The London (1656 ship)

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For other ships with the same name, see HMS London.
HMS London wreck.jpg
The wreck of The London
Royal Navy EnsignEngland
Name: London
Ordered: 3 July 1654
Builder: Taylor, Chatham
Launched: June 1656
Fate: Accidentally blown up, 7 March 1665
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: 76-gun second-rate ship of the line
Tons burthen: 1,104 long tons (1,121.7 t)
Length: 123 ft 4 in (37.6 m) (keel)
Beam: 41 ft (12.5 m) (after girdling)
Depth of hold: 16 ft 6 in (5.0 m)
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Complement: 76 guns
Armament: 76 guns of various weights of shot

The London was a 76-gun second-rate ship of the line of the English Royal Navy, originally built for the navy of the Commonwealth of England at Chatham by Captain John Taylor, and launched in June 1656.[1] She gained fame as one of the ships that escorted Charles II from Holland back to England during the English Restoration, carrying Charles' younger brother James Duke of York, and commanded by Captain John Lawson.[2][3]

The London was accidentally blown up in 1665 and sank in the Thames Estuary.[1] According to Samuel Pepys 300 of her crew were killed, 24 were blown clear and survived, including one woman.[4] Lawson was not aboard at the time of the explosion though many of his relatives were killed.

Eyewitness reports[edit]

A letter to Sir Joseph Williamson[edit]

A letter written on 8 March 1665 to Sir Joseph Williamson reported: ‘The brave ship London has blown up near the Hope’, leaving behind only her hull and stern.[5]

Pepys diary entry[edit]

Samuel Pepys wrote about hearing of the loss of The London, on 8 March 1665, writing:

"This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of “The London,” in which Sir J(ohn) Lawson’s men were all bringing her from Chatham to the Hope, and thence he was to go to sea in her; but a little a’this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up. About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned: the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance. She lies sunk, with her round- house above water. Sir J(ohn) Lawson hath a great loss in this of so many good chosen men, and many relations among them. I went to the ‘Change, where the news taken very much to heart."[6]

On 11 March Pepys recorded the results of an inspection of the wreck by Sir William Batten and Sir John Mennes: ‘out of which they say, the guns may be got, but the hull of her will be wholly lost’ [7] Those guns continued to be the focus of administrative attention for a good 30 years afterwards: recoveries made in 1679 caused some wrangling that surfaced in 1694-5, as the salvor attempted to leverage payment of a debt.[8]

Letter to Henry Bennet[edit]

Another letter, this time to Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington, passes on coffee-house gossip, blaming the easy availability of gunpowder ’20s a barrel cheaper than in London’ and therefore by implication suspect in provenance and quality.[5]

John Evelyn[edit]

On 9 March, John Evelyn, the other famous diarist of the period, ‘went to receive the poor creatures that were saved out of the London frigate, blown up by accident, with above 200 men,’ for he had been appointed one of the Commissioners for sick and wounded seamen by Charles II.[9]

Michiel van Gogh[edit]

The Dutch ambassador, Michiel van Gogh, had more specific intelligence on numbers than Pepys, or perhaps more details were known by the time of his letter on 10 March: ‘The London, prepared for Vice-Admiral Lawson, was blown up while sailing up the river, and only 19 out of the crew of 351 saved.’ [5]


The wreck of HMS London was rediscovered in 2005, resulting in the port authorities changing the route of the shipping channel to prevent further damage and to allow archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology led by Frank Pope to investigate, leading to what was the largest ever post-war salvage operation on the Thames.
London featured in "Thames Shipwrecks: A Race Against Time," a BBC series on shipwrecks in the Thames.[10]

The two sites where the remains lie were designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 on 24 October 2008.[11][12] The wreck is considered important partly for its historical references and partly for its insight into an important period in British naval history. Although the Port of London authority had voluntarily taken action to reduce the risk of damage to shipping, the removal of bronze cannon from the site without any archaeological investigations being carried out showed that the site was at risk of destruction through looting and hence required immediate protection.[12][13]

Gun carriage lifted from seabed[edit]

On 12 August 2015, a unique 17th-century gun carriage has been successfully lifted from the seabed off Southend-on-Sea . As it was brought to shore at Leigh-on-Sea it already looked like a museum object, every detail perfectly preserved, the wheels ready to turn again. Alison James, Historic England’s maritime archaeologist, said: “This 350-year-old gun carriage is in near-perfect condition. It’s a national treasure and the key to new knowledge of our social and naval history.” [14]



  • Lavery, Brian (2003) The Ship of the Line – Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650–1850. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-252-8.
  • Winfield, Rif (2009) British Warships in the Age of Sail 1603–1714: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84832-040-6.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°29′48″N 0°44′23″E / 51.4966°N 0.7397°E / 51.4966; 0.7397