David Parham and Jane Maddocks with Mark Beattie-Edwards, Andy Brockman, Jesse Ransley, Graham Scott, Michael Stammers, and Fraser Sturt


In 1850 Britain was at the heart of a maritime Empire, but the period saw a dramatic change in Britain as a maritime nation with fundamental changes to its commercial shipping and seafaring, the role of its navy, its global networks, and its coastal landscape. By the mid-Victorian period, the colonial and commercial expansion discussed in the previous chapter had solidified into an imperial project. Crucial to this, and the flows of people, goods, ideas, and wealth it created, were the British navy and merchant marine. Britain had a very strong sense of itself as a global, maritime power both economically and politically. By the mid-20th century this had altered significantly, yet the material and social legacies of these maritime connections continue to be reflected in contemporary Britain, in its multicultural port communities and diverse identities.

At the same time, the period saw developments in maritime technology, with two technological ‘revolutions’ in ship design, as well as high volumes of shipping losses. Britain experienced two world conflicts which involved the navy, merchant marine, and even its coastal landscapes and communities, acting at local and international scales. The period witnessed a changing use of, and relationship, with the coast and the sea from a space for communication, commerce, and defence to a source of pleasure and recreation. It also witnessed the height of the commercial port system and shipbuilding, and its decline, as well as the industrialisation and then waning of the fisheries and other marine industries, and as Britain’s Empire fragmented, significant and successive waves of maritime migration, both to and from Britain.

The period this chapter addresses begins in 1850 during the Victorian era (1837–1901), which reflects the significant changes to the maritime sphere engendered by the rise of steam technology and the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’. The study focuses on England, but since right from the beginning of the period England was a part of a British state and Empire, it also considers (if relevant) any traces of England’s maritime and marine historic environment now on the continental shelf or present in other countries (Fig 9.1).

Figure 9.1 Timeline for the Modern period

Despite the importance of the maritime sphere  in social changes, archaeological research into the marine historic environment of this period is comparatively rare. The work that has been done often focuses on very particular aspects of coastal or maritime archaeology and tends to be site-specific and descriptive; exceptions are primarily related to individual industries or to conflict archaeology. For the most part, and particularly in the 20th century, the historical narratives which dominate our understanding of the lives of those who lived and worked on or by the sea are shaped by oral histories, historical studies, local history agendas, heritage tourism and popular nostalgia. The potential of archaeology’s role in reconstructing people’s lives and building our narratives of community and identity is unrealised. The tangible, material evidence of the marine historic environment offers us access to research questions that oral histories and historical accounts cannot and enables us to challenge and complement popular narratives. Particular archaeological sites often highlight nuance and variation in the larger narratives of, for example, naval warfare or ship technology, while they can also act as material points of intersection between the changing social, economic, political, and technological maritime spheres. Above all, this chapter highlights the need for more systematic research into the coastal and maritime archaeology of this period, for projects driven by research questions focused on the larger social and material changes the period witnessed, and for analysis integrated into the local, regional, national, and global contexts.

Broad research issues

  • In what ways did the rapid changes in maritime technology (including the emergence of steam technology, the demise of the commercial sailing ship, and development of containerisation) impact on both terrestrial and shipboard societies in the modern period?
  • How did the shift from localised marine industries to economies based on recreation and tourism impact on the use of land and sea by smaller coastal communities? How did this affect their assets (including watercraft), their environment, and their identity?
  • What was the impact of world conflict on the English coastal landscape, watercraft, ports, and broader technological developments?
  • What were the cultural and material impacts of waves of population migration, both into and out of Britain, since the 19th century?
  • How did migration affect port geographies, the built environment, coastal landscape, and marine archaeological sites?
  • Have the changes that occurred over the modern period undermined or altered the idea of Britain as a ‘maritime nation’?

Theme 9 1: Coastal change

9.1.1 Coastal change

During the last century and a half, climatic and sea- level change has had relatively minimal impact on coastal evolution. The very beginning of this period, 1850, is generally agreed as the last minimum of the Little Ice Age, but the climatic changes associated with it do not appear to have had a significant effect on sea level around England (Long 2000, 418). Instead, coastal evolution in the last 150 years has been characterised by sporadic and localised changes, the silting up of rivers and embayments, or the removal of spits by storm events and, in some areas, significant coastal erosion. This is not to say that these small changes in relative sea level are unimportant. Our current concern  with  the  rate of sea-level change, and its potential impact upon the coast, requires detailed high-resolution studies for the impact of change to be truly understood. As such, this is an area where detailed archaeological work, mapping changes on comparatively small time scales, might be able to inform work being conducted on environmental change both within and beyond our discipline.

However, the most significant impacts by far have been anthropogenic, from large-scale port developments to small-scale land reclamation and defences, both against the sea and against invasion by sea, and even the rise of coastline management programmes (Murphy et al 2009). Perhaps the most obvious examples of coastal change are the areas  of land reclamation, a significant endeavour of the Early Modern period particularly in estuarine/salt marsh areas which continued through the 19th and into the 20th century. For example in the Humber Estuary, the area behind Spurn Point was progressively reclaimed until 1965 (Van de Noort 2004, 160).

The few reclamation projects of the 1960s appear to mark the end of this activity, as coastal management, coastal conservancies, and nature reserves began to appear. This reclaimed, low-lying land was used as arable land, for grazing or for particular coastal industries or localised sea defences. Though sea defence and coastal management structures are often connected to contemporary coastline management, with all the associated issues of preserving by record or in situ other elements of the marine historic environment, seawalls and revetments have been an established part of coastal and harbour engineering since the Medieval period. Coastal ‘armouring’ and other structures such as groynes were built to trap sand and protect beaches against storm damage in many resort and coastal towns from the end of the Victorian period (French 2001). Many of these are integral parts of the marine historic environment and reflect local and regional economic drivers and community action. It was only in the 1950s that more systematic management developed and the method of beach nourishment was promoted. Though many of these early features are recorded in HERs and RCZAs, how these structures fit into the chronology of the marine historic environment in particular areas is poorly understood archaeologically.

9.1.2 Key research questions for coastal

  • How can high-resolution archaeological  studies of sea-level change over the modern period help to improve our overall understanding of the processes involved?
  • To what extent have coastal defences and dredging helped to reshape the English coastline?
  • How will the shift from ‘coastal defence’ to ‘coastal risk management’ in the 21st century affect the conservation of the archaeological record of all periods and how should this be best managed?

Theme 9 2: Maritime settlement and marine exploitation

Overall, there has been a significant alteration in coastal settlement, land use, and industries since 1850. This period has seen a series of changes beginning with the impacts of the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’ (c 1850) and culminating in a fundamental, post-industrial shift from small coastal villages, ports, and harbours to larger regional hubs, and from smaller, diverse coastal and maritime industries to the dominance of commuter villages and recreational industries in the later part of the 20th century. These changes have impacted upon both the built historic environment and the coastline, as well as leaving behind significant, but understudied, archaeological evidence.

