Newport's medieval ship 'probably French'
NEWPORT’S medieval ship is likely to have been built in France, new evidence suggests.
The ship discovered in the mud of the bank of the River Usk in June 2002 by workers building the Riverfront Arts Centre had for years been thought to be Portuguese.
But a small silver coin sealed into the ship’s keel as a good-luck charm has now been traced to the French village of Crémieu, in the Isère region of Central France.
The ship project curator Toby Jones said yesterday that all evidence now points to the world-renowned ship being French - and civic dignitaries from the village where the coin was struck are due to visit the ship this weekend.
‘The discovery of Portuguese coins at first made us think that the ship was built in that country or in Northern Spain,’ said Councillor Charles Ferris, an avid supporter of the ship who has become something of an expert on old coins and actually mints replicas himself.
‘The petit-blanc made in the reign of Louis XI Louis Dauphin and nicknamed Louis the Spider because of the web of intrigue he wove around himself indicates French origins.
‘It doesn’t make any sense for a ship to be built in Portugal and then have a foreign coin sealed into the keel.
‘We still think the ship was built on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, but possibly a couple of hundred miles from where first thought.’ Newport’s ship has been the centre of considerable interest among maritime historians and the wider academic world after it was unearthed from the foundations of what was to become the Riverfront.
Three-quarters complete but waterlogged, she was removed to an industrial estate, where her timbers are now being soaked in wax preservant.
A one-tenth scale model of the vessel created from computer-generated plans has revealed the intricate craftsmanship that went into her construction.
Though to be a general cargo vessel plying the Bay of Biscay and the North Sea and inshore Atlantic at least as far North as Britain, she ended her days in Newport in the middle of the 15th Century.
While French origins could never be entirely dismissed, salvaged contents strongly indicated that her keel was laid in Portugal or Northern Spain, the port city of San Sebastian being most favoured.
Fish scales found in the bilge suggest that she may even have sailed as far as the Newfoundland Banks, trading in dried cod for consumption on Friday fast days.
Shoes, combs and other small items belonging to the crew have been salvaged, but close examination of the petit blanc (little white one) links the ship with a specific person for the very first time.
Mr Ferris has raised more than £10,000 for the ship preservation project by himself striking replica coins for sale to the public, often entering fully into the spirit of the age by wearing medieval clothes.
It was his idea that the French coin should be examined, its origins traced and contact made with the town in which it was minted.
‘We think the coin was minted by Jacques Vincent, a coiner of Crémieu and the first person to have his name definitely linked with the vessel,’ Mr Ferris said.
‘The petits blancs were minted in 1446 and again in 1457, which fits in perfectly.
‘We got in touch with the small French town and they were absolutely delighted.
‘Every year, the people of Crémieu have a medieval fair and blank coins are included in the town’s coat-of-arms.
‘Michelle Zahi, who is the medieval fair’s chief organiser, is coming to see the ship and we will be sending back with her one of our specially-produced tankards to give to the mayor, M. Moyne-Bressand.
‘I would like to go to Crémieu and mint some coins there.
‘ It’s nice to think that even after 600 years, the old ship is still linking countries.’
Ship was probably French - curator
Toby Jones, archaeologist and curator of the Newport Ship, confirmed that all of the evidence now points towards the ship being French.
He said: ‘The weight of the evidence suggests that it’s French but it’s not yet conclusive.’ Mr Jones said how other things such as the way the ship was built and its style all suggest the ship was from that area of France.
He said he was confident the ship is from the corner of the border area between Spain and France and said how important the coin was in dating the ship.
The archaeologist said the coin was only minted for a couple of months in 1446 and so the ship could not have been built before this.