The Gloucester Project
Inaugural Conference 2023: The Life, Times, and Heritage Futures of the Gloucester
Over two days, on 12 and 13 May 2023, over sixty international experts in maritime archaeology and history, and divers and museum professionals, gathered together for the first time to discuss the significance and future of the Gloucester shipwreck. Held at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, the conference was programmed by Professor Claire Jowitt and Dr Benjamin Redding from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. Attendees were also treated to curator-led tours of the exhibition ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester: Norfolk’s Royal Shipwreck, 1682’, which proved very popular having received almost 70,000 visitors.
Conference attendees travelled from the United States of America, Sweden, and all corners of the United Kingdom, but were united in their interest in this extraordinary seventeenth-century warship. The wreck of the Gloucester was discovered in the North Sea off Great Yarmouth in 2007 by divers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell and their team, with the discovery publicly announced to worldwide interest in 2022.
Conference speakers presented new research about the Gloucester and its history, contexts, and artefacts. They explored what happened on the last, tragic voyage in 1682 when carrying the future King James II and VII, and why it matters to Britain’s island story. The full Gloucester Project team, including UEA historians, the discoverers of the wreck Norfolk Historic Shipwrecks, Norfolk Museums Service, Maritime Archaeology Trust, and General Lord Richard Dannatt, representing the newly formed Gloucester 1682 Charitable Trust, outlined their work to date and their future plans to develop a permanent home for the artefacts.
The conference was particularly privileged to hear from Dr Alex Hildred, Director of Research of the Mary Rose Trust, and Dr Fred Hocker, Director of Research at Vasa Museum, Stockholm, about their world-leading and perennially popular maritime museums. They shared the issues and opportunities of recovering, preserving, and presenting the artefacts and structural remains of a warship from their own experiences, offering powerful and inspirational examples of best practice.
During the conference, the Gloucester Project team were gratified to receive wholehearted confirmation from the academic and archaeological community of the importance of the Gloucester wreck as an exemplar interdisciplinary project of enormous potential. Attendees believed that a full archaeological excavation could provide researchers with an unprecedented opportunity to learn the secrets and details of ship design and construction that no amount of theoretical research can match. All agreed that the creation of a new and research-informed museum was an exciting and daunting prospect in equal measure, which will require significant investment and fundraising.