s (Evans 2004b; see also MacDougall 2009 on Chatham); this also deserves further investigation through comparative studies.

Technological change

During this period the rise of artillery and the changing demands on naval and merchant vessels altered the ships produced by the civil and naval shipyards, resulting in innovations and variations in ship design. The period saw significant changes in ship technology, and  the  final  transformation of the navy from a small force of ships, concerned with the defence of the realm and royal prestige, into a large and dominant naval force of specialised vessels charged with ‘the command of the ocean’ (Rodger 2004).

At the same time, there was a growing distinction between commercial and naval vessel design, partly because of the increasing specialisation of commercial vessels to meet the requirements of long-distance trade or particular industries (eg the collier barks and cat ships of the North-East) and also because merchant vessels became unsuited to the new requirements of warfare and ceased to be  a regular component of battle fleets. This process reaches its apex in terms of wooden ship design with the development of the British (and American) clippers in the 1830s. Built for speed but little bulk cargo, they were designed as passenger ships or for seasonal trades such as tea where an early cargo was more valuable. The design of tea clippers in particular became bound to the prestige of the China tea trade, British trade in ‘exotic’ luxury goods, and commercial competition. This is typified by the 1866 ‘Great Tea Race’, an unofficial competition between the China tea clippers to bring the season’s first crop back to London, which was reported in the British newspapers and gambled upon by the public (see Lubbock 1984; MacGregor 1972).

Following technological shifts in hull construction during the 16th century, the Early Modern period saw the development of the warship hull and rig into a form that would be little altered until the advent of the steam warship in the 19th century. Most of the significant technological problems associated with the sailing warship were slowly resolved through the period. Mathematically controlled design principles had been developed by the early 17th century, including the use of logarithms in design, but the ability to predict performance in terms of buoyancy, waterlines, stability etc, was not achieved until  the mid-1700s (Bouguer 1746; Ferreiro 2010), and it was not until the late 1800s that ship designers were able to predict a ship’s speed through calculating drag coefficients and power requirements (J Adams, pers comm). Much of our knowledge of these developments in technical design is drawn from the historical documents on shipbuilding and rigging and the shipwrights’ models that survive, and  there still remains considerable research potential in investigating the implementation of these new design principles.

The historical narrative of the influence of maritime warfare on the development of naval ship technology is well established. The second half of the 17th century saw the development of a line of battle system (Tunstall 1990) which resulted in the multi-decked ship of the line and standardisation of design and use through the rating and establishment systems (Lavery 1988; Goodwin 1987). The impact of the Seven Years War on British ship design in the following century has already been mentioned. The subsequent changes – and specialisation – in warship design were paralleled by an increase of auxiliary craft: support vessels, scouts’ convoy escorts’, and exploration and survey ships. This also reflects European overseas expansion.

Following the Napoleonic Wars, an almost unbroken series of wars stretching back into the 17th century came to an end. The subsequent 35 years were relatively peaceful and changes in warship development declined. There is also a parallel decline in present-day research into smaller variations (as opposed to innovations) in naval ship design during the mid-19th century, an area with scope for further research. Finally, the introduction of the agents of future radical change, the steam engine and the shell, need to be mentioned (see Chapter 9 for further discussion). With the Second Industrial Revolution in the 1850s, steam technology and the social and industrial changes it drove gained momentum. This period saw significant changes to the infrastructure and scale of ports, in civil as well as naval contexts, with the arrival of the railways and the emergence of both paddle and screw-driven steamships (Evans 2004b; Gould 2001; Lambert 1984; MacDougall 2009).

Shipbuilding was a dynamic process and, in addition to the rich documentary record, shipwrecks and preserved vessels have provided significant information about shipyard practices and innovation and variation in ship design, as well as the origin  of timber used and the repair and maintenance of vessels. More specifically, it is in the archaeological remains of vessels that the vagaries and immediacy of human choice and the sometimes pragmatic work practices of shipyards can be traced. For example, historical plans of HMS Swift document a two-masted ship, though other historical documents (such as log books) refer to a mizzen (third) mast; archaeological investigation of the shipwreck has confirmed the third mast (Murray et al 2003). The grand historical narratives of ship design and maritime conflict during this period are at present rather hegemonic and do not reflect this kind of individual nuance.

