Finding the Ship

In June 2002 the construction of the Riverfront arts centre along the banks of the River Usk was well under way. The orchestra pit and auditorium required deep excavation, and the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust (GGAT) was brought in to watch over the digging. The site was then handed over to GGAT for archaeological excavations.

The first discoveries within the coffer-dam included a timber-lined drain and a stone slipway, both post-medieval. Then, in late June, the team began investigating a series of upright timbers along one of the proposed wall lines. As the mud was cleared away, it gradually became clear that the archaeologists had in fact chanced upon the remains of a large ship, almost entirely contained within the coffer-dam.

The ship lay in a disfigured fashion, with the starboard (right-hand) side having flattened out over the centuries. And the port (left-hand) side had been neatly cut at some point, probably to make way for a new quay.

News of the ship’s discovery went public on 11 July 2002. In early August, the Save Our Ship (SOS) campaign was launched to fight for the full excavation and eventual display of the ship in Newport. The campaign collected signatures for a petition and organized public meetings, a march on the Civic Centre, a 24-hour roadside vigil, and a ‘mini-Armada’ of small boats to sail past the Riverfront site.

On 23 August, the Welsh National Assembly in Cardiff announced a £3.5 million plan to fully excavate the vessel, and on 26 August the SOS campaigners formed the Friends of the Newport Ship, a group that continues to raise awareness about the ship and raises funds for the conservation project.