Gresham opens new chapter at Stoney
SOMETIME IN THE 1570s, an armed merchant ship was in the mouth of the Thames. We don’t know if it was heading out to sea or into the river; what is known is that it sank.
And there it lay for around 400 years until 2003, when the Port of London Authority was surveying the area around the Princess Channel and found it.
The area was due to be dredged, so the Nautical Archaeological Society (NAS) was given the ship, which was known as the Gresham Wreck because one of its bronze cannons was made at the foundry of Sir Thomas Gresham, a royal agent of Queen Elizabeth I.
The ancient wreck was firstly moved to Horsea Island, a military training lake formerly open to the public.
When that closed, a new location had to be found and the NAS fell back on an original idea, which was to place it into a freshwater inland dive-site away from gnawing shipworms, and on show where every diver could experience it.
And so, in May 2012, it was moved around 150 miles to Stoney Cove in Leicestershire, where it now resides.
Usually a wreck like this would be off the grid. You would need a licence or permission from a licence-holder even to get close to it, but now that it’s at the National Diving Centre, anyone can experience this rare piece of British maritime history.
It doesn’t matter that no one knows its real name – the Gresham Wreck is fine by me. I couldn’t wait to see it.
I hadn’t been to Stoney Cove in quite a few years. The last time was just after a small fortune had been spent building the shop and teaching complex.
It’s a first-rate facility and any visiting dive school would be a cut above the rest by taking advantage of the comfortable classrooms available to hire, rather than running through theory and debriefs from the back of a van.
The shop too is impressive; both in terms of stock and layout. Director Martin Woodward told me that the idea was to give it the same sort of ambience as a high-class skiing establishment,
and he has succeeded in my opinion.
The shop, pool, workshops and classrooms are spotlessly clean, and looked after superbly. Most people
don’t get to see behind the scenes, but take my word for it, even the back rooms, compressor rooms and pool-filtration centre are clean enough to eat off (well, almost).
It took a lot to get it right, Martin admits, as did the lake itself. The Gresham is the most recent in a long list of wrecks at Stoney. This includes an APC (that’s Army Personnel Carrier to those who don’t play Call of Duty), a Wessex helicopter, a mock-up of the Nautilus submarine and, of course, the pre-WW1 tug the Stanegarth.
There are some 26 underwater attractions in the lake, plus some of the UK’s most fascinating aquatic life, including pike, perch, roach, dace, carp and the rare white-clawed crayfish.
So Stoney has something for all – wreck-enthusiasts, wildlife-watchers and now archaeological buffs.
And I happen to be all three, so I joined Stoney Cove Dive Club member Chris Scholes on a dive to the Gresham Wreck to see this new attraction.
BACK IN TIME
Let’s face it, a pile of 15th century wood doesn’t sound that appealing, but the Gresham is far from being just that.
I’ve dived HMS Swan in Scotland and HMS Hazardous Prize in Sussex, and while both are incredible experiences, they left me wanting more.
In the sea, exposed timbers deteriorate quickly and are destroyed by shipworms, but in fresh water there are no such issues, so this is the first time such a piece of our maritime history
can be seen in all its glory.
The wreck has been put back exactly as it was found and so can be viewed properly, and in much better vis than you’d find in the Thames.
The timbers of the hull are fully exposed, with the archaeological tags still in place. The Gresham is perhaps
the most unique exhibit in the world, and it’s in the UK. UK divers should be proud of that.
The visibility was a little milky on my visit due to the pants summer we had been having, but the experience was only a little diminished by that.
I loved it, but I wanted to see what others thought of both this wreck and Stoney Cove as a whole, so I had a chat with several divers who had visited during one of Stoney’s popular night-dive evenings.
These take place two Wednesdays a month. Being July, ”night-dive” was a slightly tenuous concept, as it was broad daylight, but it gives people the chance to dive after work, which is a bonus.
Louisa Langley from Leamington was taking a break from instructing to dive for fun. “I like the fact that you can dive in the evening, that’s why I’ve come down today,” she told me. “I’ve been diving all day, and now I can stay for the evening as well.”
Her friend Phillippa Denney, a BSAC Ocean Diver from Littleworth in Leicestershire, comes to nearby Stoney fairly regularly. She likes the hot chocolate, and says: “I like the wildlife too, the fish are fantastic. It’s great to see the pike and the perch and roach.”
She had dived the Gresham a few weeks before: “It’s very interesting. I’d recommend it to my friends for sure.”
James Farquhar, a PADI MSDT from Corby, Northants, trains at Stoney and dives there recreationally when he can’t get to the coast.
“I think the centre itself and the facilities are fantastic,” he said, “a great training centre and great for anyone who wants to learn to dive and is not comfortable with the sea.
“The Cove could include some additional facilities. You’ve got nowhere to shelter in the winter from the rain, so maybe an undercover area would be good. The actual area as a dive place is fantastic, but they could do a bit better to look after the divers.
“All our courses are done at Stoney. It has everything you need from Open Water to Deep Diver, so you can do all your training here. The wrecks give novice divers a good indication of what diving wrecks is all about without taking too many risks, so it provides everything you need as an instructor.
“As a pleasure-diver, it’s nice to have a look around and it’s always changing. There’s always pike to look for.”
