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Forton Graveyard of Ships


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What: Scuttled sea-vessels
Where: Forton Lake, Gosport
Built: c1890-1970
Architect: Various shipwrights
Abandoned: c1945-2000
Listed: No
Visited: 2017, 2018
Last Known Condition: Derelict and deteriorating.
Page Updated: May 2018

Along the backwater shore they lie, bleached whalebone wrecks garlanded with sea-slime, berthed in black mud. Children shriek and clamber hide-and-seeking about their broken prows while an old bait digger forks taciturn through the bubbling ooze which comes up to his knees. The air is filled with the sharp salt smell of seaweed, the clamour of yacht bells and the cry of gulls. These wrecks may be derelict but they are far from abandoned.

MMS 293
A motor minesweeper of the MMS I class commissioned in 1943, MMS 293 lies beached and derelict on the northern foreshore.

Unidentified vessel
Seen from the wall of the Forton RN Fuel Reserve, an unidentified vessel lies on her side in the mud

Steam boiler
Yarrow's patent Water Tube Boiler aboard the remains of a motor gunboat.

Steam boiler
North Shields registered trawler SN26 sits alongside the wreck of Gosport Ferry Vadne (left). A MK III Bomb Scow (used to
supply flying boats at Southampton) lies at her bow.

Overview of the South Shore North Shields Trawler SN26 Gosport Ferry Vadne was built in 1939 for the Portsmouth Steam Launch & Towing Co. She was in service until 1966. Gosport Ferry Vadne was built in 1939 for the Portsmouth Steam Launch & Towing Co. She was in service until 1966. Gosport Ferry Vadne was built in 1939 for the Portsmouth Steam Launch & Towing Co. She was in service until 1966. Gosport Ferry Vadne was built in 1939 for the Portsmouth Steam Launch & Towing Co. She was in service until 1966. Unidentified wreck A steam pinnace lies beyond the remains of a small landing craft. The remains of the  Medina River Chain Ferry, built in 1896 with Vadne and a steam pinnace in the background The muddy foreshore is covered in civillian and naval debris spanning hundreds of years The remains of an unidentified vessel near the fuel reserve depot The remains of an unidentified vessel near the fuel reserve depot A little egret perches on an unidentified vessel near the fuel reserve depot A possible landing craft on the south shore Another view of MMS 293 Fibreglass-hulled vessel Mystic beached on the north shore An unidentified craft further up the Gosport Shore Various mudlarking finds from along the foreshore A brass shell fuze (c. WWI) found further along the shore The harbour is dominated by the massive bulk of HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is being fitted out across the water at HMNB Bait digger Forton Sunset

There has been a boatyard on the southwest corner of Forton Lake since at least 1795. The tidal inlet, just across the water from Portsmouth and lying between the Navy's Royal Clarence victualling yards and the gunpowder factories at Priddy's Hard was an important centre of military and commercial activity. After the Second World War the yard became involved in shipbreaking, and a number of vessels were scuttled here awaiting disposal or sale. Those boats left behind now line the mudflats on both sides of the lake, slowly decaying and sinking into the mud.

Walking below the tideline reveals liminal landscape most people will never see, but it comes with more than a few dangers; tides turn, shallow mud can quickly become deep and it takes a keen eye to spot the wade ways and shingle bars which will allow safe passage. When I'm not hiking or exploring old buildings, I spend a lot of time down here and elsewhere mudlarking; picking over muddy shorelines for artefacts from past eras. The foreshore here is studded with bone, china, glass and metal; in a short time I collected a brass shell fuze, pieces of 17th century clay tobacco pipes, Victorian bottles and part of a 16th century jug. Layers of history all jumbled together by tide and time.

And what future for Forton's rag-tag fleet? For once there are no plans to save them. No restorations, no salvage operation. They will simply continue to decay and fill with mud until nothing is visible. The vessels themselves have now taken on archaeological significance; in 1999 and again in 2006-9 detailed surveys were carried out of the wrecks, identifying among them minesweepers, gunboats and landing craft that may have served at Dunkirk and D-Day. Some may say that allowing them to decay is a crime against heritage, but I think perhaps there's something to be said for graceful decay...


Bibliography

Hampshire & Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology & Nautical Archaeology Society, 2006, 'Forton Lake Archaeology Project Year One Report' [https://www.nauticalarchaeologysociety.org/sites/default/files/u9/Forton%20Lake%20Project%20YR1%20Final%20Report.pdf] Accessed 30/04/18

Hampshire & Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology & Nautical Archaeology Society, 2006, 'Forton Lake Archaeology Project Year One Report' [http://www.nauticalarchaeologysociety.org/sites/default/files/u9/Forton_Lake_Project_YR3_Report_Final.pdf] Accessed 30/04/18

National Register of Historic Vessels, 2006. http://www.nhsc.org.uk/

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