The hulk of the Lady Alice Kenlis vessel at low tide
A brief introduction to Maritime Archaeology

What Are Hulks?

Discover some of the abandoned ships that line England's coast and rivers.

A ‘hulk’ is an old ship stripped of its fittings and permanently moored in intertidal areas, estuaries, canals, and rivers. These ships are often in a condition too dilapidated to return to sea.

A photograph of multiple small abandoned ships in the sea.
Abandoned hulks at Hoo Marina, Hoo Peninsula, Kent. © Historic England Archive. DP172029.

Generally, ships become ‘hulked’ when they become obsolete and are no longer economical to operate.

Hulks can have a variety of different uses, some serving as prisons, storage, housing and salvage pontoons. Others remain disused and continue to decay.

Here are some examples of hulks found along England’s coastline and rivers.

Lady Alice Kenlis, Woodbridge, Suffolk

The Lady Alice Kenlis in Woodbridge is a prime example of an abandoned hulk that has been partially dismantled. It lies in the intertidal zone of the River Deben.

A photograph of a dilapidated ship beached on a riverbed.
The Lady Alice Kenlis vessel, River Deben, Woodbridge. © Historic England Archive. DP435103.

Formerly an iron steamship, it was launched in 1869 by Hercules Linton. He was the designer of the internationally renowned Cutty Sark, one the fastest clipper ships of its time.

The remains of this particular ship are referred to as a hulk rather than a shipwreck as there has been no wrecking event.

Harriett barge, River Severn, Gloucestershire

The 19th century Kennett-built barge known as Harriett on the eastern bank of the River Severn, near the hamlet of Purton, has been firmly embedded and hulked, with all of its keel and hull surviving below the ground surface.

A photograph of a dilapidated wooden boat on an area of grass.
The Kennet barge Harriett is among the boats beached beside the River Severn to reinforce the river banks. © Douglas Lander / Alamy Stock Photo.

The barge was built to serve as a transhipment vessel to carry loads into the Bristol docks from ships too large to pass through to the east of the city.

In 1964, the Harriett was permanently beached as part of an assemblage of other vessels.

SS Cretehawser, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear

The SS Cretehawser in Sunderland was launched in 1919 and was the first of an order for eight steam tugs placed within the Sunderland shipyard by the Ministry of Shipping.

A photograph of an aerial view of the wreck of a ship surrounded by water.
The wreck of the SS Cretehawser on the River Wear in Sunderland. © Jason Row Photo / Alamy Stock Photo.

It was designed to tow large concrete barges carrying iron ore from northern Spain to Great Britain.

By 1935, the ship had reached the end of its commercial life and was hulked. The hulk was used as an emergency breakwater until it was holed during an air raid during the Second World War and towed up the river and beached.

HMS Beagle, Paglesham Reach, Essex

The buried remains of a mud dock built to accommodate the HMS Beagle when it was serving as a Coastguard Watch Vessel during its final years from 1851 to 1870 lies at Paglesham Reach.

A photograph of a survey showing an outline of a mud dock.
This multispectral UAV (drone) survey has created an outline of the original mud dock where HMS Beagle was most likely dismantled. © Wessex Archaeology.

Although it remains unconfirmed whether the remains of HMS Beagle are located in the mud dock, it is considered that the lower portions of the ship have settled into the mud.

Paglesham Reach is a rarity, being one of England’s only confirmed mud docks.

Old Brig, Whitstable Bay, Kent

The remnants of Old Brig at Whitstable Bay offer another example of ship remains corresponding with the ‘hulk’ typology.

A ‘brig’ is a fast, manoeuvrable sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts.

A photograph of the timbers of a ship sticking out of the mud and stones of a drained dock.
By taking samples of the ship’s timbers, it’s hoped we will be able to date the Old Brig accurately. © Timescapes Kent.

The Old Brig was subsequently reused as a store and accommodation following its deliberate beaching for those employed in harvesting and packing oysters.

The identity and the date of the ship is currently unknown. However, the existence of a map dated to 1770 charts a wreck named Old Brig in a position that closely corresponds with this location, indicating the latest possible date of the loss of the vessel.

Further reading

2 comments on “What Are Hulks?

  1. Amanda J Read

    How wrong i was…….i thought the Hulks were strategically placed to reduce erosion and wave formation. How interesting to know their names like the Old Brig and how old she is.. Thank you for sharing this very interesting story.


    Would you like to take a look at the remains in Minnis Bay in Kent? There is not much left, just the spines, but they are quite a feature.

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