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Friday, 24 January 2014

Pembrokeshire’s Sunken Heritage

Kimberly Briscoe and Sarahjayne Clements, Community Archaeologists at the Royal Commission visiting the memorial in Moelfre Churchyard, Anglesey to the lives lost on the passenger ship The Royal Charter.

Welcome back from the Community Archaeologists, these last few weeks we’ve really hit the ground running after our Christmas break; in this case this meant finally putting all our hard work, planning and organisation for the Shipwrecks Project into action.

The Shipwrecks Project was based on the story of a violent gale, which swept over Britain in 1859, wrecking hundreds of ships along the coasts of England and Wales, culminating in horrific coastal damage and loss of life. The Royal Charter, one of the largest and most famous transatlantic wrecks of the storm, was lost just off the coast of Anglesey. It was responsible for the largest number of lives lost in the storm, so much so that the gale has often been renamed the ‘Royal Charter Gale’. The documentation of the Royal Charter wreck, and studies of items recovered from the wreck, reveal an interesting snapshot of the lives of those on board.

The memorial to the Royal Charter and the effects Great Gale 1859 at Cwm yr Eglwys, Pembrokeshire.
The Royal Commission and Cadw Shipwrecks Project was inspired by the great story of the Royal Charter. The project was designed to investigate the wider impact of the storm, this time  along the coast of Pembrokeshire, centring on the story of the lesser known transatlantic vessel, The Charles Holmes. The project involved a series of days working with Welsh Baccalaureate students from Pembrokeshire College, to engage them with the story of The Great Gale 1859, their local maritime heritage, and how resources such as archives can be great for researching the impact of past events on your local area.

Aberbach beach, Pembrokeshire. The wreck site of the transatlantic cargo ship ‘The Charles Holmes’, lost on the night of the Great Gale 1859.

The project began on Tuesday 7 January, when Sarahjayne, Deanna and I gave the students of Pembrokeshire College a brief introduction to maritime archaeology and the background of the storm. Asking questions throughout our presentations, the students seemed genuinely engaged with the story of the losses, and local areas that were severely affected by the storm also seemed to resonate strongly with the pupils. Often local shipwrecked vessels are a great starting point for exploring local history within a specific time period. Once you’ve located a wrecked vessel you can understand further the impact of the vessel on the local community, explore the wealth of an area and the variety of occupations and maritime industry in that area.
Deanna Groom, Sarahjayne and Kimberly positioning the archive tasks ready for the Pembrokeshire College Welsh Baccalaureate students.
A great way, and often the only way of exploring local lives and unpublished local shipwrecks, is to visit the first-hand sources at your local archive. Therefore, for the second week of the project, we used this as an opportunity to take students out of the classroom and allow them to conduct their own first-hand research at the local Pembrokeshire County Archives.

The unique Port of Cardigan Shipping Registry for 1850–1855, an example of the fantastic resources available for use at the Pembrokeshire County Archives.
They used the local shipping registers to trace the story of the ships (e.g. their construction, cargo and ownership).They then turned to local church burial records to research details of the crew lost in the wrecks. Finally local census records enabled them to understand the stories of the villagers who recovered the bodies from the wrecks.
Pembrokeshire College Welsh Baccalaureate students engaged in researching their sunken heritage through Pembrokeshire Archive Census and Shipping Registers.
All in all it was a great way of getting the students engaged, they were really keen on answering the questions provided and were amazed to have the opportunity to be able to actually touch some unique original documents.

By Kimberly Briscoe

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David Ross said...

Bravo for getting students (of any age) interested and involved in local history. I wish there were more initiatives like this. Well done. I wonder were you trying to produce any outcome other than simply getting the students into the research and investigating the stories? For example, were they going to produce any report/website/collage/document/etc ... or was this simply aimed at raising awareness?

Kimberly Briscoe said...

David - Thank you. In answer to your question, we have hopefully managed to both raise awareness and disseminate the research. All the information gathered during the project has been uploaded to and is now publicly available through the Peoples Collection Wales (PCW) Website. Also, the students are undertaking the project are in the process of creating an internal booklet which draws together their research through the project. This booklet will hopefully also eventually be uploaded onto the PCW.

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