There is clearly a need for a more holistic approach to the study of shipbuilding and ship design. Yet most studies are technological and descriptive and still need to be understood within the economic, political, and social transformations of the period. For example, the influence of French ships in the 18th century on English ship- building is for the most part well understood, yet the interactions between shipbuilding traditions in the new colonies and English shipyards are unexplored. Both historical and archaeological accounts identify ‘country boats’ built in British colonial ports by and for the East India Company and there is a well-documented relationship between the Royal Navy and Indian shipbuilding yards, notably at the Wadia shipyard in Bombay (Chandavarkar 2003; Wadia 1964), both driven in part by the shortage of timber in England. Yet the influence of these designs, and even carpenters, on English shipbuilding requires research. Similarly, the smaller variations in the actual construction of individual ships, both naval and civil, and their deviation from the prescribed designs, requires further investigation, to illuminate both the multiplicity and causes of variations and the impacts, if any, they had on those using and living on board those vessels.

8.3.2 Life on board

Shipwreck sites and assemblages are most often examined archaeologically from an artefactual perspective. Specialist studies of domestic ceramics or arms recovered are beginning to provide insights into hitherto unknown aspects of the ‘active lives’  of everyday objects both on land and on board ship. For example, Rhenish stoneware, exported across Europe and the Atlantic between the 15th and 18th centuries (Gaimster 1997a), became one of the more standard domestic artefacts in the ship’s galley inventory and was used to transport volatile trade goods or raw materials. Comparative study of dated shipwrecks suggests many stonewares were often in use for decades after their documented date of manufacture before forming part of the shipwreck inventory (Gaimster 1997b). Such information is rarely available from terrestrial contexts. Thus, ‘maritime’ information is redrafting our understanding of the use and survival in active use of domestic objects in 18th-century society.

Beyond these more specific material culture studies, however, there  is  significant  potential  to explore other elements of shipboard life. Whilst some aspects, particularly crew organisation, work, and victualling on board naval vessels, are pretty well understood historically (eg Benjamin and Tifrea 2007; Lambert 2002), these reflect only a small part of seafaring. The design and construction of a ship can also provide some idea of life on board, of the nature of the work sailors undertook, of their accommodation and other facilities, and of the material and spatial engagements of their lives. When this ship geography is combined with the objects used and brought on board, as it most often is in archaeological contexts, there is a significant opportunity to examine the experiences of all those on board. Shipwreck sites can highlight the social structure of the ship’s community as a whole, its administrative and functional divisions, as well as the various means through which individuals showed their identities and differences. As a result, shipwrecks have sometimes been examined as ‘microcosms’ of wider society; though this idea holds less sway now, it is reflected in some interesting discussions of naval shipboard society in our period. For example, the artefacts recovered from the Swedish royal ship Kronan, sunk in the south Baltic in 1676, have been used to investigate whether shipboard society corresponded to the documented structure of Swedish society of the period (Einarsson 1997). Intriguingly, it seems that in this case shipboard society represents not the  actuality  of  Swedish  society  in miniature, but the ideal of those in power, an ideology of Swedish society that can be created and projected through the more controllable social space of shipboard life (Rönnby and Adams 1994; Adams 2003). The potential of undocumented aspects of shipboard life remain under-exploited in English maritime archaeology.

As can be seen from Section 8.3.1, the emphasis of shipwreck research has been on technical and military aspects of ships, at the expense of the social, political, and economic dimensions of vessels and their cargoes. There is clearly a need to expand research beyond descriptive analysis by interpreting them as the product of social relations. In-depth material culture studies, such as the Rhenish stoneware studies, have the potential to provide information about more than use-life and distribution when the results are addressed in the context of the ship upon which they were found (eg Staniforth 2003b). People’s selection of material culture, ashore and on board ship, went hand in hand with a social projection of who they were and where they came from. More comparative study of different vessels of the same period would be useful to contextualise wreck sites further and to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the people who travelled and worked on board and their history. Equally, there is a need to examine lives on board smaller craft, from the fishing fleets and colliers to Thames barges and the small ships of the ocean-going mercantile fleet. There is potential to examine the organisation of crew, accommodation, and work practices, as well as personal objects and other signifiers of identity, and the material and spatial engagements of those on board these different vessels, as Webster’s recent work on the material culture of the Middle Passage demonstrates (Webster 2005).

