Suffolk’s Marine Archaeologist Reflects on East Anglian Coast

Stuart Bacon, a keen marine archaeologist and Director of the Suffolk Underwater Studies, was interviewed by one of the Holding Back the Tide volunteers. He reflects on his coastal memories and observations about coastal erosion in the region.   Listen to clip: Debris-of-Slaughden

“I study erosion along the coast. I deal with the whole coast, forty six point eight miles. Of that forty six point eight miles, eighteen miles is suffering from coastal erosion. The rest is either stable as at Sizewell, Thorpeness, Kessing or it’s secreting, in other words it’s building up. Here at Orford Ness you’ve got a build up of material to the south of the light house, to the north of the light house, you’ve got an eroding beach. So when it comes to it there’s only certain areas that are suffering from coastal erosion.

And the sea tends to even up places, at the moment it’s having a go at Bawdsey. If you look at an ordinance survey map of the coastline you will see a relatively smooth coastline. The reason for that is we have a prevailing south westerly wind which gives us that sort of coastline. If we go back to the fifteenth, sixteenth century when we had a prevailing easterly we get a [different] coastline and the Ness sticking out at an absolute point. So you don’t have the erosion we’re experiencing at the moment.

I’ve dived off Slaughden quite a bit and it’s a very strange area. You have this underwater tidal stream that takes you out to sea at Slaughden. I’ve been off the Martello tower. There’s a big iron gun out there that was part of the armament for the Martello tower and that’s on the sea bed. One of the main things about Slaughden is I’ve always been interested because it’s a lost village. It was very active, pub there, brick built houses, warehouses, ship building, a big complex.

So I’ve gone under there quite a bit and sometimes you go underneath and once more you don’t’ see anything it’s nearly always black. But you can feel sand, occasionally debris, you can go down on another occasion and you find a bottom like glass. And what it is, is polished London clay polished by the friction in the sand and it’s remarkable ‘cos you think you’re on a huge sheet of plastic. It’s London clay where it’s exposed. And in the clay there are holes, some as big as this room virtually and a diver quite long with his fins can float down into these holes and go down about a metre and at the bottom are the debris of Slaughden, brick, wood, all sorts of things.”

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