9.2.1 Seaborne coastal trade

In the late 19th century there was a thriving coastal network of small ports and harbours of coastal, fishing, trading, and mariner communities. Seaborne trade was of central importance to coastal life, carrying everything from coal, timber, and minerals to grain, wool, and domestic and luxury goods to, from and around England’s coast (Murphy 2009).  In 1850, small ports and harbours were integrated into a strong coastal trade network, with associated industries of boat repair and shipbuilding (eg Starkey 1994; Armstrong 1987; 1995). Developments over the next 150 years saw the railway and then the road haulage system take much of the seaborne trade and cargo. Smaller fishing and trading ports such as Bosham and Emsworth, on the south coast, lost their coastal sailing barges, local boatbuilders’ yards (Rudkin 1975, 6) and eventually, in the 20th century, became recreational sailing and yachting harbours. However, the arrival of steam technology did not simply precipitate the demise of commercial sailing ships, particularly in the coastal trade of bulk goods such as china clay, coal, bricks, and stone. In 1879 sailing vessels accounted for 82% of ships registered in the UK and 63% of tonnage (Doe 2009a). During the mid-19th century, just as maritime steam technology was being refined, there was a rush of investment in wooden sailing vessels which were cheaper and easier to build. Doe (2010) highlights, in particular, the rapid expansion in shipbuilding and ownership in Cornwall between 1829 and 1870. Coastal trade, and its sailing ships, though altered, continued up to the 1920s; it was the depression of the 1920s–1930s which finally sealed its decline.

Foreshore hulks, along with the built environment of the smaller ports and harbours, are one of our primary sources of evidence about the material realities of this coastal trade. Despite the rise of steam, sailing barges were of significant economic importance into the 20th century and it is the remains of these vessels which provide evidence of this continued relevance (eg the hulk of the sailing barge Tuesday of Rochester can be found on the Alde Estuary, Suffolk (Murphy et al 2009, 10)). There are a few examples of vessels such as the Thames sailing barge, crucial to the movement  of  cargo and the flow of goods in the later part of the 19th century though rare by the mid-20th century (Davis 1970), surviving in working condition. However, it is the lost vessels, along with their cargoes and all the personal objects on board, present in the archaeological record that offer the greatest potential to investigate the lives of those living and working on them in the 19th century. There are also defunct hards, the remains of small shipyards and wharves along our estuaries and bays and woven into the built environment of coastal villages, which would benefit from more systematic research. At present, the narratives about this trade are largely historical and there is considerable potential for combining these with archaeological evidence to create more nuanced and materially grounded accounts.

9.2.2 Coastal, estuarine, and intertidal

Alongside coastal trade, there was also a range of specialised coastal, estuarine, and intertidal industries with individual supply networks and associated small-scale industries which variously suffered a similar decline. In 1850, a coastal ‘ecosystem’, which included coopers, net-, basket- and  rope-making, ice and salt manufacture, seaweed collection, and intertidal fisheries, as well as timber merchants and boatyards, still thrived. In Suffolk, for example, the Southwold Salt-Works was only closed in 1900, having supplied the local fishing industry for centuries (Murphy 2009, 40). In Tidenham, Gloucestershire, fishtraps were still in use in 1866, with 1100 recorded, though there was only one putcher weir in 1969 (Murphy 2009, 48; Elrington and Herbert 1972). On the north-east coast the important alum industry peaked in the 19th century and then abruptly declined as the century closed (Jecock 2009; Marshall 1995; Miller 2002). The smaller, local seaweed collection industry survived in Cornwall, where it was used as fertiliser, into the late 19th century (Murphy 2009, 41), and the Scillonian soda ash industry operated into the late Victorian period (Gale 2000, 43). Across the country the material remains of these various industries are recorded in HERs but they are under-researched. Investigating the archaeological record of these local industries, such as the shellfish industry, is in many cases difficult. Murphy (2009, 51) notes that although oyster pits dug into saltmarsh are numerous around the Essex coast and in parts of Suffolk and Norfolk, dating them can be difficult unless they are tied to historical maps. However, the stories these activities tell, separately and in association, of the profound changes that affected coastal lives and maritime livelihoods through this period, are very important. This is reflected by recent discussions in industrial archaeology highlighting that archaeological analyses of communities of recent centuries can be as rewarding a means of understanding the past as the examination of the development of particular technologies (eg Barrie 2002).

9.2.3 Marine fisheries and industries

Just as oyster fishing in Emsworth became ‘modernised’, so the fishing fleets around England’s coast became increasingly mechanised, with fewer but bigger vessels. In the last 150 years the fishing industry has experienced profound changes which have impacted on the people who fish and the way in which boats are built, crewed, and disposed of (see Thompson et al 1983).

By the 1850s there were two scales of fishing: the local inshore fisheries, often family-run, using oars and sail, frequently seining or potting for crab and lobster; and, the larger, offshore fisheries that demanded seagoing vessels powered by sail initially and later by steam. At the same time as larger vessels fished further afield for expanding markets, smaller coastal communities were still fishing in inshore tidal waters in their traditional open boats. These boats were designed for use in specific local beach and sea conditions. The crews would fish for hours, not days, and because of the nature of the boats they would fish seasonally for species that came inshore during the late spring, summer, and autumn, and be beached or laid up during non-productive months. Often the groups or families who worked these boats did so as one of a number of subsistence activities, including farming, labouring, or making nets at other times (Thompson 1983, 13).

Unlike the larger fishing ports the smaller, local fishing industries are less visible in the archaeological record, because the infrastructure is ephemeral. Many of the boats recorded and described by March (1970), Mannering (1997), and McKee (1977; 1983) no longer exist. One of the key focuses of this kind of archaeological recording is the demise of local adaptations of fishing vessels, from particular coastal cobbles to very specific local craft such as lerrets (Maddocks 2009). There is a need to expand this largely technological work to include the knowledge sets and skills of how to build and use these vessels which disappear with them.

At the start of the period, innovations including the three-masted lugger and the development of trawl gear in the 1830s, which had significant effect on the North Sea fisheries, their fleets, and home ports (Murphy 2009, 85), allowed larger vessels to  fish in more remote waters. The development of steam engines had an equally important effect, enabling fishing further offshore, for longer periods, although this innovation was later superseded by diesel- powered vessels. Steam winches would haul heavy nets on to the deck and catches could be salted before returning to port after, perhaps, several days at sea. This was supported by the construction of (often stone) harbours for unloading fish that were sent by the newly established railways to towns with larger markets (Butcher 1979, 13; Jarvis 2000, 150).

