Southend Central Museum is a grade II listed building, which was opened in April 1981 and was originally the site of Southends first free public library. It houses a collection of local and natural history and contains a planetarium. In addition to this, it also hosts to the London Exhibition, about the shipwreck in the River Thames.
The London was built in 1654 for the First Anglo-Dutch War. She was also used to carry James Duke of York, the brother of Charles II back to England in 1666. She sunk on 7th March 1665 after an explosion on board, killing 300 people. The origins of the explosion are thought to be accidental. This exhibition explores the history and what life was like on board a 17th Century ship of this type.
Visitors are able to wander around both the museum and exhibition at their own pace. The exhibition is very small but has a clear route with a number of artefacts from the wreck on display. The story of the ship is told through a number of information extracts from documents/eye witness accounts at the time, including Samuel Pepys. It is a well-presented design with a clear theme running through.
Before entering the exhibition there is an information board about the London Shipwreck Trust (Charity number 1166504) who are the people who have been diving down to the wreck.
The finding of the shipwreck began in 1961 when the Port of London Authorities Wreck Raising Service was investigating a 19th-century vessel when they found a 17th-century brass cannon in the dredging process. It would not be until the 1980’s that another two guns were found. Even later in 2008 local divers began exploring the site. The PLA designated the site a protected wreck due to its historic archaeological potential and therefore any further dives required their permission. A man named Steven Ellis, gained a licence for himself and his team to dive and they are the ones who have brought up many of the exhibits on display.
Keeping the work going into the London dives involves a mixture of grants and collaborative projects and partnerships. In November 2013, a grant from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation was given to Southend Museums Services, which enabled a large community engagement project on the wreck. In addition, the National Maritime Museum, Southend Adult Community College, and Southend Museums service have also joined a co- project. This project is for students co-curating a permanent showcase of the wreck objects in the Tudor and Stuart Galleries at the National Maritime Museum.
There is also the involvement of Historic England who have carried out major conservation work on the brought up artefacts from the wreck. A local charity ‘the London Shipwreck Trust’ was also founded and its aims are to raise the profile of the site and raising funds to continue excavation and the protection of the wreck. For more information on the trust, please head to their website: http://www.thelondonshipwrecktrust.co.uk/
The best artefact on show would be the cannon, which was one of three found on the shipwreck, and is very beautiful in design. This being found in the Thames is a very spectacular one as making things from brass in the 17th century was very expensive. Only the London and three other British warships in 1664 were the only ones armed entirely with brass guns. In addition, authorities would go to considerable lengths to recover these guns to reuse or melt down.
I would recommend the exhibition to anyone interested in maritime history and marine archaeology. Also to anyone who lives in the area, the museum itself has a number of small exhibits on display about the local history of the area.
Tickets are free to the museum and exhibition. When you enter the museum, the information desk is right next to the door with very welcoming staff that are happy to answer any questions.
For more information on Southend Museums and upcoming exhibitions and talks, please visit their website – http://www.southendmuseums.co.uk/