Normans' Bay Protected Wreck Site

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Diver on boat with guide in hand

Dive the Normans' Bay wreck site with the NAS

The NAS offers opportunties to dive the Normans' Bay wreck site (15m maximum), normally along with a visit to the Holland 5 Submarine (35m maximum). For details on when we will be holding these Protected Wreck days visit the NAS Calendar pages.

With funding from English Heritage and Historic England the NAS has established and maintains a Diver Trail on the site -  please click here.


The site was discovered by local divers Martin Wiltshire, Steve Pace and Paul Stratford whilst trying to free a lobster pot in Normans' Bay. It is known to be a large warship of the period 1600-1800. Judging from the length of the visible remains the vessel would have been approximately 40m (131 feet) long, with an approximate breadth of 12m (39 feet). The number and size of the armaments and the anchor suggested this was a third rate warship of 800 to 1000 tons. Recent research generously funded by English Heritage has led to a possible identity for the wreck being proposed.

Could it be from the Battle of Beachy Head, 1690 ?

The wreck lies at Latitude 50° 48.1767’ N, Longitude 00° 24.6380’ E, WGS 84 (as provided by Wessex Archaeology 2007 report). This is in Normans' Bay in East Sussex, just south of Pevensey, near Eastbourne. The depth of water over the site varies from 7m to 15m. Many people believed the Normans' Bay wreckage is the wreck of HMS Resolution, but there are at least three other recorded losses in the bay which makes identifying the wreck difficult. HMS Resolution was a 70-gun third rate that sank during the great storm of 1703. Other recorded losses include a Dutch man of war lost in 1690 at the battle of Beachy Head when an allied English and Dutch force was heavily defeated by the French. Historical research suggests that ten Dutch ships were lost in the battle.


Build date (if known)


No. of guns




Commander Abraham van Brakel


Sunk in action





Burned in action

Maagd van Enkhuizen


Commander Muijsevanger


Beached at White Rock, near Hastings. Abandoned and later burned

Friesland (or Vriesland)


Capt. Philips van der Goes


Dismasted, captured, burnt c.18 nm SSW of Beachy head

Noord Holland(orNoorderkwartier)


Rear-Admiral Jan Dick


Dismasted, under tow by English, later scuttled c.12-15 nm SE of Beachy Head

Gekroonde Burg


Vice-Admiral Karel van de Putte


Dismasted, under tow by English, later burned and scuttled c.12-15 nm SE of Beachy Head

Wapen van Utrecht (orStad Utrecht)


Capt. Pieter Claassen Decker


Sank along the English coast



Capt. Adriaan Noortheij


Disabled, taken under tow by English. Run ashore in Hastings.  Abandoned and burned to prevent capture



Capt. Cornelis Calis


Disabled near Hastings, probably under tow, run ashore at White Rock. Abandoned and later burned

Maagd van Enkhuizen


Capt. Jan van der Poel


Beached at Hastings.  Abandoned and burned to prevent capture

From the list of ten Dutch losses it is possible to exclude the three smaller vessels, the Suikermolen, the Kroonvogel and the Maagd van Enkhuizen fireships as being the Normans' Bay Wreck as simply not having enough guns.  Three of the other vessels, the Elswout, Tholen and the 72-gun Maagd van Enkhuizen were described as being beached, abandoned and burned near the town of Hastings, six nautical miles to the north-east of the Normans' Bay Wreck.  These events can be corroborated by travel passes being issued by the English government to the captains and officers of the three ships.  Three of the larger warships, the Friesland (or Vriesland), Noord Holland (or Noorderkwartier) and Gekroonde Burg were described as having been burnt or scuttled offshore of Beachy Head.  Using the approximate positions of these losses they are all more than 15 nautical miles south of the position of the Normans' Bay Wreck.

 Richard Endsor paintingWapen van Utrechk drawing

 Above left a painiting by Richard Endsor and above right a drawing of the Wapen van Utrechk.

The remaining Dutch loss, the 64-gun Wapen van Utrecht (or Stad Utrecht) commanded by Captain Pieter Claassen Decker was reported by Gillis Schey, the Dutch rear admiral on the Prinses Maria as sinking ‘along the English coast’  (Europische Mercurius, July 1690: 47).  The Prinses Maria had stayed with the damaged Wapen van Utrecht as she retreated inshore, eventually taking the crew of the Wapen van Utrecht aboard, before it sank during the night of the 2nd or early morning of the 3rd July 1690.  Whilst the Dutch account is vague in its description of the location of the loss of the Wapen van Utrecht, another source from the 30th August 1960 is rather more exact.  After the battle, Queen Mary promulgated a warrant which read ‘Whereas 3 Ships of Warr belonging to the States Generall of the United Provinces (another name for the Dutch Republic of 1581–1795, now the Netherlands) were burnt neare Hastings, & a 4th was sunk neare the Haven of Pemsey (Pevensey) after the late engagement of ye French Fleet’.  The warrant went on to instruct her subjects “to assist in every way the persons appointed by the Dutch ambassador to ‘fish up’ the guns and equipment from these ships.  Historical research into the possible fishing up (underwater salvage) of the guns and equipment from the Dutch ships engaged in the Battle of Beachy Head is ongoing.

Preliminary dendrochronological research by Wessex Archaeology suggests it is more likely one of the Dutch ships from the Battle of Beachy Head as the wood of the hull section appears to have originated in Germany or the Low Countries in the middle of the 17th century, although it is still possible that it was a Royal Navy vessel built from imported continental timber.

