What is the Newport Ship?

The Newport Medieval Ship is a fifteenth century merchant vessel unearthed in the heart of Newport in 2002. Work on the Riverfront arts centre was paused while excavations could take place, and the timbers have since been undergoing a lengthy conservation process so the ship can be displayed to the public.

The ship was a formidable three-masted craft measuring over 30 metres in length and capable of carrying around 200 tons of cargo. Examination of the artefacts and remains found on board suggests that the ship probably sailed the Lisbon-Bristol trade route.

Through dendrochronology (the study of tree-ring data), it has been concluded that the trees used to construct the ship were felled around 1449 in the Basque Country, now split between modern Spain and France, where it was probably built. It was brought to Newport for repairs or refit in about 1469 but was instead deconstructed, meaning it had a working life of about 20 years.

It is thought that, whilst in Newport, the cradle supporting the ship in its pill collapsed. The hull was flooded and the majority of the ship was then taken apart, leaving only the lower hull that we have today.

The Newport Ship was built using the ‘clinker’ or lapstrake shipbuilding method, first used by the Vikings. This method is characterized by overlapping planks, each fastened to its neighbours, as opposed to the ‘carvel’ tradition in which the planks are butted smoothly against each other. The clinker method remained popular in northern Europe and the Basque Country well into the Renaissance period.

Today, the ship remains in pieces whilst the timbers are being conserved. When this process is complete, it will be reconstructed in a permanent display space.

To learn more about the ship you can visit the Ship Centre on one of our regular open days, and you can purchase a copy of the guidebook produced and published by the Friends.