Spot the wreck of the Grace Dieu, one of the largest naval vessels of medieval times, which burnt and sank just south of the jetty at River Hamble Country Park when it was struck by lightning in 1439.
Follow the short trail from the old Barnfield kiosk to the river’s pontoon and scan QR codes on wooden posts for more information while you’re visiting the park.
The history of the Grace Dieu
The Grace Dieu was King Henry V of England’s flagship and one of the largest vessels of her time. Her wreckage now lies in the River Hamble, with the nautical wreck marker – a yellow cross – visible from the pontoon at River Hamble Country Park.
Built between 1416 and 1418, the Grace Dieu was a clinker-built boat, made from timber and constructed in Southampton. Weighing around 1400 tonnes, with no other ship so big being built for 200 years after she went down, her legacy is certainly one worth preserving.
Despite her impressive size, the Grace Dieu was never used in battle and only ever made one journey. During this maiden voyage in 1420 the crew mutinied, only making it as far as the Isle of Wight, suggesting that she was incredibly difficult to sail. After this doomed voyage, she was laid to rest on Southampton Water and never sailed on the sea again.
In 1434 she was towed upstream to a mud berth in the River Hamble, where she would only last five years before being set ablaze by a lightning strike, or so the official record states… There is an alternative theory shared by many locals that the shipkeeper looking after her had sold off much of her parts, setting fire to the ship himself to cover up the missing materials.
Discovering the wreckage
First excavated by Victorians, the wreckage of the Grace Dieu was first believed to be a Viking ship because of the clinker-built hull. Upon examination it was finally identified as the Grace Dieu in the 1930s. Decades later, the wreck was bought by the University of Southampton and is now designated as a protected wreck site.
The Grace Dieu play trail
If you look closely at the natural play area at Barnfield while you’re visiting the park, you may notice some elements inspired by the Grace Dieu. Sculptor Richard Janes designed this area and made sure to incorporate three overlapping planks that take the form of the triple clinker hull of this local piece of history.