More discussion on the fate of the Dutch ships lost at the Battle of Beachy Head can be found here:

Site Map

Click here for an image of the site plan.

Today the wreck site contains a cluster of at least forty-nine iron guns, timber hull structure and various other artefacts including a large anchor on top of a ballast mound.  As the government archaeological diving contractor Wessex Archaeology has carried out three investigations into the wreck and even though it hasn’t been conclusively identified it is protected wreck under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) for its historical significance.  The NAS was invited to be involved on the site in 2009, by the then licencee and finder, Paul Stratford.

The Guns

As already stated, the assemblage of guns on the site is now at 49, with three other features possibly also being guns.  It is likely that more guns will be found during ongoing investigations.   As the site plan illustrates the guns are scattered across the entire site, over 40 m, with all except two being within the area defined by the ballast and hull timbers.  All the guns found to date appear to be cast iron muzzle loading weapons.  The survey of the guns began in 2006 during the Wessex Archaeology pre-designation visit and indicated that there are two main sizes of guns present on the wreck – those larger than 3 m long with a bore diameter of between 0.15 m and 0.16 m, and shorter guns approximately 2.5 m long with a bore of 0.12 m to 0.13 m (Wessex Archaeology 2006a).  A word of caution has to be noted in these and all the quoted gun dimensions as none of the guns have had their concretions removed to aid either recording or identification.

 Guns from the siteGuns from the siteGuns from the siteGuns from the siteGuns from the site

Of the 49 guns found to date whose overall length can and have been measured, 18 of them are the larger sizes, most likely 24- and 18-pounder guns, and ten of them are the smaller sizes, most likely 12-, 8- and 6-pounder guns.  Twenty-one of the guns cannot either be measured or have yet to be measured.  Most of the guns lie flat on either the seabed or on top of the ballast mound, one metre off the seabed level, but a number of them stand-up embedded in the ballast mound, either pointing up at c.45 degrees or down at c.45 degrees. 

 The 12 and 24 pound guns


The anchorThe Anchor

In the centre of the assemblage, lying at an angle is a large iron anchor.  In times of poor underwater visibility the anchor orientation serves to aid visiting divers and archaeologists with their in-water navigation.  It is angled in both north-south and east-west axis.  The crown of the anchor, to the north points upwards at c.20 degrees, with the result that some of the length of the shank is now buried.  It is not therefore possible to see any stock, stock key or ring that might still be in place at the top of the anchor shank. 

The anchor is also angled on an east-west axis at c.30 degrees with the anchor fluke to the west being mostly buried and the fluke to the east being raised up about one metre off the seabed.  This upper fluke was photographed, measured and drawn as part of the survey undertaken by NAS divers in 2011. The visible length of the shank is three metres with the fluke tip to tip measurement being estimated at 2.45 m (this can only be estimated as the very tip of one fluke is partly buried). The palm of upper fluke appears to have been damaged at some point with one of the palms nearly completely missing.

Photograph of cauldron

The actual shape of the Normans' Bay Wreck anchor fluke appears to be unlike any 16th, 17th or 18th century English anchor yet seen.  It is certainly very different from the 16th century Mary Rose anchors whose flukes are all triangular in shape and is different the anchor recovered from the Spanish Trinidad Valencera site wrecked in Kinnargoe Bay, Ireland after the 1588 Armada.  The same triangular shaped fluke was evident on the large bower anchor recovered from the British 90-gun Association which wrecked off the Scilly Isles in 1707. The anchors from the British 90-gun Coronation, wrecked off Penlee Point, Cornwall in 1691 also have triangular flukes as did the bower anchor from the British 70-gun Lenox. Similarly the anchor from the Dutch VOC ship, Avondster, wreck off Sri Lanka in 1659 also has a triangular fluke. Further research needs to be undertaken to identify any other anchors that exhibit the same shaped fluke as that found on the Normans' Bay Wreck.

Other finds

Cauldron drawing

A copper alloy cauldron (Museum ID HASSH 676) was recovered by an anonymous local diver and is now on display in The Shipwreck Museum in Hastings, East Sussex with a label stating it was recovered in 1999 from the Normans' Bay Wreck.  The cauldron measures 48.5 cm in diameter at the rim and 37 cm in diameter at its base and is 23 cm tall.  The rim is turned over with two handles present on opposite sides.   A number of other small items including a wrought iron bolt, a concretion and a cast iron shot (45 mm diameter) were also recovered by divers and anonymously handed in during 2006. Other material recovered from the Normans' Bay Wreck include a sheet of copper; a musket ball found by a visiting diver in 2011; a piece of felt, described as light grey on the outside with black fibres or hair in the middle; a piece of tile described as slightly curved with a residue of pitch on the inside, both recovered by Wessex Archaeology in 2006.

To date no pottery has been found on the wreck to aid with the identification of the wreck.  Five areas of red galley bricks were observed during diving operations by Wessex Archaeology in 2005 and 2006.  The areas of brick varied in their shape and density but were all located in the northern area of the wreck.  The largest concentration of bricks was recorded by Wessex Archaeology in 2006 and comprised nine to 12 whole and partial bricks mortared together in a simple flat overlapping pattern measuring approximately 0.5 by 0.5 metres. The individual bricks measure 19 cm in length, 9 cm wide and 3.6 cm deep. 

 Galley brick


Licensee Reports

  • Licensee report - November 2016
  • Licensee report - November 2015
  • Licensee report - November 2014
  • Licensee report - November 2013