Dellino-Musgrave’s (2006) work, among a few notable exceptions to the prevailing trend, demonstrates the potential of naval shipwrecks to enhance our understanding of how social identities were produced and projected at both global and local scales. Similarly, Ellertsson Csillag (2009) has recently addressed the negotiation of masculinity on board HMS Pandora in the 18th century through its artefactual record. However, although these studies have explored material culture on board ships as a way to understand the projection of identities, the few studies that address these aspects   of seafaring tend to focus on ship’s officers, both in terms of the spaces on board ship and the material culture. Combining the archaeological evidence of shipwrecks with the historical archive offers the opportunity to expand our studies of  shipboard  life into the lived experiences of all those on board, from English officers to working-class fisherman, foreign sailors, and even women. This period saw newly international crews, of Europeans, Africans, and Asians, on English ships. If we move beyond addressing the officer class primarily and instead pursue all the material and work practices evidenced in the archaeological record, as well as evidence of difference, on board these ships, there is the opportunity to examine aspects of the maritime world and shipboard society that are not well represented in the historical record.

8.3.3 Key research questions for seafaring

There is a need for more systematic regional and national studies driven by research questions which connect shipbuilding industries and ship/boat design to the social, economic, and political world within which they occurred. In addition, it was noted that new research into the extant archives of shipwrecks is particularly important, since research-led excavations are increasingly rare. Key research questions include:

  • What were the patterns of distribution and the local and regional contexts of smaller boatyards and ship repair? What was life like within these sites?
  • What can we determine about the regional distribution of commercial shipyards and connections to local maritime networks and landscapes? What were the particular impacts of changes of ship design and specialisation on their  infrastructure and operation? For example, did iron vessels precipitate the change from wooden to stone dry docks?
  • Are the impacts of political and social changes, conflicts, and expanding global trade on shipyards and boatyards evidenced materially? Can we determine the effects expanding trade had on shipyards, or the effects of depleted English wood supplies and the resultant new shipyards in the colonies had?
  • What was the interaction between civil and naval shipyards and those who worked in them, at local, regional, and national scales?
  • What were the non-naval influences on innovation in ship design? Can we see the effects of industrialisation and expansion of certain industries or the interaction between shipbuilding traditions in colonial and English yards?
  • To what extent was the implementation of design principles consistent? Can shipwrecks demonstrate the small variations in naval ship design and nuance the prevailing, rather hegemonic narrative of ship design and maritime conflict?
  • Can comparative studies of shipwreck sites from  a material culture perspective be used to improve our understanding of their social dimensions? Could we, for example, apply the approach taken to the Swedish ship Kronan to shipwrecks of the Restoration navy?
  • How can we understand shipboard life beyond that of officers on naval vessels, eg the lives of those on board smaller coastal trading vessels and those of specialised industries, slave ships, or of particular groups such as foreign sailors?

Theme 8 4: Maritime networks

8.4.1 Introduction

During the Early Modern and Industrial period, processes of capitalism, colonialism, and consumerism reshaped English life. These concepts are not just abstractions but were, and are, processes materially active in the everyday construction of social and cultural life (Matthews 1999). Understanding these transformations and the new networks and structures that developed in both material and social spheres is crucial to enable a more comprehensive understanding of our past. As Britain’s maritime empire developed and expanded, it was often on board ships and in ports that these different processes and networks intermingled most clearly. For example, international connections, expressed through European, ‘Occidental’, and ‘Oriental’ trades and the immigration of manufacturers into England, illustrate aspects of consumerism (the new tastes for foreign, ‘exotic’ goods) and the ‘outward looking’ that this period experienced.

This  section  will  look  at colonialism, consumerism, and capitalism and the archaeologies of these maritime networks. It is important to note that these processes were interwoven and acted at different scales, from local to global (Champion 1995; Pomper 1995). This is illustrated by the interplay between mercantile, fishing, and naval  activities  onboard  British  naval  vessels in the Southern Seas in the late 1700s (Curtin 1984; Davis 1978; Frost 1980). These apparently different spheres of (social) action were brought together by the evidence of whaling equipment found on board British naval shipwrecks. The Crown, Government, civil, and commercial networks were not independent but were entangled in their material and spatial engagements. For example, naval ships protected the British slave trade during the 18th century, before its abolition produced a new role suppressing the trade in the Atlantic and Western Indian Ocean in the early 19th century. Similarly, the English East India Company, ostensibly a commercial and independent enterprise, was pivotal to Britain’s colonial expansion in the East. The intimate connection between the navy, the Crown and the East India Company as forts and trading posts were established and secured in India is well documented (Bowen et al 2002b). Moreover, the Bombay Marine, established by the Company in 1612, became part of His Majesty’s Royal Navy in 1830 (Naidu 2000).

