Newport ship

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Coordinates: 51°35′18″N 2°59′37″W / 51.58833°N 2.99361°W / 51.58833; -2.99361

The Newport Ship is a fifteenth-century sailing vessel discovered by archaeologists in June 2002 in the city of Newport, South Wales. It was found on the west bank of the River Usk, which runs through the city centre, during the building of the Riverfront Arts Centre; from which process it sustained some damage. It is also known as Newport Medieval Ship.

The ship was originally around 80 feet (25 metres) long, making it quite capable of continental voyages. Although there were no initial plans to preserve the ship in its entirety, local people campaigned eagerly to ensure this. Initial estimates suggested that preservation would cost about £3.5 million and this sum was eventually found by the Welsh Assembly Government and Newport City Council. All of the ship's timbers have subsequently been raised and transferred to a dedicated industrial unit which the local council describes as "now the biggest wood conservation centre in the UK", where preservation and research continue. Due to its size, it has not been possible to display the ship in the basement of the new arts centre, as was originally proposed.

Artefacts found in the ship suggest that it was trading with Portugal in the fifteenth century. The abundance of artefacts linked with Portugal argues even that the ship was also built there. Dendrochronology has given a likely felling date of 1465 and 1466 for some of the timbers used in both its construction and its repair. Remnants of a cradle found beneath the ship suggested that it had been berthed for repair but then abandoned.


Condition, dimensions and structure

The excellent condition of the ship's timbers may possibly be due to the low oxygen level in the mud of the River Usk which has inhibited the presence of wood-boring creatures. Some time during its berth the port (left) side of the ship was cut down about 9 feet (2.74 metres) above the keel, but fortuitously this has preserved the correct shape of the hull. The starboard (right) side, which collapsed onto the river mud long ago, together with the ships frames, has been preserved to almost its full height, although some planking has been distorted by the collapse.

The ship's dimensions are around 84½ feet (25 metres) in length and around 26 feet (8 metres) in width. Recent work, however, suggests that the ship's overall length may be slightly greater. The vessel is clinker built with each plank overlapping the one below, the lower plank always being on the inside of the one above. The planks of the outer hull are positioned first and on the Newport Ship are secured to each other with iron nails driven, through the overlap from the outside and then fitted with iron rove plates. The end of each nail is then hammered flat against the rove to produce a tight seal. Gaps along the overlap are secured by caulking with tar and animal hair. Hair from horse, cow, sheep and goat has all been identified in the Newport ship. The frames (ribs) of the ship are then fitted inside the hull and secured to the planks. Each framing piece is secured to the keel (spine) of the ship by having its keel cutout placed over the keel and held by precision of fit. Nails and trenails have not been used in this ship to secure frames to keel. The keel is made of beech, but the rest of the ship is made of oak, although no reason for this has yet been suggested. One possible explanation is a simple shortage of oak compared with beech at a time of construction. Almost all woodworking on the ship has been done using axe and adze, with saw marks found on only a few timbers.

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