During the construction of a new riverside wall in 1962 in London, the remains of an interesting ship were found. Dating evidence from the timbers and a coin found in the mast step placed the ship as likely being built, and sunk, during the Roman period, specifically in the 2nd Century CE. However, the ship was constructed in the Celtic tradition. As the ships timbers appeared to have been felled in south-east England, and planking bore traces of the salt-water Teredo navalis shipworm, this makes it the earliest known sea-going vessel built in a northern European tradition.
Blackfriars 1 had no true keel – instead the bottom of this entirely oak-built vessel was formed of two broad keel-planks. To these planks, a stem and a stern post, and a series of massive floor frames, were attached using clenched iron nails. The hull was built up around these frames, and smaller rib frames, by nailing the planking to them and clenching the ends of the nails back into the frames. This contrasts with the Mediterranean style of ship construction, where the hull planking was built up first using planks joined edge-to-edge, and the frames were inserted later to strengthen the construction.
The planking nailed to the frames is a key element of the Celtic shipbuilding tradition, and many barges and boats along the Rhine frontier have been found using a similar technique. Another key element is the massive mast-step floor frame, contrasting with the keelson from the Mediterranean tradition.
The reconstruction is based primarily on the excavation report by Peter Marsden published by English Heritage, “Ships of the Port of London – First to eleventh Centuries AD”. It contained detailed drawings of the remains and reconstruction drawings. Where no evidence remained, such as for the sails and the rear of the ship, Roman period iconography and other Roman period shipwrecks from northern Europe were used as inspiration. The sail plan is based of the Torlonia relief, and the nearly intact mast of a Roman period ship found in Bruges, Belgium. The deckhouse for the cabin is based off the well preserved cabin of the De Meern 1 shipwreck of a Roman period barge in the Netherlands.
Torlonia Relief. Source: Following Hadrian aka. Carol Raddato