These maritime networks were active within the context of a growing capitalistic system. The huge expansion of sugar and tobacco plantations from the late 17th century was followed by the North American Revolution (1775–83) (see Conway 2000), and new identities and allegiances were created among the former colonial communities. Other revolutionary ideas – industrial developments, inventions, and scientific discoveries – were also shaped by these expanding networks and their complex social dynamics. For example, the English settlements in the West Indies, and their plantation economies built upon slavery, supported both economic and social transformations as particular ideas of race and ethnicity congealed and hardened in the West Indies and in England.

Yet there is little emphasis on studying the impact and influence of these transformations, from a maritime archaeological perspective, in England. Archaeologically, they can be evidenced within shipboard society, through the development of particular English ports, but also through large- scale transformations of landscapes and material practices. On both a local and a global scale, analyses need to focus on the use and manipulation of the physical landscape, of places, and the movements of people and goods, and the establishment and negotiation of social networks and their material relations within those landscapes.

8.4.2 Colonialism

During the Early Modern and Industrial period, control over maritime routes implied not only economic but also political power for European nations (Hobsbawn 1972; 1999). Colonialism and the expansion of the European powers into the New World, Africa, and the Indo-Pacific after 1500 have been identified as key topics of study in historical archaeology (Birmingham et al 1988; Dyson 1985).

However, there has been little exploration of these issues from a maritime perspective (Ritchie 2003; Staniforth 2000; 2001; 2003a). The possession of colonies played an important role because in many places shipping was open to European competition. The principle of monopoly, where foreign shipping was excluded, was used to control this competition (Graham 1941, 5–6); for example, the English East India Company, with support from the Crown, fought for and then maintained a monopoly over trade with India until 1813 (Bowen et al 2002b; Chaudhuri 1978).

Monitoring and consolidation of the colonial network was not only performed at sea but also   by colonies located in strategic places from which control could be enforced. To be able to understand this broader picture, maritime archaeology studies must look beyond shipwrecks to understand the links between wrecks and the  strategic  location for maritime commerce of settlements along key coastlines (eg India, Java, and Australia). There is potential to explore this further through a comparative study of the network of different Royal Naval ports and dockyards of this period, both in England and around the former Empire. Some areas were crucial to developing and improving the maritime traffic between the South Atlantic, the Pacific, and the ‘Oriental’ regions. For example, during the mid- to late 18th century the French were aware of the commercial  potential  of  the  products  available  in the Australian continent  and  the  Pacific  and of the English intentions of building a settlement on the east coast of Australia (Frost 1980, 96). By settling in New South Wales the English capitalised on the ‘right of discovery’ established by Cook in 1770, prevented the French from occupying the area, and provided themselves with better control of the eastern commercial routes (Frost 1980, 123). The colonial network also supported inter-colony trade and provided new markets for English trading interests.

Colonial competition also had an impact in Europe. The Seven Years War (1756–63) was largely a consequence of competition between European powers in North America and Asia (Parry 1971, 113–29). We have noted that the rate of English naval construction rapidly increased after the declaration of war, affecting English ship technology and thereby the mercantile fleets, but though the war was fought mainly in Europe, it also affected English colonial power in the subsequent decades of the 1700s (Lavery 1983; Parry 1971, 119).

It is also important to note the flow of people – as well as goods – that colonial networks enabled and enforced (eg Fisher 2004) and to examine evidence of resistance as well as compliance. Most pivotally, the slave trade forced the migration of millions of people and exercised control and domination over them and their offspring. This trade was a ‘lucrative commercial enterprise’, but also central to English colonial expansion, and as such it was protected and supported by the navy. The importance of this massive and brutal forced migration within colonial maritime networks should not be underestimated. It affected the development of English ports and shipbuilding – in 1725 alone Bristol ships carried   c 17,000 slaves from Africa to the West Indies (Murphy 2009, 99) – but also the parts of the world naval vessels were deployed in (and therefore the material culture on board). Moreover, the slave trade, and the plantation economy in the English colonies, created new social spaces where new forms of culture appeared, of dominance and oppression certainly but also of hybridity and cultural production. These new cultural forms and their material expressions, and indeed the people themselves, were not confined to the colonies, but returned and (in the case of enslaved and freed people) arrived  in England (see Gerzina 1995; Jones and Youseph 1996).

