HMS Stirling Castle (1679)

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Portrait of the ‘Stirling Castle’ PAH3920.jpg
Stirling Castle by Willem van de Velde
Royal Navy EnsignEngland
NameHMS Stirling Castle
BuilderJohn Shish, Deptford Dockyard
FateWrecked, 1703, on the Goodwin Sands
General characteristics as built[1]
Class and type70-gun third-rate ship of the line
Tons burthen{10592994 (bm)
Length151 ft 2 in (46.1 m) (gundeck)
Beam40 ft 4 in (12.3 m)
Depth of hold17 ft 3 in (5.3 m)
Sail planFull-rigged ship
Armament70 guns of various weights of shot
General characteristics after 1699 rebuild[2]
Class and type70-gun third-rate ship of the line
Tons burthen10876494 (bm)
Length151 ft 2 in (46.1 m) (gundeck)
Beam40 ft 6 in (12.3 m)
Depth of hold17 ft 8 in (5.4 m)
Sail planFull-rigged ship
Armament70 guns of various weights of shot

HMS Stirling Castle was a 70-gun third-rate ship of the line of the English Royal Navy, built at Deptford in 1679.[1] She underwent a rebuild at Chatham Dockyard in 1699.[2] She was wrecked on the Goodwin Sands off Deal on 27 November 1703. The wreck is a Protected Wreck managed by Historic England.

Construction and service[edit]

The Stirling Castle was part of Samuel Pepys' 1677 plan for "Thirty Ships",[3] the first systematic expansion of the Royal Navy replacing ships lost in the Dutch Raid on the Medway. Later she was one of 16 third rates to be rebuilt between 1697 and 1706,[3] like the Northumberland and Restoration which would be lost on the Goodwin Sands in the same storm.[3] Alterations at Chatham in 1699 increased her tonnage, and she was refitted in 1701.[3] She is of particular interest to historians as a relic from a time of many changes in naval architecture, representing the birth of the ship of the line before the 1706 Establishment formalised rules for the dimensions of RN ships.[3]


She was wrecked on the Goodwin Sands in the Great Storm of 1703.[3] There were 70 survivors from her 349 crew.[4] She seems to have dragged her anchor, slowing the ship's progress towards the Goodwin Sands and meaning that she reached the sands at high tide, narrowly avoiding the fate of the other ships which were grounded. As the storm continued, the tides turned and dragged the ship sideways, trapping her between the new tidal currents and the oncoming storms. The resulting tumultuous seas swamped the ship. Full of water, she sank onto the sands, leaving just the stern exposed for a fortunate few to cling to.


Local recreational divers found the wreck in 1979 following a movement of the surrounding sand.[5] The wreck lies in 12.1 metres (40 ft) of water near the North Sand Head, Goodwin Knoll.[3] The ship was in a remarkable state of preservation, possibly uncovered for the first time since she sank, and numerous artefacts were recovered in 1979-80.[5] Most are held by Ramsgate Maritime Museum[5] but some were first displayed at Bleak House in Broadstairs while it was still a museum, and then moved to the Deal Maritime Museum.[citation needed] A few artefacts have been recovered since, but the wreck was already being covered by fresh sediment in 1981.[3]

The ship re-emerged from the sand in 1998.[3] Scouring of the sand supporting the stern and port quarter led to their partial collapse in the winter of 1999-2000, and the structure has been further destabilised since then.[3] In 2000 a team of divers successfully recovered a Demi-cannon, complete with its original gun carriage from the site. This "Rupertino" gun designed by the king's nephew Prince Rupert, was one of eight delivered by the gun maker Thomas Westerne in 1690.[6] The 49 long cwt (2,489 kg) gun fired 32 lb (14.5 kg) shot.[6]

In 2002 a wooden fixed block was recovered that may provide evidence on the introduction of the ship's steering wheel, possibly during the refit of 1701.[3] Richard Endsor has argued that the ship had both a steering wheel and the older whipstaff, thus Stirling Castle provides important evidence for the transition between these two mechanisms.[3]

HMS Stirling Castle was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act on 6 June 1980 by Statutory Instrument 1980/645. The position was updated by SI 1980/1306 the same year.[3] SI 2004/2395 in 2004 redesignated the protected area from a radius of 50 m to 300  around 51° 16.4561' N, 01° 30.4121' E.[3] The wreck has the National Monuments Record number of TR45NW24.[3] In 1980 the wreck was bought from the Ministry of Defence by the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Unit (now the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Society), and in 1982 the Society sold 64 shares in the Stirling Castle to raise funds.[3]

The archive of the Stirling Castle is dispersed over several repositories and is in various stages of preservation. In 2016 Historic England published a report on the conservation work carried out on some of the surface recovered material from the wreck site.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

Daniel Defoe alleged that hundreds of sailors escaped onto sandbanks exposed at low tide, but the people of Deal were so busy salvaging goods after the storm that they left the survivors to drown. That many human remains were found in the wreck when she was first uncovered suggests that few managed to escape the wreck.

She was featured on the Channel 4 documentary series Wreck Detectives in 2003.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lavery, Ships of the Line vol.1, p162.
  2. ^ a b Lavery, Ships of the Line vol.1, p166.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Dunkley, Mark (7 November 2007), Stirling Castle, Goodwin Sands, Off Kent - Conservation Statement & Management Plan (PDF), English Heritage, retrieved 24 August 2009
  4. ^ Larn, Richard (1977). Goodwin Sands Shipwrecks. Newton Abbot, London, North Pomfret: David & Charles. p. 56. ISBN 0 7153 7202 5.
  5. ^ a b c Wessex Archaeology, Stirling Castle, Goodwin Sands, Kent - Designated Site Assessment Archaeological Report (PDF), English Heritage, retrieved 24 August 2009
  6. ^ a b English Heritage, Stirling Castle wreck reveals wealth of maritime history at risk, English Heritage, retrieved 24 August 2009
  7. ^ Middleton, Angela (2016). "Conservation of surface recovered artefacts from the Stirling Castle, Protected Wreck - Historic England Research Report 45/2016". Retrieved 4 May 2020.


  • 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.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°16.4561′N 01°30.4121′E / 51.2742683°N 1.5068683°E / 51.2742683; 1.5068683