Hunt for the missing gun

Early in 2019 a group of archaeologists and volunteers from Renaissance Knaresborough started to find evidence for the last resting place of a missing cannon. A small 4lb carronade gun, about 4 foot long, probably from the Crimea Peninsula war. It used to reside on a plinth on the banks of the River Nidd, just below the railway bridge.

One dark night back in the 1930’s it disappeared. Local information thought that a group of lads had a bit too much happy juice and decided to move the gun.

This being a bit heavy, the second choice was just to topple it into the river. And there the story might have ended if it were not for Liz Baxandall and her team from Renaissance Knaresborough. She decided the town would like it back if at all possible, and so she started to assemble a team to try and find the missing cannon. Archaeologists, historians, cannon experts and last but not least a team of divers willing to brave the murky waters of the river.

Harrogate BSAC team were ready and eager to try our hand at treasure hunting.

River surveys were made to ensure safety, permissions were obtained from councils and river bank residences and a date set; Tuesday 16 th July at 7.00pm. Long summer days gave excellent opportunity for all to assemble and enjoy the spectacle.

News crews from BBC Radio York and Knaresborough newspapers joined the throng of spectators, and a team of 5 intrepid divers in full dry suit kit from Harrogate BSAC, complete with a surface cover team backing them up, came striding down the road to the dive site. Marigolds cafe on the banks was the place of entry and the owner, Gerry Connelly, had kindly given his blessing to use his pontoons as a staging and entry point.

The dive itself was a classic search and recovery effort with the 5 divers roped out in a linear search pattern about 1 meter apart. We made sure we had a surface marker at one end and a surface cover diver holding the other end of the line to keep us in dive order. This meant we could cover a swathe of 10meters of river bed for the 100m of probable search area.

The search team had varying depths to contend with from 0.5m at the shore edge to 4m deep in the centre. Starting downstream, so the silt could be washed behind the divers, we used our best torches and started the sweep with finger tips and lots of hope.

No luck. A reverse sweep was completed but the silt had done its best to make it a Braille only dive. 90 years of river flow and intervention had done its job. Time for the dive debrief in the “Worlds End” pub.

We didn’t find the cannon, but we did find lots of other historical information such as old signs, dressed stones from previous structures and loads of small fish testifying the condition of the water. One thing we did find was a very large and heavy cast iron wood burning stove in about 3m of water near the mid stream. This could only have come from a houseboat called the Marigold which was scuttled in the 1930’s. Is there anything else down there? Well the challenge now is to dive the river again next year, in the summer of 2021, to try to recover further historical artefacts for Knaresborough town. At the very least we can help clean the river of some of the century’s debris.

Farne Islands

Whirl Rocks – An Unlikely Dive

The wreck of the Jan Van Ryswyk lies at the base of Whirl Rocks, a submerged reef East of the Knivestone, which is the furthest out island at the Farnes. This is an exposed site with very strong tides, and it can only be dived when the weather conditions and slack water are perfect.
As such it is not dived very often! The sea was calm and low water slack was predicted to be around 10:20am. Because of the big spring tides, the slack window would be short, allowing for only one wave of divers from a RHIB.

The boat launched from Beadnell with the tractor service now in operation after the COVID 19 lockdown had been eased. We arrived on site with some tide still running but visibly calming. Surface conditions were good.
The engine block is very impressive, not dissimilar to that of the Somali, and we could easily see the crankshaft, the prop shaft, the spare prop, and a lot of flattened plates, all covered in life. We moved the shot weight clear of the wreckage to allow for an easier recovery, but as we swam away from the boilers with the reef wall on our left we could already feel the tide starting to turn and flood south. We had only been down 10 minutes!

We moved north east into the tide, passing a mooring bollard on the sea bed, and round the corner of the vertical reef wall into a gulley. Every surface was covered in anemones and dead mens fingers, and as we turned the corner a large shoal of fish swam past out into open water, revealing an admiralty anchor. Behind this the gulley narrowed with an increasing amount of wreckage crammed into it; winch, anchor chain, plates, and with everything smothered in marine life.

Retracing our steps out of the gulley we found the tide had increased. It was impossible to swim against, so we just went with it, drifting quickly back over the wreckage towards the boilers and the massive engine block clearly visible behind them. We managed to get some shelter behind the engine, and one of the boilers has the outer casing removed exposing the fire tubes and inner construction. Somewhere inside amongst those tubes is one of my shot weights from several years ago. It was so well stuck that we had to cut the rope in order to get free!

The current had really picked up now, so leaving the safety of the wreckage James sent up his DSMB and we ascended, drifting quickly past beautiful reef walls covered in marine life. By the time we hit the surface we were well south of the Knivestone.

What a fantastic dive. If you have never managed to get there, I hope these photos will give some indication as to how beautiful and special this dive site is.

Harrogate BSAC