During the 18th century, there was unprecedented new movement around the colonial network and into England of voluntary and economic migrants with their own cultures and material goods (eg Visram 1986). There was also considerable forced emigration. Penal transportation from England began in the 17th century to English colonies in North America, and then to Australia in the 1780s until the mid- 19th century. There were also notable processes of indentured and penal migration within the colonial network in the 19th century, particularly following the abolition of the slave trade (eg Anderson 2005). Whilst there has been considerable archaeological investigation of penal transportation to Australia (eg Nutley and Smith 1995), there is a significant silence in English research into this process (Dixon 2009). Finally, we should also note the people who worked within this new and expanding maritime world: the sailors who crewed the vessels which circulated goods, people, and ideas, and supported the development of the colonial network. From the late 1700s and increasingly in the 1800s, many of these sailors were Asian and African, known as ‘lascars’ (Fisher 2006) (see Fig 9.4). English ships had remarkably international crews and there is considerable potential in port archaeologies and shipwreck assemblages to investigate the flow of people inside this colonial network. These groups are often poorly represented in historical records, but are evidenced in the archaeological record (eg Strachan 1986; Nash 2004), which offers potential for rich studies of the new communities and identties created by colonialism.

8.4.3 Capitalism and trade

The separation of the production of goods from the consumption of those goods that underlies the rise of capitalism created an increased need for sea transportation and more sophisticated international trade networks. As we have seen, mercantile capitalism was fundamental to the growth of systems of colonial exploitation and both fuelled, and was fuelled by, the emergence of the consumer society (Staniforth 1999, 46).

In England, maritime deposits amplify both the documentary and terrestrial archaeological record of long-distance trade and cultural transfer. For example, several key historical documents, such as customs accounts, were created for the purpose of taxation, which leaves an incomplete picture since certain classes of traders were exempt from paying taxes. The Hansa merchants enjoyed special privileges and so were taxed in England at lower rates than others: in this case the total value of customs collected needs to be treated with extreme caution. In addition, port books list the home ports of ships and the cargo of taxable goods, but not the ports visited en route nor the private cargoes of the crews. The gaps in the record obscure real patterns of trading. The Salcombe Wreck site, off Prawle Point in Devon, reflects how individual shipwreck assemblages can highlight both trade networks and the movements of particular vessels. The mid-17th- century domestic artefact assemblages reflect the origin of the ship, or rather the crew, from the Netherlands. However, the ‘trade’ cargo is a gold and silver bullion hoard from North Africa (Marrakech being the dominant mint for the gold coins [terminus post quem 1631–36]). The combination of African bullion and western European domestic utensils point to a Dutch vessel operating along or in the vicinity of the Barbary Coast (or a European vessel that had come into contact with a Barbary corsair operating in the Channel) (Fenwick and Gale 1998; see also South- West Maritime Archaeological Group http://www. swmag.org/).

The subject of trade is fraught with contextual and interpretational complexity. The term ‘trade’ covers much ground, from the marine transportation of industrially traded raw materials and finished goods and the development of world markets through European colonisation to the traces of private venture activity on corporate or non-commercial vessels. Increasingly, maritime and waterfront archaeology is able to identify the material footprint of the thriving illicit trade in bullion and personal and domestic commodities. Notably, at certain points and places in our period the distinction between commercial trade and violent privateering activity is not relevant. Increasingly, archaeology is shedding light on undocumented illicit trade in commodities both European and international (Killock and Meddens 2005). Willis (2009, 51) has suggested we might pursue an ‘archaeology of smuggling’ and argues that from the 16th century ‘right up until the advent of Free Trade in the second half of the 19th century, the undercurrents of smuggling pervaded almost every aspect of life’. His  study  considers the Falmouth ‘King’s Pipe’, a large chimney used  to destroy seized illegal tobacco found in most ports, exploring the Custom and Excise tactics and examples of failed smuggling to illuminate the larger trade.

To  date, maritime archaeological research has focused on the study of particular trade commoddties (Redknap 1997) or on specific shipwreck sites. Ships of the European East India Companies from the early 17th century onwards are a leading source of data for the long-distance commodity trade and the supply of overseas settlements, although the vessels of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), many of which were lost in British waters, have been most extensively studied to date, for example the Hollandia Compendium (Gawronski et al 1992). The archaeological understanding of Early Modern trade can only derive from cross-referencing maritime and terrestrial, together with documentary, sources of evidence (Egan and Michael 1999; Hook and Gaimster 1995). Ports, waterfronts and harbours are just as important. Indeed, a fuller picture can only emerge through integrating the analysis of chronological coeval terrestrial urban and maritime archaeological deposits.