The large offshore boats often went after herring (Haines 2000, 64), and the size of shoals in the late 1800s encouraged the rapid expansion of the British herring fishery. Butcher (1979, 14; 2000) describes the growth of the fishing fleet at Lowestoft, whereboats fished for herring in 1872, but by 1913 the number had risen to 770. The new steam drifters had a profound effect on all the east coast fisheries, as small harbours that could not accommodate the larger vessels fell into decline. Holy Island Harbour, Northumberland, is a good example of this, where at least twelve keelboats can still be seen inverted on the beach. In contrast, the nearby port of Seahouses prospered because it was able to support a fleet of steam drifters (Tolan-Smith 2008, 228). Alongside Lowestoft, other regionally significant fishing ports grew as docks and harbours were developed, notably at Grimsby, Yarmouth, Brixham, and Fleetwood. The changing vessels and fisheries also affected alterations in the associated shipbuilding, repair, supplies, fishing equipment (net-making, salt, ice supplies, etc), as well as the physical environment of the harbours. At Grimsby, the fish docks, ice factory and fish processing buildings, including a large number of smokehouses, survive alongside banks, shops and warehouses serving the fishing industry (Fig 9.2). On the east coast in  particular,  there has been significant work on the development and eventual decline of marine fisheries (eg Credland 1995; Robinson 1987). However, other regions and other aspects of these shifts in the fisheries, particularly the social changes connected to the arrival of larger vessels, industrialisation, and the decline of the sail, are less well understood.

Figure 9.2 Fish processing buildings at Grimsby
Fish Dock, including a smokehouse (© Colum Giles)

In terms of the social impacts of the industrialisation of commercial offshore fishing, there has been interesting ethnohistorical research in northern England indicating the kinds of social and economic transformations that took place as wage labour arrived and altered work rhythms and familial connections (Frank 1976; Lazenby and Lazenby 1999; Thompson 1983). In fact, historical studies have been much better at engaging with these factors (eg Horsley and Hirst 1991; Robinson 1987), yet there are limits to what oral histories and historical documents can contribute to our understanding. Thus far, research by maritime archaeologists on hulks and surviving boats provides the best source of archaeological information on these changes (eg McKee 1983), though this work often lacks broader consideration of the economic, political, and spatial changes this industrialisation caused in coastal ports and villages (Ransley 2011).

The two world conflicts had significant impacts on the offshore fisheries. The First World War interrupted the English herring fishery and the men who returned to fishing after the war found fish stocks reduced (Reid 2000, 157–65). By the 1960s herring fisheries had ceased to be economic: catches could not sustain the fishing communities. The number of boats fishing offshore declined, but the gear carried by the boats that were still working became more advanced. Electronic fish finders became the norm, and eventually boats were fishing in Arctic waters targeting white fish in direct competition with Russian, Danish and Norwegian fisheries, and subsequently engaging in ‘Cod Wars’ with Iceland. The offshore fishing industry became, at times, central to political as well as social and economic discourse. The development and subsequent decline of large- scale fisheries have been extensively written about (eg Butcher 2000; Haines 2000; Jarvis 2000; Pawlyn 2000).

The wrecks of 19th- or early 20th-century fishing vessels, whether steam drifters or smaller inshore boats, are rarely – if ever – archaeologically investigated in the way an 18th-century warship might be, so the large archive of ‘fishing’ information we have, for both inshore fishing and offshore, is drawn from historical archive and oral histories, and much of it is descriptive. Though some have been restored, it is the vessels present in the archaeological record, along with the artefacts onboard, which offer greater potential to investigate the lives of those living and working on them. They offer a unique source of information, enabling us to investigate the material and spatial engagements of those on board, their everyday working experiences, as well as the small variations in individual ship design. There is significant potential in undertaking a series of interpretive syncretic studies (that could include oral histories and historical accounts alongside survey of the associated infrastructure and the extant vessels).

Finally, it should be noted that from the mid-20th century, in addition to offshore fisheries, there has been significant industrialised exploitation of the seabed, including the oil and gas industries and aggregate extraction. These industries and their associated infrastructure are rarely, if ever, considered as part of the historical or archaeological narratives of maritime exploitation. Yet there is potential in integrating them into our discussions; the pre-fabricated technology of offshore oil and gas platforms has, for example, a relationship to the Maunsell Forts built as part of Second World War coastal defences. It is also worth noting the possible future research potential of offshore wind-farms and even eventual archaeologies of these more contemporary energy industries.

9.2.4 Coastal harbours and ports

Over the last 150 years, the broader patterns of change in coastal inhabitation have been twofold. Firstly, the industrialisation and subsequent decline of offshore fisheries and coastal trade and the narrowing of international trade to regional centres resulted in an increased importance of larger regional ports (Jackson 1983; Stammers 2007). Most smaller ports and harbours suffered periods of decline and considerable social change, though many have now seen the development of other industries (most notably tourism and recreational sailing). For the larger regional ports a different pattern emerged; they continued to expand (or in some cases, like Fleetwood, were developed) in the late 1800s with the rise of steam drifters, the expansion of trans- oceanic travel, and large steam cargo carriers. In some key areas, including the Tyne, large-scale shipyards continued to grow on the estuaries near large ports. Subsequently, in the late 1950s the development of intermodal cargo containers and new vessels to carry them further regionalised and restricted international cargo transport and altered the dockyards of the major ports again (Broeze 2002; Cudahy 1996; Jackson 1983, 154–5).

Within this wider narrative, however, there was variation. Notably, in the latter half of the 19th century some small coastal ports and villages benefited from the industrialisation of offshore fishing and developed the infrastructure to support it (see eg Butcher 2000; Jarvis 2000). It is also worth noting that despite the advance of steam,  iron,  and the larger shipping companies, locally owned wooden sailing vessels still thrived until the late 1800s (Doe 2010). As a consequence, some smaller coastal villages grew in the late 19th century, with expanding local investment in wooden sailing ships. Individual small ports and harbours have also grown in the 20th century as a result of yachting, recreational diving, and tourism, whilst others have become commuter villages for nearby larger towns and cities. For many of the smaller coastal harbours, particularly on the south coast, it is recreational sailing and the development of marinas that now constitutes the bulk of their ‘fleet’. Few small ports or harbours now have sizeable fishing fleets or any coastal or international trade. These changes have had significant social and economic impacts, which are evidenced in the built environment and the archaeological record. There is considerable scope for archaeological research to address both the small-scale material evidence of this decline and the larger-scale impacts on the regional social and material networks within which these ports and their communities were entwined.

The growth of larger ports, and an increased regionalisation of trade and shipbuilding in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was precipitated by innovations in maritime technology and the continuing expansion of Britain’s overseas trade during this period. Jackson (1983) highlights a period of development and dock-building in the major ports from the mid-1800s until the 1870s, followed by a period of prosperity up until the First World War, and subsequent decline following the Second World War with the concentration of commercial shipping in a few large container ports.

