Views of the Welsh Hook sandbank from Bristol Port Company surveys in 2014 and 2017. In 2017 shifting sands revealed a wreck that had been completely hidden. (Image: The Bristol Port Company)

The remains of a cargo ship wrecked in the Bristol Channel over 100 years ago have been identified during routine survey.

The entire buoyed channel of the Bristol Port Company’s statutory harbour area is surveyed in full over a three-year period, and the area for investigation in 2017 was the Bristol Deep, off the coast of Clevedon. When the location of the wreck was last surveyed, in June 2014, the area lay beneath an average of 5m of sand, and no trace of the sunken ship was seen – nor is it mentioned in records going back 40 years. During the latest survey, however, the shifting sandbank near the Welsh Hook had moved, and the shape of a ship could be clearly seen.

This was confirmed by a second survey using a multibeam echosounder to collect detailed data about the wreck. This revealed a wealth of information about the vessel’s form: it was a fairly large craft measuring some 65m long by 9m wide, with the bridge located amidships, and a raised forecastle and aft deck. A clearly defined hold could also be seen in front of the bridge, leading to the wreck being interpreted as a late 19th- or early 20th-century cargo ship.

This image shows details of the vessel, including its central cargo hold. (Image: The Bristol Port Company)

As for the wreck’s identity, Historic England suggests that the most likely candidate is the English cargo vessel Brunswick, which got stranded on the Welsh Hook on Christmas Eve 1900. It is the only one of 29 recorded wrecks in the area that was a large, metal-hulled cargo vessel, and the Brunswick’s dimensions are also a good match for those of the sunken ship.

A full report on the wreck has been sent to all relevant authorities, including Historic England, and it is likely that the wreck will soon be swallowed by the sandbank once more; the latest survey suggests that the Welsh Hook’s highly mobile sands are already starting to reclaim, and protect, the wreckage.

This article was published in CA 331.

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