The remains of more than one wooden shipwreck can be found under Ramscliff Point in Plymouth Sound
Ramscliff Point, Plymouth Sound
The Ramscliff site on the east side of Plymouth Sound has been visited by local divers since diving first started in the area. In 1968 a diver found a Tuscan olive oil jar partly buried in the sand which when excavated he found to be complete. This find came to the attention of Lt. Cdr. Alan Bax who was then just starting the School for Nautical Archaeology Plymouth (SNAP). In 1972 a team of divers from RAF Hereford BSAC (No 457) dive club started Operation Ramscliff Jar. The project plan stated that the aim was 'To search the designated area in fine detail for any traces of ancient wreck and to carry out extensive study of such finds. The duration of the expedition is 8 months (weekends).'
It is believed that some work was done on the site but no reports have yet been found. Shortly after there were reports of divers finding cannons in the same area and some investigation work was done by other dive groups. After an archaeology course run by SNAP in 1978, a team from South Bristol approached Alan Bax to ask if he could suggest a suitable archaeology project for them to work on. Alan suggested that they investigate the Ramscliff cannon site. One report from this team survives from September 78 but it says that they only searched a small area and did not find anything. The team searched along rope baselines using grocery weights to hold the lines down onto the seabed. Another team visited the site in 1980 and with the help of instructors from Fort Bovisand Underwater Centre undertook a seabed survey and found a gun, cannonballs and other metal objects wedged between rocks and concreted to the seabed.
One of the sites that was to be investigated in 1996 by the newly formed PMARIG archaeology team was the Ramscliff site. A proposal was put forward by John Spencer to investigate the area and the team found cannons, cannon balls and other wreck remains during reconnaisance dives. At that time there was little sand covering the site but shortly afterwards the sand moved back in, filling up the rocky gullies and burying the wreck remains. The site has been dived periodically since then in the hope that the blanket of sand will have disappeared but more even sand appeared in 2009; a dive that year located a modern diver's weightbelt under 300mm of sand. The site was left untouched, as being buried in sand and largely forgotten by local divers it was assumed to be safe.
Unfortunately the site has recently been looted by a small local dive team with items having been removed from the site without any thought to archaeological recording. Despite the site having been known about since 1968 and the team using information from the 1980 surveys to find it, they claimed in the local newspapers that the site was a new and important discovery. A book published about these exploits describes how the team recovered from the site some iron ballast weights from 'the Dutch East Indiaman Aagtekerke' that would have been used to make samurai swords. In fact, these iron blocks were merely the grocery weights the 1978 team used to hold down their rope search baselines.
The jar found on this site in 1968 was a similar type to those found on the Mewstone Ledge site, jars used to transport edible olive oil, see 11A20 Oil Jar. The largest user of this type of jar was the Royal Navy which hints that one of the wrecks off Ramscliff may be an R.N. vessel.
The site was the subject of an archaeological assessment by Wessex Archaeology in 2013 under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, but the assessment failed to locate many of the already known objects on the seabed. The official heritage record for this site includes references to this site possibly being the VOC ship Astrea, known to have wrecked on Mount Batten, the RN frigate Pallas, known to have wrecked at the north end of Jennycliff Bay and the VOC ship Aagtekerke known to have wrecked further south in Bovisand Bay.
Location and Access
As the site is now under threat from divers the SHIPS team have started an assessment of the material visible on site. The team have also undertaken side scan and multibeam sonar surveys, magnetometer surveys and a sub-bottom profiler survey in an attempt to find the extent of the wreck debris. Dives on targets detected during the surveys have located a previously unknown gun (12A33 Gun) and other related objects.
The site is known as the Ramscliff site, Ramscliff Cannon site or White Patch.
Last updated 07 May 2023
Hob UID: 1601585
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