Turf Lock, Devon

The estuary of the River Exe contains a wide variety of sites which are of archaeological and historical importance.  Since at least the Roman period, the river Exe was an important trade route and during the medieval period, the port at Topsham was one of the busiest in Britain.  The Exeter canal, built in the mid-16th century is one of the oldest of its kind and was crucial for the transportation of goods from ships in the estuary to Exeter Quay.  The estuary is now home to a wide variety of hulked vessels which were abandoned at the end of their useful life.  Most of these date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries when both the River Exe and Exeter Canal were important bustling waterways. 

One such vessel, a barge, lies at Turf Lock on the eastern bank of the River Exe, where the Exeter Canal meets the river (figure 1).  In July 2017, the CITiZAN South West team were joined by a group of volunteers at Turf Lock for a two day training session on archaeological recording, the focus of which was the remains of the barge.  Over the course of the two days, participants were given a brief introduction to boats and ships followed by an introduction to archaeological recording techniques.  The team then utilised their skills to record the barge using an arbitrary baseline and offset survey techniques.

Figure 1: Location of the Barge at Turf Lock
Figure 1: Location of the Barge at Turf Lock

Despite incredibly wet and windy weather, the team were able to complete an entire plan of the vessel remains (figure 2).  A large collection of photographs were also taken which will be used to create a 3D model of the vessel.

Figure 2: Plan of the Turf Lock Barge
Figure 2: Plan of the Turf Lock Barge

The vessel is a wooden double ended, carvel built, flat bottomed barge.  The remains consist of the bottom of the hull structure the principal remaining elements of which are a central keelson with two large robust longitudinal timbers on either side.  A small section of bottom cross planking is visible in the bow area underneath the longitudinal timbers, though much of the internal fabric is obscured by mud and therefore difficult to decipher.  A small section of the upper side planking, a few heavily degraded frames and a substantial rudder remain in the starboard quarter (figure 3). 

Figure 3: Starboard quarter (looking roughly east) showing inner and outer planking on either side of frames and rudder arangement
Figure 3: Starboard quarter (looking roughly east) showing inner and outer planking on either side of frames and rudder arangement

There is no evidence of a mast step or any other type of propulsion which suggests that it was likely to have been towed when in use. The bottom of the structure is inundated at high water and the vessel, particularly the elevated sections are degrading at a rapid rate. 

Unfortunately, very little is known about the history of the barge such as the location of its construction and the exact nature of its use.  It is likely to have been built in the mid-late nineteenth century when vessels such as these were commonly used for the transportation of bulk cargo such as clay, grain and coal.  Analysis of a collection of aerial photos from the Historic England archive suggests that it was abandoned in its current location some after 1960. 

Check the CITiZAN interactive map  (CITiZAN ID 71635) for more information!

 

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