How the Gloucester shipwreck will put Great Yarmouth on the maritime map

The wreck of the Gloucester could deliver a huge story-telling boost to Great Yarmouth

Dominic Jones, chief executive officer of the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth pictured alongside a painting of the Gloucester foundering off Yarmouth and a replica of the Sutton Hoo burial helmet. - Credit: The Mary Rose Trust, Wikimedia Commons, National Trust Images / Phil Morley

The discovery of the Gloucester has been hailed in sensational terms as a "find of international importance" with the power to unravel secrets of the 17th century.

News of its discovery, kept under wraps for 15 years, has drawn attention across the world as it has been plugged 'Norfolk's Mary Rose'.

The wreck of The Gloucester has been found off Great Yarmouth

The wreck of the Gloucester off Yarmouth, 6 May 1682, by Johan Danckerts. It was one of the most famous ships of the 17th century which sank 340 years ago while carrying the future King of England, James Stuart. - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

But do the guardians of Henry VIII's war ship - which sank in 1545 - enjoy the comparison?

Indeed, can the Gloucester put Great Yarmouth on the maritime map the way the Mary Rose did Portsmouth?

Dominic Jones, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, is in no doubt the Gloucester looks to be equally as splendid as the shipwreck off the coast of his own city.

He added Norfolk's find has the potential to "attract a global audience of millions".

Dominic Jones, chief executive officer of The Mary Rose Trust

Dominic Jones, chief executive officer of the Mary Rose Trust, says community backing is vital in Great Yarmouth's bid to make the most of its maritime connections with the wreck of the Gloucester. - Credit: The Mary Rose Trust

"The Mary Rose has been great for Portsmouth - this could be brilliant for Great Yarmouth," he said.

"And we are really flattered by the comparison with the Mary Rose.

"To be associated with the Gloucester is an absolute honour and we are really proud.

The Mary Rose being raised from the seabed near Portsmouth in October 1982

The Mary Rose being raised from the seabed near Portsmouth in October 1982 - Credit: PA

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"Great Yarmouth is at the start of this. Who knows what you are going to uncover? I cannot wait to see what else is found.

"The significance of the Mary Rose was that we were able to tell a lot of stories about Henry VIII, ordinary people and the history of the Navy.

"The story we have not told fully is about the find and the excavating of the site - and you are doing that now.

"It is so exciting it was found by amateurs inspired by the raising of the Mary Rose.

The wreck of royal warship the Gloucester has been found off Great Yarmouth

The bell that confirmed the Gloucester's identity and solved a mystery going back hundreds of years. - Credit: UEA

"It is a long haul but it is worth it. Every step of the way you will uncover something new and if Great Yarmouth is behind it like Portsmouth was - it will be brilliant," he added.

So far pictures released from the seabed 45km off Norfolk's coast - although hauntingly atmospheric - do not provide as much detail as the preserved hull of the Mary Rose, which is on display at a purpose-built museum in Portsmouth.

Some 10m people have visited the exhibition.

The wreck of the Gloucester, a royal ship lost off Great Yarmouth has been discovered.

A pulley block exposed on the seabed belonging to the 17th century war ship the Gloucester. - Credit: Norfolk Historic Shipwrecks

However even if the Gloucester is never raised it is the artefacts that are the big draw, Mr Jones said.

The 19,000 pieces recovered - a third of which are on display - evoke the Tudor period in a vivid way with authentic items that showed exactly how things were.

Julian and Lincoln Barnwell with the wreck of the Gloucester off Great Yarmouth

Brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell measuring a canon on the seabed. The discovery of the royal Gloucester has set historic hearts racing. - Credit: Norfolk Historic Shipwrecks

And expectations are high the Gloucester can deliver an equal haul.

The ship sank so quickly after striking a sandbank in 1682 that nothing was saved by the ship's population of nobles, sailors and servants.

This should provide, it is hoped, a complete time capsule of life on board.

Bottles and pottery brought up so far look to be astonishingly well preserved - some in chests - enabling the 21st century public, in the words of Lord Dannatt, to "touch the past".

A bottle recovered from the wreck of the Gloucester found off Great Yarmouth.