The other significant factor in port development was the rise of inter-continental postal and passenger services and the ‘packet’ boats. Dover and Harwich were central to continental traffic, with Dover’s expansion supported by the arrival of the railway from London in 1844 (Jackson 1983, 92). However, these ports remained relatively small, with Harwich having fewer than 9000 inhabitants at the turn    of the 20th century (ibid, 95). More dramatic was the development of Southampton, which benefited from the rise in inter-continental maritime traffic (Goodley 2000). Competition between the major ports was strong and, particularly in the late 1800s, the power, financial speculation, and success of the different dock companies had a significant impact on the material structure of ports and on their communities. This major port network began to falter in the early 20th century, with the impact of two World Wars and the depression between, and finally with containerisation. Maritime trade and commerce became focused on a handful of large container ports, and this was intertwined with the decline of industrial shipyards, many ports, and the network of supply and labour connected to them. The economic and industrial changes in ports over this period are, at the national scale, well understood historically. However, subsequent ‘urban regeneration’ has further altered the social dynamics and port geographies of these places. These parts of our marine historic environment are as yet largely unexamined, at least materially, and they offer an interesting avenue for future research since our understanding of them is still informed by contemporary socio-economic politics.

The technological innovation and increased industrialisation that precipitated change in the late 1800s was not confined to iron shipbuilding and steam technology, but included the development of port infrastructure. From the mid-1800s, mechanical cargo handling machinery became prevalent, worked at first by steam or hydraulic power and from c 1890 by electric motors (Jackson 1983, 96– 103). Lock gates and swing bridges in enclosed dock systems also benefited from mechanisation. This industrialisation impacted on the working lives of the port communities, affecting patterns of work and altering dockyard skills irrevocably. These changes are evidenced not only in the built environment but in the social and material worlds of these communities. At the same time, the expansion of international maritime trade from this period brought new communities as well as new wealth   to the ports. These included both migrant workers and their families from the port hinterlands and other regions, but also international mariners who developed expanding communities in the major ports and international  migrant  communities  (see the PortCities project for Bristol, Hartlepool, Liverpool, London, and Southampton, http://www.

For the most part it is the immediate dock infrastructure that is  best  understood  and  recorded  in HERs and RCZAs, though they are not always fully surveyed and survival is irregular since in many places subsequent redevelopment has taken place. The archaeological studies that have been undertaken are often the result  of  assessment  and recording in  advance  of  development  (there is a significant, if fractured, body of relevant grey literature), or are focused on particular industrial elements of the larger dockyards. It is in the context of civil engineering heritage that dock structures are best documented regionally (eg Labrum 1994; Otter 1994; Rennison 1996; Smith 2001). These summaries derive from the register developed over the past 40 years by the Panel for Historical Engineering Works (PHEW) of the Institution of Civil Engineers.1 Some of PHEW’s more specific studies relate directly to maritime works, such as the design and construction of dry docks (see Otter 2002; 2004). However, much of this work remains site-specific and descriptive. Otherwise, there is a near complete lack of studies of more recent industrial port archaeology. More holistic studies are rare and, even where there are valuable dockyard studies (eg Ritchie-Noakes 1984), there is considerable scope to integrate the dockyards into the broader port city archaeology and into the wider regional networks within which they operated.

9.2.5 Coastal defence and military uses of
the coastal landscape

Following the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars and the considerable reworking of the coastal landscape that had preceded them, there was something of a ‘lull’ in coastal defence activity, until the Palmerston Forts, a system of coastal and sea forts, were developed following the Defence Act 1860. These were focused around the estuaries and approaches to important British ports in the south, for example, near Plymouth Breakwater, and further to the east ‘five sea forts built on shoals in the Solent to defend the harbour entrance’ (Mitchell and Moore 1993, 15). The most significant fixed defences developed in peacetime, referred to as ‘Palmerston’s Follies’, they represent a particular political moment evidenced in the maritime landscape. Considerable recording work has been done by the Palmerston Forts Society including documentation of armaments placed on individual forts, and the existence of technical developments such as Moncrieff lits, Haxo casemates, and caponiers (Moore  2002). The  use of fortified structures built in estuaries continued in the Second World War with the construction of the Maunsell Sea Forts in the Thames and Mersey estuaries (Murphy 2009, 134; Rowley 2006). These were designed to deter attack from the air as well as the sea and were built for short-term use, though the majority still survive and have become part of the seascape, reused in the post-war period as pirate radio stations and even an artist’s retreat.

The Maunsell Sea Forts were, of course, only one element of a layered, integrated land/seascape of defence developed during the Second World War. The coastal and maritime defences of the two  world conflicts have had among the biggest impact on the coastal landscape, patterns of inhabitation, and spatial organisation. In contrast to other topics discussed in this chapter, this is increasingly addressed through conflict archaeology studies, which approach the material remains of conflict more holistically, recognising their influence on landscape, material culture, and people’s lives extending across large distances and periods of time (Saunders 2007; Schofield 2004). Whilst many structures and features of coastal defence systems from both wars were recorded and surveyed as a result of the Council for  British  Archaeology’s  Defence of Britain project,3 these were primarily upstanding structures and there is still a need to integrate them into the wider narratives of maritime defence and conflict. Moreover, the remains of the support networks developed in advance of seaborne invasion are poorly understood. In some areas archaeological approaches are crucial because work was often rapid and poorly documented.

The 1914–18 conflict altered the coastal landscape through the development of dockyards and the supply network (Schofield 2004, 5, 24–7). Coastal defence focused on resistance to smaller waterborne assaults at places such as Lowestoft, Scarborough, and Hartlepool (Evans 2004a, 100) and on ports and naval bases, where the fleet was built and maintained, rather than on an invasion force. Towards the end of the war, the use of zeppelins to bomb cities precipitated the development of coastal air defence systems, but for the most part, the physical remains of this system have been masked by the more extensive Second World War defences. Schofield (2004, 41) advocates a more systematic study of First World War remains within and around dockyards and ports, to assess the impacts they had on the established coastal landscape, at regional and national scales.

Prior to the Second World War, defences were built in anticipation of war and into the first years of conflict, when invasion was perceived as an imminent threat. These were extensive and complex. For example the Defence of Britain project identified 214 sites along the Dorset Coast alone (Foot 2006). This system was called the ‘Coastal Crust’ and included a network of pill boxes, concrete anti-tank blocks, minefields and other measures designed to prevent or hinder an amphibious landing. These defences were completed between 1940 and 1942, with priority given to areas of the coast most under threat, such as East Anglia, Kent, and Sussex. Defences also often extended intertidally into coastal waters, including submarine barriers and sunken barrages intended to funnel vessels through channels on particular routes. Pipes were installed at a number of locations, including St Margaret’s Bay in Kent and Whitstable Harbour, to dump oil into the sea which would then be set on fire by tracer ammunition. These elements in particular are poorly understood archaeologically.

From 1943 the defensive coastal landscape altered to provide the infrastructure to support an invasion force (eg Dobinson 1996). This included supply networks to the dockyards, but also the manufacturing, testing and assemblage sites of the Mulberry harbour system and even their eventual disposal locations. A number of Mulberry harbour units are recorded on the south coast or on the seabed, but there is a need for systematic study of these features. Schofield (2004, 37) notes that little is known about ‘the build-up to embarkation, and the archaeological evidence for the way in which the coastal landscape was used and adapted to enable the embarkation  to take place’. The training areas for amphibious landings should also be included here; the most famous, the Slapton Sands Range in Devon, was one of many sites including practice landings at Hayling Island, Bracklesham Bay, Littlehampton, and cliff assault exercises at Alum Bay and Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. There is no central record of these training areas and there is the potential to locate artefacts at these sites (as highlighted by  the Sherman tank located in Slapton Sands). These features need to be reintegrated into the narratives of wartime coastal landscapes.