With regard to long-distance trade, it should be noted that ships carried merchandise on both outward and homeward voyages, together with supplies for overseas colonies. Sailing from Europe, ships carried raw materials, utensils, and tools necessary for the support of the East India Company’s operations. On the homeward voyage the cargo contained all sorts of merchandise of Asian origin, including spices, tea, coffee, porcelain, textiles, and metalware. Many of these official cargo items have been recorded on VOC wrecks around the British Isles and elsewhere, but there is still a need to understand these material items within a broader social context. In particular, the distinction between corporate merchandise and personal venture cargo requires further study: senior officers of trading companies shipped their own merchandise in Company ships. Similarly, it is important to recognise commercial trade activity on non-merchantmen during the historic epochs, such as the cargo of export porcelain from the Machault, an 18th-century French frigate sunk off the coast of French North America in 1760 (Davis 1997).

Maritime archaeology has a unique potential to contribute to studies of capitalism. By integrating both maritime and land perspectives, capitalism can be understood as a social process and can thus be approached as if ‘it unfolds through the production of physical and social landscapes’ (Burke 1999, 4). Through the analysis of ships, their cargoes, and the passenger and crew’s personal belongings, in conjunction with historical records, critical views about the development of the world can be composed.

8.4.4 Consumerism

Integrated with the colonial and trade networks were networks driven by a new consumerism. However, in maritime archaeological research, there is a need to recognise that the objects of trade are used in social as well as economic relations and that this consumerist process influences the construction and expression of identities. ‘Consumption’ has been defined as the acquisition of goods on the basis of their utility value, that is, the provision of basic human needs (Buchli and Lucas 2001, 21). Consumer goods, however, also have value maintaining and reproducing social relationships and identities (Douglas and Isherwood 1979, 57). Equally, new social needs and relations were generated when people possessed goods that others probably could not have access  to. Thus, consumption and its standards – fashions and the social value of objects etc – are socially determined, and provide the context for the production, circulation, exchange, use, and discard of goods (Carroll 1999, 133). Processes of consumption are part of the overall biographies of objects, since things may be consumed many different times in diverse settings (Gosden 1999). Artefacts (such as shipwrecks and their cargoes) therefore need to be understood in the light of individual and group choices involved in wider social networks.

Within  colonial  contexts,  both  on  land  and  on board ship, the ownership and use of particular objects signified British and colonialist identities (eg Staniforth 2003a and b). Their ‘consumption’ helped produce and maintain particular communities. They reflected and created hierarchies and power relationships within the colonial network, both between colonies and groups within colonies, and between the colonies and the metropole. The social politics of consumption linked communities with one another, and created relationships of power and exchange on regional and global scales. It is in  this wider context that maritime archaeologists need to address material culture.

8.4.5 Key research questions for maritime

There is an unfortunate lack of archaeological research addressing maritime networks and associated social transformations in this period. These are the structures within which many of the questions set out above need to be contextualised at both local and global scales and it is in the material means through which these dynamic networks interact that there is the most significant research potential. Key research questions include:

  • How does colonial use and manipulation of coastal landscapes reflect the desire to control maritime space and trade? What does the location of and relationship between British shipwrecks, shipping routes, and European colonies reveal about changing imperatives and patterns of expansion?
  • Can we identify interactions between commercial and colonial networks? How did the developing network of royal dockyards in England and beyond reflect alterations to, and strategic development of, colonial and commercial power?
  • What was the material expression of the relations between European colonial powers, of alliance and conflict, at smaller scales, within communities and specific sites?
  • How can we understand forced and voluntary migration through the maritime record, including penal transportation and prison ships (inter-colony transportation and ‘colonial’ prisoners in English prison hulks) and the international crews of naval and mercantile ships?
  • What does the material evidence of the maritime aspects of the slave trade tell us? What does the material culture of naval shipwrecks and docks reveal about the changing naval (and state) relationship with the trade at the beginning of the 19th century? Can we examine the migration of enslaved and freed people into Britain, into ports and mariner industries through shipwreck and port archaeologies?
  • How orderly, organised, and corporate was maritime trade in practice? How can we improve our understanding of margins of maritime trade, including coastal, private and illicit trade? How does the material evidence of the interaction between armed merchant ships, privateering, piracy, and naval prizes reflect the division between trade, violence, and state-sponsored violence?
  • How were the cultural biographies of objects shaped by circulation in these networks? Did their use and meaning alter between colonies and on board ship, and between colonies and the metropole?

