The Mystery of the Foudroyant’s Anchor

The wreck of the Foudroyant, Albert Eden Collection

Much has been written in recent years about the wreck of Nelson’s one-time flagship, Foudroyant, at Blackpool in 1897 and of artefacts from it. However, there has been no mention of its anchor, apart from an assertion that it was never recovered. As we shall see, this was not the case.

After the ship had dragged its anchor in a storm and run aground, the huge anchor was left embedded in the sand beyond the low water mark opposite the Metropole Hotel. During spring tides, it was clearly visible at low water. As it was considered a hazard to shipping its location was marked by a small buoy. It was only in April 1902 that a barge was hired and the anchor was hauled up and brought ashore with some difficulty.

The anchor and some 20 fathoms of cable (about 60ft of chain) were immediately put on display near the landward end of North Pier. Five years earlier, the main length of the pier had been widened from 28ft to 48ft and, significantly, the anchor was at the point where the widened section met the narrower sloping decking leading to the entrance. It would have been the most convenient place to haul the anchor onto the pier.

The Foudroyant anchor visible on the pier from an image taken from the Blackpool Tower in 1902, courtesy of Ted Lightbown

1902 was not the best year to have placed the anchor in such a spot, as, during the autumn, work began to move the pier entrance back 60 feet to prepare for the widening of the Promenade. To compensate for the loss of pier, its entrance was widened by 100 feet and, the following January, the framework of the present Arcade building was erected on it. The anchor can only have been in the way at this time, but it is far from clear what was done with it. No reference to its removal has so far been found in the newspapers of the day, yet the anchor does not appear on photographs taken after the Arcade was completed.

But there is another aspect to the matter. Minutes of the Board of the Blackpool Pier Company during May 1902 refer to letters from G. W. Cobb, the former owner of the Foudroyant, and from the Receiver of Wrecks respecting ownership of the anchor. In July, October and February 1903 there are references to letters from the Board of Trade about the anchor, but no further details are given. The final mention is in minutes dated 28th February 1903 when a “letter from Mr. Cobb re removal of Foudroyant Anchor was read.” It is not known if Cobb subsequently came to Blackpool and took the anchor away. G. Wheatley Cobb lived at Caldicot Castle, which is now open to the public. Among the Foudroyant items to be seen there is its figurehead, but the Castle’s Development Officer has confirmed that they do not have the anchor.

We have to move forward to 1925 before further evidence is encountered. An article in the Gazette & Herald during February that year stated that rough seas had exposed the massive steel cable of the Foudroyant under the North Pier. The cable, weighing many tons, was to be seen at low tide twisted round the bases of the iron columns on the north side of the pier, and it had been many years since so much of the great cable had been visible, it being generally hidden by the sands. The links of the cable were said to be about two inches in diameter and each probably weighing 30lb. A photograph accompanied the article and, used with other photographs, it is possible to identify the particular column around which the cable rested. The sand under the pier is at a much higher level today.

By the end of 1902 the Pier Company’s board members must have come to regard the anchor as a liability, in view of the pier alterations and the pressure from Cobb and the Board of Trade. It is tempting to speculate that they might have arranged for the anchor to be discretely dropped over the edge of the pier onto the sands below – perhaps after a hole had been dug.

Could it still be down there?

Ted Lightbown

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