9.2.6 The rise of coastal recreation, resorts,
and heritage tourism

Fleetwood in Lancashire (Section 9.2.3) reflects another key change in coastal use over the last 150 years: it was a seaside resort with railway access (Curtis 1986). The rise of steam technology brought better transport links and an associated rise in leisure uses of the coast (Brodie and Winter 2007). Recreational activities and seaside resorts were already established in many parts of the coast (see eg Travis 1993); Hutton’s guide to sea bathing in Blackpool, first written in 1789, was in its third edition by 1850. However, in the late 1800s and early 1900s there was an increasing democratisation of these activities. Brodie and Winter refer in particular to the rise of holiday camps and caravan sites in the early 20th century (2007, 59–60). Our understanding of, and engagement with, these  developments is still somewhat fragmentary; making Brodie and Winter’s study invaluable. Walton (2005) highlights the fact that the seaside industry of Lancashire has had far less attention from historians – and archaeologists – than the cotton industry. This is even more true when we consider our understanding not only of seaside resort towns and their built environment, but of particular recreational activities, from dinghies to yacht clubs, and their material and spatial effects on coastal villages and harbours. As small working vessels and the associated equipment, repair and building yards disappeared, the variety and diversity of vessels and maritime work in these places dwindled, evidenced by  the  wreck  record  of Langstone harbour (Allen and Gardiner 2000, 124–7), and our understanding of the archaeological relationship between this decline and the rise of other industries remains poor.

Finally, in recent decades, the renewed rise of coastal harbours and villages as holiday venues has been intertwined with developing ‘heritage tourism’, including such heritage attractions as smuggler and shipwreck museums. The ‘regeneration’ that this industry has brought has altered both the built environment and society in these areas. Scholars in industrial archaeology have begun to examine the transformation of industrial archaeological sites into heritage (Orange 2008), and this avenue of enquiry might be profitably applied to these more recent developments in maritime heritage.

9.2.7 Key research questions for maritime
settlement and marine exploitation

  • How can we best use wreck sites and associated assemblages to cast light on the lives of those involved in coastal trade?
  • What was the impact of the decline of coastal trade on coastal communities and networks in the 1920s?
  • How can archaeology help to document the social, material, and economic connections of coastal and estuarine industries, notably shell fisheries?
  • How can we integrate research into the material and oral historical record of smaller, local fishing industries, into their vessels and the skills required to build and use them?
  • What was the material and social impact of steam, iron ships on port structures?
  • What were the impacts of containerisation on the historic port network and ports such as Liverpool or Bristol?
  • How can we best integrate land/seascape analysis of First World War coastal defences at regional and national scales?
  • What can the systematic study of Mulberry harbour and other coastal infrastructure sites tell us about D-Day preparations?
  • What was the impact of Cold War reuse and development of coastal defences on perceptions of the coast and maritime space?
  • How have changing levels of interest in  sport  and recreational sailing impacted on the English coastline and communities?

Theme 9 3: Seafaring

9.3.1 Maritime technology, conflict, and

At the beginning of the period, with the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’, fundamental changes began in ship design, ports, and shipbuilding yards, as well as the communities and industries associated with them. Steam technology should not simply be equated with an increased industrialisation of the fisheries, coastal and international trade, and the demise of sailing ships and their associated ship- building, repair, and supply networks. Though its impacts should not be underestimated, there was a plurality of technology employed through the later 1800s and into the 1900s. Nor was steam power the only significant technological development influencing ship design; in the late 20th century diesel engines and then containerisation had comparable effects. There were also other social and political factors that affected shipbuilding, including world conflict, and latterly globalisation of maritime trade. There is also a need to also consider the rise of recreational sailing and yacht design in this list, as it remains a much understudied topic in archaeology.

From  the  1830s, marine steam power was well established on short sea and coastal routes for passenger and prime cargo traffic. Vessels were generally built with wooden hulls, low pressure/ high fuel consumption boilers, and side lever paddle engines. The following decade saw substantial innovation in hull material, design, and propulsion. Most of these were embodied in Brunel’s innovative iron screw-propelled auxiliary steam ship Great Britain, which was completed in 1843 (Corlett 1990). By the 1860s, iron hulls and screw propulsion had become the norm for ocean-going steamers. When coupled with high-pressure Scotch boilers and compound engines which utilised the steam twice (and later three or four times), steamships could profitably travel to all parts of the globe. Britain took a lead in developing these technologies and, by 1900, had the largest merchant marine and the biggest shipbuilding industry of any nation.

However, shipbuilding became increasingly polarised. Local ownership and building of wooden sailing ships, particularly in the south, increased. This was isolated from an increasing concentration of larger industrial shipyards in the northern and eastern estuaries. At the same time, naval shipbuilding became less confined to naval yards, the relationship between civil and naval engineers developed, and eventually contracts to build warships were fulfilled by the large civilian yards. The communities, skills, and working experiences of wooden boatbuilding traditions were increasingly distanced from the specific skill sets of the shipyard workers and the engineering skills of large ship designers.

As shipbuilding industries developed, ship tonnage increased: by 1900, the largest vessels, the trans-atlantic passenger liners, were over 20,000 tons and could carry nearly 3000 passengers (English Heritage 2007). Nevertheless, the average size of cargo vessels was less than half this tonnage. Mild steel, which was both lighter and stronger than wrought iron, had become the main hull material. Increased speed was made possible by the development of steam turbines which had commercial application from c 1902. From the early 1900s, oil fuel was also increasingly used instead of coal because it offered greater economy and ease of handling,  although its transport called for the development of specialised tankers. Other specialised vessel types also came into use, most notably ships with refrigerated or temperature-controlled holds to transport meat or fruit long distances. The first steps were also taken in the development of marine diesel engines and welding, both of which were to transform ship technology in the later 20th century.

Warship  design exploited the same technologies and changed radically over the same period. Wooden sailing warships with decks of muzzle-loading guns were still built up to c 1850 though latterly with auxiliary steam engines. HMS Warrior of 1859 was a pioneer of the iron hull with armour plating and an armament of fewer, but larger calibre, weapons (Fig 9.3). Nevertheless, she still  retained  sails  and a broadside configuration for her armament. Subsequent developments saw the gradual abandonment of sail and the introduction of a heavy main armament of breech-loading guns mounted in swielling centre-line turrets. This culminated in the ‘Dreadnought’ type constructed from 1906. Other, smaller  warships  were  also  developed  to  deliver a new weapon: the torpedo. First, there were fast small torpedo boats which attacked larger vessels, then torpedo boat destroyers (later shortened to ‘destroyers’) to counter them. Finally by 1900, after a series of earlier experiments, submarines were developed that were capable of attacking surface ships with torpedoes while submerged, for example, HMS/m A1 (Wessex Archaeology 2006).