Theme 8 5: Maritime identities and perceptions of maritime space

8.5.1 Introduction

During the Early  Modern  and  Industrial  period a variety of new communities arose, both directly maritime and as a result of maritime activities. Some of these have been highlighted previously. These new communities developed at different scales, including communities of work as well as of migration. They formed with the migration of people both to and from the new urban regional ports, the larger industrialised shipyards, and colonies and new lands. Their development, and in some cases decline, is evidenced in port geographies, in their work and material culture. New identities, often fluid and overlapping, were produced as people both differentiated themselves from these new groups  as well as demonstrated belonging to them. There is a sense that it is in this period that we can first detect the origins of contemporary transnational identities (Tabili 1994). For example, Gilroy (1993) has reflected on the cultural hybridity that global seafaring, and the slave trade in the Atlantic world, engendered. It is also during this period that distinctive mariner communities, of sailors and their families, appear. These groups, represented both onshore (in urban and rural communities) and on board ship, were both new and short-lived. They were the focus of art, literature, and other public representations, an object of public  fascination  and at times concern (Gritt 2005), but were also in decline by the end of the 19th century. Mariners in particular, and by extension their land-based communities, were intimately and directly connected to the new international reach of seafaring. They were also, as a result, at the centre of developing ideas of a British identity – a new notion that grew in the 18th century with the expanding maritime empire.

This maritime empire also changed perceptions of maritime space, as well as the configuration of coastal settlements and defence both in England and elsewhere. The shift that began in the Post- Medieval period and crystallised in the later part  of the Early Modern period, from a primarily north-west European experience and notion of the maritime sphere to the global and outward-looking perspective of the British Empire, marked a fundamental change in views of maritime space. Maritime space became a highway, a path of interconnection and a route for commerce and colonisation, for the individual as well as the nation. It became a space of national competition and of power, and therefore under potential threat from other national powers. It was no longer unknown but was of global significance. An individual, often intimate, knowledge of local seas, born of experience, expanded into the cooperation of large crews, trans-oceanic navigation, printed pilot guides, and Admiralty Charts.

Despite the depth and complexity of these social transformations, the challenge is, as ever, tracing and enhancing our understanding of these changing ideas of maritime space and these relatively dynamic, new communities, and the ways in which they projected new identities, through the material record. However, this endeavour is also a key opportunity to expand our interpretations beyond the technical, descriptive and site-specific in this period. It is an opportunity to examine gaps in historical accounts, and also an opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of Early Modern maritime archaeology to our understanding of this period in our past and how it shaped our present.

8.5.2 New communities and identities

There was a massive increase in mercantile and naval mariners during this period. In the mid-16th century there were estimated to be between 3000 and 5000 English mariners; by 1750 there were an estimated 16,000 British sailors (Ogborn 2008, 143). As well as expanding mercantile fleets, the 1660 naval reforms and the emergence of the navy as a government-controlled force increased the number of sailors rapidly. During peacetime numbers fluctuated between 12,000 and 20,000 in the 1700s, soaring to around 40,000 in the war of 1739–48, 82,000 in 1762 (during the Seven Years’ War), and more than 150,000 during the Napoleonic Wars at the turn of the century (ibid). These mariners lived in distinctive communities, both rural and urban (see Doe 2009a and Gritt 2005 respectively) and were part of new communities both at sea and onshore (Earle 1998; Rediker 1987). While Rainbird (2007, 49, 187) discusses mariner groups as a defined community, referring to Kirby and Hinkkanen’s (2000) discussion of their distinguishing codes, rules, and language, and Gritt (2005) discusses the individual urban mariner districts of ports and harbours, separate from the various mercantile, victualling, and supply areas, there few archaeological studies of these communities (see Killock and Meddens 2005). These groups are most often addressed through historical records and representations in literature and visual images. However, there is clearly potential to look for material and spatial evidence of their lives, and the built environment and changing port geographies they inhabited require further investigation. Moreover, the crews and mariner communities became more diverse and international, particularly in the mercantile fleet, as the continuous wars of the 18th century diminished the supply of British sailors to crew merchant vessels (Fisher 2006). These more diverse crews in particular require further archaeological research, since they appear rarely in the historical archive. Moreover, it is not just at sea, and through shipwreck archaeology, that these groups can be traced, but also on shore. England’s ports were home to considerable numbers of foreign mariners which had social impacts on coastal and port communities (Gerzina 1995; Jones and Youseph 1996). Lascars, for example, lived in the larger English ports for months at a time as a result of the seasonal nature of the monsoon windborne trade with the East (see Fig 9.4) (Fisher 2004).

