The true identity of a rotting ship’s hull in Plymouth has been discovered

Mallory Haas and Peter Holt look at an old photo of John Sims

The ship’s correct identity was discovered in a letter in the archives

A team of marine archaeologists has discovered the true identity of a large wooden ship’s hull buried in Hooe Lake just outside Plymouth.

The remains of the ship lie buried next to a stone jetty on the north side of the lake.

The hull was identified by The Ships Project as John Sims, a Westcountry schooner.

Until its recent discovery, it was believed to be a Dutch barge called Two Brothers.

The Ships Project is a volunteer, non-profit organization that conducts research and exploration of maritime historical sites and events, both on land and underwater.

Lake Hooe is known as the “ship graveyard” due to the 36 known ship hulls buried there.

The Ships Project said Lake Hooe was thought to have been where boats had been abandoned for centuries.

The lake is shallow and tidal, so boats can be abandoned at high tide, but can still be reached when the tide recedes.

While developing an archaeological study, the team discovered a letter between local historians John Cotton and Martin Langley by going through John Cotton’s archive.

The letter – held in the John Cotton Maritime Archives – identified the ship as the schooner John Sims.

Mallory Haas, a marine archaeologist and project director, said there wasn’t much information about the hull at first.

Malory Haas

Marine archaeologist Mallory Haas said the area had been a site of ship abandonment since Roman times

However, when archaeological research of the hull was undertaken, the team discovered that it was not built like a barge, but more like a Westcountry ship or schooner.

“Now we have this whole fabulous story and a picture of what it looked like when it was on the surface, so it all comes together and we’re making a book about it, and now we have the name of a really interesting wreck,” Ms Haas said.

She added: “From what we can understand, this has been a disembarkation site since Roman times, so there is quite a bit of mud around.

“But there are probably even older hulls and shipwrecks under the mud – we just can’t see them.

“It’s important to understand what this place is, even though the ones we can see, like some of them, are from the 1890s, 1870, 1920 and even the 1960s.

“But together it tells the story of Plymouth and its maritime heritage.”

Ships Project director Peter Holt said that according to historical records, John Sims sailed until 1935, when it was converted into a log lighter for use at the Oreston timber depot at the end of Lake Hooe.

He said records show the ship was built in Falmouth by H. S. Trethowan for the Sims family in 1873 and registered in Plymouth at 98 tons.

In 1893 the ship was sold to Thomas Stevens of Bursledon near Southampton, then in 1900 to Richard Foster of Gloucester and was re-registered at that port.

In March 1917, Albert Westcott bought the ship, transferred it to Plymouth and appointed Bill Stiles as its captain.

Peter Holt

Peter Holt said the schooner made transatlantic voyages at one time before being converted into a Plymouth wood lighter

The register was closed on the ship in 1935 when it was converted into a wood lighter in Plymouth.

At one point, the schooner was abandoned on the east side of a stone pier in Lake Hooe – where it remains.

Mr Holt said: “Plymouth has the most amazing maritime history dating back to 12,000 BC and every time we look at something we find something new.

“The hulls at Hooe Lake tell us a lot about the trade and what happened in Plymouth in the 19th century, but they also provide examples of ships that no longer exist.

“Some of the ones we found in the lake, some of the ones we identified, are the last surviving examples of this particular type – and by studying them, by archaeologically digging them up, we can learn how they were built.”

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