Figure 9.3 HMS Warrior (© Mark Beattie-Edwards)

As has been noted, sail technology persisted into the 1920s, with sailing ships changing both in size and design. In the 1830s, the average deep-sea ship had a wooden hull and was c 500 tons. Remarkable progress was made in the 1850s, particularly by American shipbuilders who built wooden ships of up to c 2000 tons with innovative hull shapes. Iron hulls and spars became the norm by the mid-1860s; new rigs such as the four-masted barque were introduced to propel iron hulls capable of carrying up to 4000 tons of cargo. Clipper ships, which have received much attention, were small in number and only viable in high rate trades such as the China tea trade (see Lubbock 1984; MacGregor 1972). The bulk carriers were more numerous and in use longer. Sailing ships that were built for other trades then went into the coastal trade of china clay, coal, bricks, and stone. Ships that were once sleek, fast vessels were now used for the bulk trades where speed was not essential. However, the number of sailing ships declined as economical tramp steamers competed for bulk cargoes such as coal and grain. Nevertheless, numerous large sailing ships were being built up to the 1890s (Doe 2010), operating chiefly under Scandinavian flags beyond 1914.

While wooden construction for  deep-sea sailing vessels declined, it remained the norm for coastal and fishing vessels (broadly vessels of 200 tons or less). There was a great deal of innovation in the late 19th century including the development of new types of fishing vessels such as the Scottish Zulu or the Lancashire Nobby (McKee 1983), as well as the steam drifter. The early 20th century also saw the first steps in installing petrol or diesel engines in small craft. One of the problems with the larger historical narratives of ship design and building during this period is its linear, somewhat hegemonic shift from wooden sailing vessels to steamships. It is, for the most part, recognised that there was a plurality of ship and boatbuilding technology during the late 1800s and early 1900s. There is a significant gap in research into the infrastructure of the building and repair of these different vessels, how they existed alongside and interacted with new ship technologies, building practices and infrastructure, and to what degree these traditions continued to adapt and prosper alongside the new technologies. Contextualising this kind of in-depth localised study with the impacts on the social and material networks (including the landscapes) they were embedded within would be of significant value.

From the late 1950s, the development and international standardisation of shipping containers created a second fundamental shift in commercial shipbuilding and design (Broeze 2002; Cudahy 1996). Ships increased in tonnage, their shape and construction altered, and their building and repair became more international. We should also note the increased design specialisation of recreation craft. Sailing dinghies and yachts became more numerous, and both their technology and design became more specialised. At the same time, recreational motor yachts and ‘cruisers’ became increasingly popular and the industries producing them in Britain expanded.

The number of wrecks, intertidal hulks, and surviving vessels from this period is  considerable. Prior to the First World War wrecks were usually commercial sailing ships lost on lee shores, through collision, overloading or poor maintenance. The change to steam and better loadline regulations mitigated such losses, and more recently the invention of wireless, radar, echo sounding, and electronic position finding equipment has reduced losses still further. These more recent wrecks, in contrast to their predecessors, offer a unique opportunity for fine-grained research. With data on the construction and operation of ships, their crews and cargoes often available, records (including plans, written records, models, photographs, and even film) compliment and complicate the material realities of repair, variation in design, and shipboard life evidenced in the archaeological record. In addition, many of these vessels have significant connections to national and international events.

Alongside the wreck record, traditional vernacular vessels, whether for fishing, cargo or port services, survive as ‘hulks’ in estuaries all around Britain. There has been some recording of these vessels (eg the Fal Estuary Historic Audit (Ratcliffe 1997) or the surveys of the Sailing Barge Research Society) and some appear in RCZAs and HERs. There are also a number of ship-breaking sites, which were often used over a considerable period and can contain fragments of several vessels. A good example is New Ferry beach on the Mersey where some twelve ships, including Brunel’s Great Eastern, were broken up from 1889. However, there is no overall record of these sites and they require further, more detailed study. There is a comparable lack of research on most of the smaller ship  and  boatbuilding  sites. In particular, the land-side remains of ship and boatbuilding sites tend to disappear quickly with redevelopment. On the shore, elements such as ‘grid-irons’ survive (timber platforms for repairing vessels at low tide) or the ‘ways’ for launching ships (most notable of the latter are those for the Great Eastern at Millwall on the Thames). There is also  a lack of work on the material evidence of the large shipyards that closed in the late 1970s and 1980s, which are only represented by contemporary social and economic histories and oral history projects (eg French and Smith 2004; Woodley et al 2005).

Elsewhere in the world relatively modern shipwrecks, such as that of the Australian streamer Xantho, have provided information about the development of nautical technology and contemporary society (McCarthy 2000). Archaeological research in the Dry Tortugas maritime national park, Florida, has investigated the survival of sail alongside the new steamships (Souza 1998). In fact, Gould (2001) argues for the value of shipwreck archaeological investigations into this transition and overlap as a tool to unpick and nuance the simplistic narrative of maritime technological history  as  represented in ship designs and plans. Despite a much greater potential data source in terms of shipwrecks, this kind of research has not occurred in the UK. This  is in part due to the lack of systematic research into the material aspects of this data set, which remains largely documentary, made up of records of losses and shipwreck sites supplemented by some survey work, principally undertaken by avocational groups. Given the scale of the UK shipwreck record, sites from earlier periods are often prioritised for archaeological investigation, and as a direct result this large resource remains under-recorded and under-theorised.

9.3.2 Life on board

It is clear from the section above that much of the research into ships and seafaring in this period focuses on the technological and military aspects of shipwrecks. There is scope to expand these studies to examine the lives and experiences of those on board, and to produce more social shipwreck archaeologies. For the most part, current studies of shipboard lives and society during this period are historical and, perhaps inevitably, focus on naval vessels and trans- atlantic passenger vessels. The lives and experiences of officers and elites, particularly in the late 1800s and early 1900s, tend to dominate the discussion because there are generally more historical sources and contemporary accounts related to them. The shipboard experiences of working-class passengers, ordinary sailors, and international crews, or life on board the smaller working vessels around Britain as well as the merchant navy, require further study. For example, the transatlantic ocean liners of the P&O companies had a strict, stratified society on board, not only among the passengers, but also  among the crew. Many of the crew from British colonies, notably south Asian sailors, moved only in certain areas of the ship, undertook particular tasks, and ate different food (Fig 9.4). Shipwreck sites, through the spatial organisation of these vessels as well as the artefacts on board, have the potential to provide access to the working lives and experiences of these sailors.

Figure 9.4 ‘Lascars’, south Asian sailors, eating on the deck of the Dunera, 1910
(© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London)

Finally, it is clear that as the 20th century progressed the lives of mariners and fishermen altered. Containerisation changed the merchant navy irrevocably and there is scope to look at the social transformation of life on board for sailors. These men became increasingly distanced from the lives and skills of fishermen and particularly inshore sailing (both for inshore fisheries and recreation), though these too altered. Archaeological exploration of the material expressions of these changes, and how far we can detect alterations in patterns of work and skills, engagements with the maritime environment and material, and spatial practices onboard, has research potential.