The immigration of people into England, of Asian and African groups in particular, is generally associated with the 20th century in popular discourse, when in fact it is in the Early Modern period that these flows of global migration and immigration began in earnest. It is a period of pivotal importance to the post-colonial world. The  networks  and structures of migration developed during this period created and fixed subaltern identities, and these colonial legacies are increasingly the focus of research, tracing the institutions and material and spatial practices which have shaped contemporary identity politics in Britain (Tabili 1994). Given the contemporary importance of the networks and structures of migration which people moved through, the new communities they established, and the new identities they forged in England and her Empire, this area requires considerable further research.

New communities generate new material practices and the projection and negotiation of new identities. These identities were overlapping, experienced at different scales (communal, personal, and even national), and changing as individuals experienced new circumstances. However, they were always produced and negotiated through material and spatial engagements with the world. How we trace these fluid expressions of self in the material record is one of the key challenges of Early Modern maritime archaeology. For example, within this mix of movements of population, of colonial expansion, and capitalist endeavour during the 18th century, a sense of a British identity began to form, one that would eventually solidify into an ‘Imperial’ Britishness in the 19th century (Colley 2002). Colley (1996) observes that London was loaded with the world’s goods, giving a constant reminder of the city’s unique diversity and its own identity, but also a sense of the nation’s wealth and of ‘Empire’. Exploring the nascent expressions of this sense of Britishness through the material record, and of the differing sense of English or even ‘mariner’ identities, is both a challenge and an opportunity (Lawrence 2003). The development of the shipping industry, trade, and the movement of exotic goods have been fruitfully considered, from a Early Modern perspective, as a way of defining European ways of living in a changing social world. Hall (2000, 45) analyses the co-circulation of rare and valuable goods together with preconceptions of the world within the colonial systems for South Africa and Chesapeake. Staniforth’s  (2003b)  discussion  of the production and expression of colonist identities, and even hierarchies, through the acquisition and consumption of particular objects is also worth highlighting, as is Ellertsson Csillag’s (2009) work on masculinities on HMS Pandora and Webster’s continuing work on the material culture of the Middle Passage (2005). However, these are notable exceptions and there is considerable scope to look more closely at material expressions of ‘creole’ cultures, on board ships and in British ports as well as in colonies. Many network connections and interactions that would have remained invisible, such as these cultural counterflows of people and cultural reconfigurations, were made apparent by the presence and flow of objects. How we interpret this material evidence is therefore critical.

8.5.3 Perceptions of maritime space

Very little work has been done to explore the archaeological evidence for the changing perceptions of maritime space evident in this period, either at local or national levels. There would have been a plurality of perceptions working at various scales and in over- lapping contexts. For example, understanding of maritime space by mariners and by the port communities from which they sailed would have differed, as would that of colonial communities in the West and East Indies and the Company financiers and administrators in England. All of this would have differed again from national, naval ideas of maritime space as competitive, strategic, and potentially controllable. Some of these perceptions are evidenced in the discussion both of England’s coastal settlement and defence (Section 8.2.2) and of colonial networks (Section 8.4.1) above, and there is considerable scope to examine the material expressions of these ideas further. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of this outward-looking expansion, global links between coastal settlements and their significance need to be analysed from an integrated land/sea perspective. Naval dockyards, for example, would be a good topic to investigate: their distribution, the continuity and nature of occupation in one location, periods of expansion and decline, and the material culture of those living in these yards have the potential to reflect patterns of importance, flexibility of use, and even the hierarchies between them. Similarly, integrated study of coastal defences (as perceptions of a maritime threat materialised on the landscape) could reflect perceptions of the land from the sea as well as the sea from the land. Finally, we might also explore the use of particular material goods when a long way from ‘home’ as a means to reduce the perceived distance (Gosden 2001; 2004; Staniforth 2003b).

8.5.4 Key research questions for maritime
identities and perceptions of maritime

This theme is potentially of significant relevance to contemporary ‘modern’ Britain and the questions it raises of transnational identities and migrant communities are in need of further study. Key questions include:

  • Is there a distinct archaeology of mariner communities in ports? Is this discernibly different to the ‘international’ communities of the larger ports?
  • Can we examine the lives of foreign sailors and migrants through new or altered material and spatial practices in port  and  on  board  ship?  Are there material signifiers of difference in the shipwreck and port assemblages?
  • Can (new) material practices on board ship and in colonies evidence new communities, colonist or ‘creole’ identities, and inter-colony hierarchies?
  • Is it possible to discern archaeological reflections – material expressions – of a developing sense of British identity (and of racial difference) on board ship and/or in port?
  • To what extent can we explore the differing and developing perceptions of maritime space for those in England, on board ship and within the colonial network?