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thames discovery programme Identifying

foreshore factsheet number five vessel

This factsheet is intended to assist in understanding how to identify vessel timbers found on the
foreshore, either lying on the foreshore, as part of a hulk, or reused in a structure.

Vessel timbers have a number of features that distinguish them from those used in terrestrial
structures or wharves. They may, for example, have a pronounced curve; have differing cross-
section along their length or a differing thickness throughout their length. With the exception of
elements such as keelsons, deck beams or barge floor timbers, most vessel timbers are not square
in cross-section. They may also have had evidence of fastenings such as; -in situ treenails; holes
for wooden treenails; iron bolts, rivets or nails or copper alloy bolts, rivets or nails. The joinery used
on vessel timbers – the types of scarf, mortise and tenon, or dovetail joints- can also be diagnostic.


b stempost
rudder leeboard keel
Comparative outlines and cross- Thames barge showing
sections for: a) boat; b) barge; c) ship elements described in the text

As a basic stage in classification, the most common size-classes of wooden vessels found on the
Thames foreshore may be classified as BOAT, BARGE or SHIP. All may be represented by planks,
frames or rudders etc, but the general proportions of each of those vessel elements will change in
proportion to the size-class of the parent vessel.

Commonly-found types of vessel timbers:

Runs along the underside of the vessel from bow to stern. Barge keels are generally rectangular in
cross section and quite shallow. Ship keels have a distinctive wine glass profile with a rabbet to
accommodate the planking.

Stem or Stern posts

Continuation of the keel upwards at either the bow (front) or stern (back). The stem post may have a
rabbet to accommodate the planking

Floor timbers
Run laterally across the bottom of the vessel, either on each side of the keel or across the top of it.
Barge floor timbers are usually flat while ship floor timbers will be curved. The hull planking will be
fastened to the underside of these timbers.

Side Frames
Side Frames: Will generally be curved. Hull planking will have been attached to the outer face, the
fixings for which may be visible.
The front edge of the rudder may have fixtures and fittings for the gudgeon and pintle system used
to hang them from the stern of the vessel.

Flat-bottomed river barges have leeboards, which although similar in general appearance and
construction to rudders, have a different shape, lack the gudgeon and pintles but may retain
evidence of the fittings from which they were hung from the sides of the vessel.

Comparative elevations
sternpost rudderstock of rudders and leeboard
from the foreshore:
stern rudder b) c) a) 18th-century frigate
b) rudder and sternpost
gudgeon and pintle assembly from sailing
keel barge;
a) d) c) small boat rudder;
0 1m d) leeboard.

Two types of vessel construction have been prominent in northern Europe: clinker with overlapping
planks and carvel with planks butted edge to edge. Frames of clinker vessels will have pronounced
rebates known as "joggles" to accommodate the overlapping planks, those of carvel vessels will be

Schematic cross-sections to show

m o typical elements of A carvel-built
vessels and B clinker-built vessel:
r e B a) keel; b) keelson; c) ceiling
A planking; d) futtocks; e) side
c timbers of futtock; f) flush hull
b h planking; g) external planking;
j h) lap; I) floor timber; j) hog;
d a k) grown knee; l) deck beam;
f m) deck structures; n) carving;
o) sheerstrake; p) stringer;
q) treenail; r) nail and rove.

While rudders and lee-boards can become detached from the parent vessel by accident, a
concentration of frames, floors or hull planking found on the foreshore might represent a) the
fragmentation of an abandoned hulk? b) a vessel building or repair yard? c) a ship-breakers yard?

Further reading: Milne, G, McKewan, C and Goodburn, D 1998 Nautical archaeology on the
foreshore; Hulk recording on the Medway (all factsheet figures based on figures in this publication).

Search for photos of vessels and vessel timbers at the Thames Discovery Programme Flickr page:

this factsheet has been generously funded by the Barbara Whatmore Trust
© thames discovery programme 2010