9.3.3 Key research questions for seafaring

  • What were the wider social and material impacts of the rise and decline of England’s major ship- building areas (such as Tyneside)?
  • How can we best engage with the archaeology of smaller boatyards, along with the more minor coastal infrastructure and communities that continued into the mid-20th century?
  • What is the archaeological evidence for the increase in local building of sailing ships in areas such as Cornwall, up to 1870s, and the material relationship (if any) with the larger shipyards and networks developing at that time?
  • What was the impact of the world wars on the shipbuilding industry and communities?
  • What were the working lives of the sailors of the merchant marine onboard ship like, particularly during the Second World War?

Theme 9 4: Maritime networks

The increased globalisation which began in the Early Modern period, and the maritime Empire Britain had developed, was at its height at the beginning of the Modern period. While the networks of commerce and colonialism highlighted in the previous chapter were still very active, this period is characterised by the decline of this imperial maritime network combined with two world conflicts and the legacies of both these events. As a result, this section will consider the maritime dimensions of world conflict and the other significant social transformation of the period, population migrations.

9.4.1 Maritime networks of world conflict

The previous sections have highlighted the impact of world conflict on all aspects of the maritime sphere in the early 20th century, from fisheries to coastal landscapes. It is worth noting this more specifically here and reflecting on the maritime networks and connections of the two world conflicts.

The scale of naval engagement, and the sea as a space of conflict, was both local and global. On the one hand it drew in imperial networks and diverse groups of sailors from the various colonies; on the other, at very local scales it drew on the maritime skills and even the vessels of local fishermen and mariners. In addition to the high-profile examples, such as Dunkirk, maritime communities were regularly involved in the conflict and this involvement is reflected in the marine historic environment and the material record. The fishing fleets of ports such as Hull and Filey, for example, were called upon to perform war-related work. During the  First World War over 200 minesweepers, often requisitioned civilian trawlers and drifters, were lost around the British coast; the end of the war did not bring an end to these dangers – the Emulator of Filey was lost after it struck a mine in 1919. This involvement had long-term social and material impacts for individuals, and at local, regional and national scales. During the Second World War the Royal Naval Patrol Service (RNPS), which included many fishermen and fishing vessels, lost 2300 men. The effect of requisition, loss of life (and skills), as well as additional dangers, reduced the post-war capacity of the British fisheries considerably (Reid 2000), but it also irrevocably altered the  social  and material worlds of the maritime communities involved. In some part, recognition of this impact  is evidenced by the building of a new class of boat from 1942 to 1945. The Admiralty Type Motorised Fishing Vessel (MFV) was built for the RNPS but with the intention that after the war they could    be sold to Scottish fishermen (College 1977). The Forton Lake project has identified the slip remains, building remains and infrastructure of three small boatyards involved in building some of these MFVs on England’s south coast (Nautical Archaeology Society 2010).

The detail and ‘depth’ of these material  interconnections is expanded further when these networks are considered at global scales. The conflicts drew in maritime communities from across the British Empire, and affected ports, dockyards, maritime supply routes, and vessels across the globe. The role of the merchant navy in the two world wars    is perhaps still under-recognised and the archaeological evidence of the lives and experiences of the crews involved could be illuminated through more systematic, detailed, and sensitive research. Studies which consider the spatial organisation of the ships, as well as the personal and communal artefacts found on board, have the potential to highlight shipboard society and organisation, but also the individuality of many ships and crews. Some of these international crews reflected the political, social, and material networks of the British Empire and its global maritime connections, but the conflicts also altered those networks, eventually contributing to the break up of the Empire and consequently fundamental changes in the commercial and colonial maritime networks which were at their height at the beginning of the period.

Other material connections can be seen in the technological advances which were driven by conflict but had long-term influence in the civilian maritime sphere. The development of the landing ship tank, for example, led directly to the roll-on-roll-off technology of contemporary cross-channel ferries (A Brockman, pers comm). More famously, the Second World War invasion preparations involved the development of a vast infrastructure including the two Mulberry harbours, landing ships, temporary anchorages, storage facilities, and the PLUTO submarine pipeline system. At the same time, other technology entered the marine historic environment: there is a significant number of aircraft and ordnance, including V1 flying bombs and anti- aircraft artillery shells, on the seabed off the east and south coast, a largely unresearched record of the warfare that took place above the sea.

The coastal landscape, shipwreck record, and the material reflections of the economic and social changes that followed the two world wars attest    to the impact these conflicts had on the maritime sphere. It would be valuable to approach site-specific archaeological studies into aspects of the marine historic environment in the context of this larger network.

9.4.2 Maritime population migration

The mass population movements of maritime emigration and immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries have left a wide variety of contemporary sources and been the subject of considerable historical examination. Yet there are few archaeological contributions to this discourse, and though archaeological research is not required to answer such basic questions as what happened and when, it can usefully address the gaps in existing historical accounts. Port archaeologies offer the opportunity to explore the material worlds of new immigrant communities and the spatial and material interactions of those waiting in port to depart. Moreover, shipwreck archaeologies offer the possibility of exploring the material realities of the journey, the experiences of migration in progress for the diverse groups involved (eg Staniforth 2003b).

Emigration from or through Britain began in earnest in the  early  19th  century  following  the Napoleonic Wars (Baines 1991). Due to the dominance of British shipping  in  world  trade  and Britain’s position on the western seaboard of Europe, migrants from across Europe transhipped through English ports in large numbers. Although migration cut across all classes of society, the great majority were working-class, the so-called ‘steerage’ passengers. The first major  movement  was  that of Irish people fleeing the famine of 1845–49 (Woodham-Smith  1991, 215, 371; Donnelly   2001).

Up to 20% of the Irish population are believed to have emigrated during the largest single mass movement of people in Europe during the mid- 1800s (Donnelly 2001). Most were destined for America or the British Empire, although significant numbers settled on the British mainland (Woodham-Smith 1991, 270–84; MacRaild 2000). In the absence of suitable shipping capacity in Ireland, most of these migrants sailed first to major English ports and then on through the established British maritime networks. Further episodes of mass emigration occurred in response to the Californian  and Australian gold rushes of 1848–52, and in the second half of the 19th and the early 20th century, England witnessed a great boom in emigration to North America that was only curtailed in the 1920s by the passing of the Quota Acts restricting immigration into the United States (Payton 2005). From the early decades of the 20th century, there was consistent emigration particularly to Canada and Australia, and as late as the 1980s Britain had net emigration (see uk/ for further discussion). For example, the ‘Ten Pound Pom’ or assisted passage scheme attracted 1,000,000 British migrants to Australia between 1945 and 1972 (Hammerton and Taylor 2005). The migrant histories relating to these movements of people are often socio-economic, and few address the material culture of the migration or the experiences of those in transit onboard ship.

