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Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War

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Forton Lake Steam Pinnace 704 by Maritime Archaeology on Sketchfab

 

Forton Lake is a tidal inlet on the western shore of Portsmouth Harbour. From an archaeological perspective, Forton Lake is notable for the large collection of twenty-eight hulked vessels that are located around its foreshore, numbered FL1-11, 15-31. These have been subject to periodic phases of survey work and local interest, most notably during an extended community-based project between 2006 and 2008 run by the Nautical Archaeology Society and the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (now Maritime Archaeology Trust). The findings of the Forton Lake Archaeology Project have been published through a joint NAS/HWTMA monograph (see Beattie-Edwards and Satchell, 2011. The Forton Lake Archaeological Project, 2006-2009. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, British Series 536).

The remains of FL7 are located on the southern side of Forton Lake, at the western end of the main surviving concentration of hulked vessels. It comprises the rusting, degraded and partially buried remnants of a First World War steam pinnace (No. 704) that was originally ordered in 1915, delivered in 1917, and eventually disposed of after many years of service, in 1948. As the only vessel of confirmed First World War date within the Forton Lake assemblage, the remains of Pinnace 704 represent an excellent opportunity for the Forgotten Wrecks project to engage with the collection of vessels at Forton Lake. Accordingly, initial work was conducted in September 2015 between MAT project staff and a group of Forgotten Wrecks volunteers. The degraded nature of the remains and their location in a relatively benign inter-tidal context make the site ideal for training volunteers and refining technical methodologies for archaeological surveying in the intertidal zone.

Pinnace 704

A basic outline of the career of Pinnace 704 was supplied to the Forton Lake Project by the Naval Historical Branch (Donohue et al., 2011: 48). The vessel was part of a batch order placed in 1915 and built in steel by Camper & Nicholson, the machinery was provided by Allen & Son of Bedford. Pinnace 704 was delivered on 16th August 1917 and assigned to the Royal Clarence Yard in Gosport on 27th August 1919, where its presence was recorded in 1924, 1925, 1934, 1936, 1938 and 1947, before being disposed of on 31st May 1948 (Donohue et al., 2011: 49). The vessel was fitted with a Yarrow water tube boiler, a small version of an efficient form of steam boiler that had become widely used within the Royal Navy in the early 20th century. The distinctive remains of the boiler now for one of the key surviving parts of the vessel remains.

Pinnace 704 therefore represents the remains of a vessel that was ordered, constructed and active during the First World War, and which then continued in service through the inter-war period and the Second World War. The vessel’s service history at present is not extensively known, although its operation appears to have remained local to Portsmouth Harbour, through the Royal Clarence Yard at Gosport. Following decommissioning it seems to have followed a path of acquisition by Fred Watts’ yard, before being abandoned. With regard to the latter, it is notable that the vessel does not appear in the list of vessels for sale at Watts’ yard between 1951 and 1959 (see Beattie-Edwards and Satchell, 2011: Appendix A). Similarly, salvage/breaking up of the vessel following its arrival in Forton Lake was possibly limited, judging by the extent of superstructure surviving in photos from the 1970s and 1980s. The main destruction of vessel structure seems to have occurred from the 1980s onwards and is presumably not related to the commercial salvage of the vessel. Investigation of the site formation processes, natural and human, which the vessel has been subjected to therefore provides a useful avenue of research for the present project.

Research & Recording

The present work being done through the Forgotten Wrecks project can build upon that previous work, rather than starting afresh. There have also been notable technological advances in archaeological surveying that have taken place since 2006 which are potentially applicable to the site. Additionally, there is scope for further enhancement of the vessel’s service history, biography and site-formation processes following its disposal from Royal Clarence Yard in 1948. The following primary research questions have therefore been developed for the site as a means to guide the work done through the Forgotten Wrecks project:

  • Photogrammetric recording of remains to provide a baseline for subsequent survey work, and to allow an assessment of the effectiveness of this approach for rapid on-site recording, followed by in-depth post-fieldwork analysis and site monitoring.
  • Historical research of a more detailed service biography for the vessel, its disposal, and processing through Forton Lake.
  • Investigation of available aerial photographs, and other archive sources to try to understand site formation process pre-1970 and to rationalise site degradation with the existing photographic archive after that.

As our work on the site develops we hope to be able to further refine our 3D model of Pinnace 704, and to demonstrate how modern techniques can allow such sites to be rapidly monitored to help their ongoing management. In conjunction with this, ongoing historical research will hopefully shed further light on the history of this fascinating little ship from the First World War.

Location of FL7 within Forton Lake, at the western end of the main collection of hulked vessels on the southern shore of Forton Lake. The aerial photo dates from June 2013. Aerial photograph courtesy of the Channel Coastal Observatory, Mean High Water data courtesy of the Marine Management Organisation.

 

Pinnace 704 photographed in the 1970s when the bow of the vessel and most of its superstructure were all still in place. Image from the Jack Smale collection, courtesy of Philip Simons.

 

Pinnace 704 photographed in 2015 during the recording by the Forgotten Wrecks project. The vessel is in a very similar state to 2006 when recorded by the Forton Lake Project. The majority of the superstructure and hull is now lost and the boiler is the most prominent feature of the site. Image: Maritime Archaeology Trust.