The Last Voyage of the Gloucester: Norfolk’s Royal Shipwreck, 1682

A major new exhibition has just opened at the Castle Museum in Norwich exploring the dramatic discovery of the Gloucester shipwreck off the coast of Norfolk.

The exhibition, The Last Voyage of The Gloucester: Norfolk’s Royal Shipwreck, 1682, opened on the 25th February and runs until September.

On display for the first time are artefacts rescued from the wreck, including clothes and shoes, navigational equipment and personal possessions. The exhibition is co-curated by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Norfolk Museums Service.  

The Gloucester, a warship carrying the future King of England and Scotland ran aground in heavy seas off the coast of Great Yarmouth On 6 May 1682. Within an hour the vessel sank, causing many lives to be lost, and for over 300 years, the wreck and its contents lay buried on the seabed.

No-one knew the Gloucester’s exact whereabouts until it was found in 2007 by by experienced divers and brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell and their friend, retired ex-Royal Navy submariner and diver James Little. The ship’s identity was confirmed in 2012 and its discovery was made public in June 2022. 
 
Lincoln said: “We’re delighted to be able to share these glimpses of the wreck site, more of which visitors will be able to see in the exhibition, and excited to finally share some of the items recovered for the first time. 

“The footage also highlights how vulnerable the wreck is, with fishing nets visible, and the need to secure the heritage future of the Gloucester and the connected artefacts. This is even more pressing given a recent earthquake off the Norfolk coast, we are really concerned about the impact this may have had on the site.” 

Julian added: “The discovery of the Gloucester has been an incredible adventure for all three of us, and we feel very honoured that its story is being told in such a professional and detailed manner.  

“We are confident that anyone who visits the exhibition will come away with a better understanding of the events of May 6, 1682, and not only their historical and political impacts, but also the human impact on the individuals involved.” 

Conserving Norfolk’s Royal Shipwreck

Looking to the long-term future, the project team is in the process of forming a new charity, ‘The Gloucester 1682 Charitable Trust’.

Chaired by General the Lord Dannatt, Norfolk Deputy Lieutenant and former head of the British Army, the trust will explore the possibility of a permanent museum in the coastal town of Great Yarmouth, provide governance and project support, and fundraise for further fieldwork and conservation. 

“We are incredibly excited about the exhibition and the future of the Gloucester project,” said Lord Dannatt. “We hope people will go along, experience the artefacts first-hand, and embrace the history of this important ship.  

“This is also only the beginning. We’re keen to keep the public interest going beyond the exhibition as the project evolves and we plan to secure the legacy of Norfolk’s Mary Rose.”