A quarter size shaft and globe bottle with glass stamp is among items recovered from the wreck of The Gloucester, found off Great Yarmouth. - Credit: Norfolk Historic Shipwrecks

Early signs are that the Duke of York's ship was something of a floating pleasure palace with those on board celebrating his secure succession and drinking heavily on their way up to Edinburgh to collect his pregnant wife.

James Duke of York was saved from the Gloucester in 1682 although his behaviour during the disaster was questioned.

James, Duke of York (1633-1701), by Henri Gascar. He was saved from the wreck of the Gloucester and acceded to the throne in 1685 as England's last Catholic king only to be ousted less than four years later in the 'Glorious Revolution.' - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile celebrations planned in Portsmouth for later in the year will mark 40 years since the Mary Rose was raised, likely leading to a spike in revenue, Mr Jones added.

He said in addition news about Yarmouth's Gloucester has only helped to drive interest in marine archaeology.

But over the years it was the support of local people that had been key to the project's success and made a major impact.

Lost royal ship the Gloucester found off Great Yarmouth

Bothers Lincoln and Julian Barnwell with some of their finds from the Gloucester. - Credit: UEA

In the early days 500 volunteer divers had been involved - 270 of whom were still involved - and thousands of school children have been engaged through education.

Volunteer and work experience opportunities have got people into paid work and the name Mary Rose had been taken by new buildings and even a Chinese takeaway as it became entwined with the city's identity.

A Shaft & Globe wint bottle, Bartmann jug and a ceramic medicine or food jug found by Julian and Lin

A Shaft & Globe wint bottle, Bartmann jug and a ceramic medicine or food jug found by Julian and Lincoln Barnwell found in the wreck of the Gloucester. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Archant 2022

"The point about any discovery is that historic significance," he said.

"There is nowhere else you can get as close to Tudor England.

"What is so special in our museum is the artefacts. We have that mix of everyday life and royalty - and Great Yarmouth has that too.

"Telling an international story, which this absolutely is, will bring tourists from all over the world.

Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, who discovered the wreck of The Gloucester which sank 340 years ago, be

Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, who discovered the wreck of The Gloucester which sank 340 years ago, being interviewed by BBC Look East. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Archant 2022

"It is up to Great Yarmouth if it stands behind it. 

"What's important is that pride in something that was found there. This is Great Yarmouth's Gloucester."

The replica helmet on display in the High Hall at Sutton Hoo.

One of the treasures found inside the burial ship at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. The visitor centre there has been boosted by a Netflix film telling the story of its 1939 discovery. - Credit: National Trust Images / Phil Morley

Sutton Hoo

The discovery of the Anglo Saxon burial ship in Suffolk in 1939 was a window on a lost world.

Its story has now been told in the film The Dig and its most spectacular treasure - the hollow-eyed helmet - is instantly synonymous with the site which has changed academic understanding of the so-called Dark Ages.

Just days ago the National Trust unveiled plans for a major expansion of its Sutton Hoo estate after buying 27 acres of land beside the River Deben for £1.9m.

Already one of Suffolk's most visited attractions, one of the aims is to create a better visual connection between the river and the landscape, helping visitors to understand why this site was chosen as the final resting place of Anglo-Saxon royalty.

The hope of finding a permanent home for the Gloucester display in Yarmouth - the closest port to the wreck - would establish a similar "visual connection" with visitors being able to look out across the North Sea to the waters where it foundered.

August 2021 was the busiest single month since Sutton Hoo opened to the public in 2002 with 33,781 visitors - an average of more than a thousand every day, boosted by the film's release.

Skull of King Richard III. Photo courtesy of University of Leicester

Skull of King Richard III. Photo courtesy of University of Leicester - Credit: Photo courtesy of University of

Richard III, Leicester

The discovery of Richard III under a council car park in Leicester a decade ago was reported as delivering a huge tourism boost to the city.

While the cost of interring him in the cathedral was said to be around £3m, most of that was paid for by a fundraising appeal like the 1682 Trust being launched to support the Gloucester.

Leicester city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby told the BBC in 2015: "The discovery of King Richard lll and his subsequent reinternment has had a greater impact on the city than we could ever have anticipated.

"If the figures are to be believed visitors are also spending money and thereby generating growth and new jobs in the area and that is excellent news for residents and businesses alike."

The University of East Anglia is holding donations for the 1682 project under its own charitable status.

To contribute and for further information contact David Ellis at supporter@uea.ac.uk.