Mass emigration stimulated the development of English ports such as Liverpool, Southampton, and London (Section 9.2.4). Many English ship owners in Liverpool and Bristol had felt the loss of the ‘Triangular Trade’ with the abolition of slavery and the faltering of the plantation economies, and a westward-bound emigrant ‘cargo’ was therefore pivotal to the continued prosperity of these ports. Liverpool serviced two-thirds of Europe’s entire emigrant trade, with 200,000 or more leaving the port every year. The ports of Hull and West Hartlepool developed a pivotal role as a point of arrival in the UK for emigrants travelling to American destinations from Scandinavian and Baltic countries. Southampton became the hub of the transatlantic passenger business in the 20th century, eventually handling 46% of all passengers (Jackson 1983). Early emigrant ships were sailing ships, typically of 300–800 tons, with smaller vessels generally used to move emigrants to transhipment ports. Conditions for the poorer migrants were dreadful, although the introduction of steam, which the emigrant trade did much to promote, improved journey times and safety. It also resulted in the development of the iconic transatlantic ocean liner. Other routes, such as those between Britain, its colonies and latterly Commonwealth countries, required the ships to carry cargo in order to pay their way, which resulted in a hybrid passenger- cargo vessel.

There  was also considerable immigration into Britain from the mid-19th  century.  Many  of the migrants arriving in England from Europe were not guaranteed onward passage and either chose to, or were forced by lack of means, to remain. There were already established migrant communities within the major English ports. For example, in 1855 there were more than 25,000 south Asian ‘lascar’ seamen in Britain, and by the early 20th century there were c 70,000 south Asians in Britain, of whom c 51,500 were seamen in 1914 (Ahuja 2006; Ansari 2004; Fisher 2004). There had been parallel migrant communities from other parts of the British Empire since the early 18th century (Tabili 1994). These communities were part of established maritime networks, connected to the British merchant marine and the Empire. From the late 19th century, immigration, particularly from the British colonies, was complicated by racial (and economic) constraints. However, there were significant waves of immigration from Europe, most notably c 120,000 Jewish refugees from Russia arriving between 1881 and 1914 (see Cesarini 2002) and a significant German community.

In the post-war era, the labour shortages produced by conflict and the emigration of Britons (between 1946 and 1960 1,500,000 emigrated (Paul 1997)) were addressed by the active recruitment of refugees from central and eastern Europe, as well as workers from Ireland and latterly the West Indies, Pakistan, and India. The British Nationality Act 1946 enabled ‘subjects’ of the British Empire to live and work in Britain, with vessels such as the famous MV Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury on 22 June 1948 carrying the first large group of West Indian migrants (492 Jamaican passengers), bringing workers into the country (ibid). However, this was followed in 1962 by the Commonwealth Immigrants Act which restricted immigration, and in the late 20th century much of this maritime immigration (as well as emigration) slowed with the rise of air transport.

There has been considerable contemporary historical focus on the social, economic, and political effects of migration, everything from the broader issues of the politics of transnational identities and multiculturalism (eg Tabili 1994) to the individual narratives of oral histories. Yet archaeology and maritime archaeology in particular have addressed these communities and migrations only sporadically (for exceptions see Murphy 2009, 145–9). What research has been done is predominantly terrestrial. A few sites, such as the 1937 passenger and cargo liner Alex van Opstal, have been subject to limited survey work (Oxford BSAC website), but none appears to have been subject to any published archaeological investigation of any scale. There are a fruitful examples from other parts of the world (eg Staniforth 2003a), which demonstrate the potential of archaeological engagements with these themes. To be successful, future research cannot be entirely focused on the English archaeological resource: emigration and the audience that seeks to understand it is international.

9.4.3 Key research questions for maritime

  • What were the modifications undertaken to non-specialist vessels to enable them to carry migrants?
  • What aspects of the material culture of emigrants and immigrants can be identified through wreck sites and terrestrial sites associated with port communities?

Theme 9 5: Maritime identities and perceptions of maritime space

9.5.1 Maritime identities and space

A number of maritime communities and groups have been highlighted in the sections above, and the material projection of their identities at different scales (individual, local, regional, and even national), along with their perceptions and engagements with the maritime sphere as a lived space, represent valuable research foci for individual studies. Over the last 150 years many of the more distinct communities and industries associated with the maritime sphere have declined, from the herring fisheries with their particular seafaring knowledge and skills to the communities connected to the large shipyards of the early 20th century. Archaeological research into the material culture, land/seascapes and identities of these groups has significant potential and immediate contemporary cultural impact.

For example, communities of sailors, local shipowners, and shipwrights and their families flourished in the 18th century, connected to coastal, European and international trade, in both the large ports and smaller harbours of England. By 1850 a significant number of distinctive ‘mariner communities’ had been established along the south and east coasts in particular. Their presence and collective identity is reflected in port geographies and the built environment of smaller towns, but also in their material culture, social networks and practices. We might look for their surviving material reflections in, for example, memorials; Murphy notes several later 19th-century memorials to lost lifeboat crews and other mariner disasters (2009, 159–60), but there are also numerous others in graveyards and churches associated with mariner communities around the country. Even with the rise of steam, these communities continued to survive for some decades, deeply connected to the sailing vessels which were often built in their hards. Rainbird discusses mariner and maritime communities (Rainbird 2007, 49) as  a distinct occupational group with particular characteristics, referring to Kirby and Hinkkanen’s discussion of their particular codes, rules and language (2000, 187). There is clearly scope for research beyond current  archaeological  interest  in shipping and trade. Doe’s work on  women  in the shipping industry in the 19th century (2009a; 2009b), for example, demonstrates the potential for more social archaeologies. Alongside the worlds of fishing and coastal industries, mariner communities within this period are of particular interest, not least because of their decline in the early 20th century.

The sections above highlight other examples of particular maritime groups and identities within the wider elusive and fluid maritime community. The diverse identities of the international mariners on board ship and in British ports, and the ways   in which they used material culture and spatial practices to mark differences and project their identity, is a valuable focus of archaeological research. Specific maritime sites also have particular cultural resonance as the focus of contemporary identity discourse, both British and international. The wreck of, and memorials to, the SS Mendi, which sank in 1917 in the Solent whilst carrying South African Native Labour Corp troops (616 South Africans, 607 of them black troops, and 30 British crew lost their lives), have become important to contemporary South African national identity (Clothier 1987; Gribble 2008; Killingray 2001; Wessex Archaeology 2007c). Many sites could be interpreted in the light of contemporary engagements with the notion of a collective maritime past – a British maritime identity. There is potential in archaeological explorations of this specific notion, for the broad narrative of the period set out in the sections above raises the question of whether the maritime sphere remains part of British identity. We might ask whether the more recent archaeological record suggests that, beyond these contemporary cultural references to a past national maritime identity, we could any longer term Britain a maritime nation.

9.5.2 Key research questions for maritime
identities and perceptions of maritime

  • How have perceptions of maritime space changed over the modern period?
  • What impact has our changing relationship  to the sea had on our engagement with the maritime archaeology of this period?
  • How can archaeology of the modern period enable people to connect to the more recent maritime past?