Phil Morris, a PADI Rescue Diver from Narborough, has Stoney almost beside his back door. His legs were no longer good enough for football by 2005, which is when he switched to diving.
“I dived here at Stoney quite a lot when training,” he said, “testing kit and getting my weights sorted and everything that hangs off me like a Christmas tree in the right place. It’s a safe environment not only for training, but also for testing.
“I have a trip to Scotland coming up in a couple of weeks and this is a perfect environment to retune my kit and reacquaint myself with the water.
“My favourite part of the site is the Stanegarth. It’s a great introduction to wrecks and the dos and don’ts. I also like the fact that the site is stepped, and you can build up to the deeper dives and build confidence. This is ideal. If you learn to dive here, it pretty much sets you up to dive globally.
“The air station is reasonably priced, and they turn cylinders around quickly. The shop is fantastic and competitively priced and you have the pub and showers on site. I think it’s fantastic.”
Gillian Marks from Brackley was about to finish her Ocean Diver qualification with Towcester BSAC.
She had done seven dives in total, all at Stoney Cove. “I love it here,” she said.
“It’s all so exciting because diving is all new to me. There seems to be so much stuff down there to look at. I went to the Stanegarth the last time I was here and loved it, and the first time I saw a pike in here I thought it was absolutely amazing.
“Everybody says that once you dive in the sea you never go back to Stoney, but a lot people diving with Towcester BSAC do, so I’m sure I shall.”
FINALE AT THE BAR
After an evening dive in glorious sunshine, there’s no better way to relax than some food and a drink at the pub. The kitchen at Nemo’s Bar has been catering to the tastes of divers for many years, and the pub is a lovely place to relax after diving or training.
I learned to dive a rebreather at Stoney Cove, and so many divers have started or advanced their diving lives here that the place is justifiably called the National Diving Centre.
With the addition of the new “old” wreck, Stoney has opened a new chapter in British diving. Perhaps there will now be a new round of wreck sinkings, but instead of taking their attractions from scrapyards, inland dive centres will be home to our archaeological treasures.
As well as the Gresham Wreck, Stoney has quite a bit of history of its own.
There’s a video on the homepage of its website about an underwater treasure-hunt held in the 1950s. Stoney was as popular then as it is now, and I urge any diver thrilled by history to take a look.
And then come along and see some real history for yourself.
For details of diving at Stoney Cove, visit www.stoneycove.com
|WET-TESTING AT STONEY|
Divers got their chance to test new kit for themselves at the Cove in July – courtesy of the 2012 Diving Roadshow
When the latest kit comes out, the dive world seems to go mad for it. Kit announcements and reviews get us divers into a little frenzy.
For the few who have more money than sense, buying the latest gizmo or piece of kit is no problem, but what about the many divers who put their heart and souls into diving and have
to live on a budget
The mass of divers need as much information as possible before committing themselves
to shelling out several hundred pounds.
Playing around in the dive-shop or cruising the Internet will take your knowledge only so
far, so wouldn’t it be great if you could try out kit in a real-life situation
That’s what happened at Stoney Cove in July when dive gear manufacturers Fourth Element, Aqua-Lung/Apeks and Suunto got together and took over a section of its lower car park to give visiting divers the chance to try out their kit in the water.
Not in a pool, not after they had already bought it, but in the waters of Stoney Cove with no strings attached.
Rain threatened, but that didn’t dampen the visiting divers’ spirits.
The idea goes back to when Fourth Element and Apeks found themselves together at Lancashire site Capernwray, and the concept of a joint demonstration day was born.
Not that it was plain sailing. The first gathering at Anglesey was as close to a disaster as you can get, admits Jim Standing from Fourth Element, with appalling weather. But that didn’t deter the organisers, who decided that inland sites were perhaps a more bankable opportunity, so for 2012 a roadshow was organised.
Over a weekend in early July it was the turn of Stoney Cove to host the event, and while the weather had again been inclement, there was a good turn-out.
Airfills were provided for participants, who got to try the latest Suunto computers, Fourth Element undersuits and a range of Apeks gear, and talk to PADI about continued training.
You could effectively turn up with very little equipment and still go for a dive.
Stoney Cove’s manager Paul Manson reported that the busier day was the Sunday – not surprising as the rainfall on Saturday was astronomical. “We had all three car parks full on both days, though,” he said. “It was one-and-a-half the weekend before.
“We’ve been running demo days for individual companies for several years, but this was different, and all the divers I talked to were positive.”
Jim Standing agreed. “Over the weekend we had a good number of people,” he said, adding that even though the events had not been overly publicised, visitor response was positive.
Six of the seven Suunto UK team are divers, and they love talking diving. The event gave them the chance to overcome one of the biggest issues the company says it faces when selling equipment.
“We have a misconception issue about divers seeing our screens,” said Suunto’s John Chan. “By putting the computers onto divers, they could see first-hand how they work and perform.”
The aim is to continue the Diving Roadshows for the rest of this year and repeat them in 2013.
So if you’re thinking of buying some new kit and want to know what it can do before buying, keep an eye out on the manufacturers’ Facebook pages for more dates at the UK and Ireland’s most popular inland dive sites.