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Seafarers washed ashore

Cliffs and beach at Rottingdean: undated
From the private collection of Douglas d'Enno

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Unfortunate victims

It is a sad fact that a number of seafarers have been found washed ashore at the foot of Rottingdean’s village cliffs. Among the records of the coroner for Eastern Sussex covering, for example, the years of the First World War and shortly thereafter, are to be found brief but intriguing references to the unfortunate victims of the waves or enemy action.

Seven killed by German mine

In 1915, Herbert Sidney Bishop, aged 40, Petty Officer First Class, Royal Navy, died as a result of the hired minesweeping trawler on which he was serving striking a mine. He was one of seven crew of the Erin II  (the archive omits the roman numeral) who lost their lives when the vessel struck a mine and sank off the Isle of Wight on 19 October. The inquest summary states there was ‘no evidence of how the mine came to be where it was’ but internet research reveals that it had been laid by German submarine UC 5 off the Nab Lightship.

Crew buried in Rottingdean church

In May 1917 the work of another German submarine led to bodies being found on our foreshore. The defensively-armed SS Tycho, built 1904 and owned by Ellerman Lines Ltd of Liverpool, was travelling from Bombay to Hull with a general cargo and was torpedoed on 20 May by UB 40, 16 miles W½S from Beachy Head Lighthouse. Fifteen died. Three of the Tycho crew are buried in Rottingdean churchyard, two in the same grave (James Short, 58, from Hull and an Unknown) and Harry (supposed) Bateman, also from Hull, age unknown, in another.  His body, however, was washed ashore on Telscombe beach.

Lost while fishing at sea

Two years later, on 29 August 1919, Charles Frederick Burr, 39, of Western Road, Brighton, lost his life while fishing at sea and was washed up at Rottingdean. In the following spring an unknown male from the SS Cordier was found drowned here; the vessel had been making her first commercial trip from Nantes to Rotterdam loaded with iron ore and sank north of Alderney following a leak. Only four sailors were rescued by a Norwegian steamer.

Comments about this page

  • How depressing!

    By Diana (12/01/2014)
  • For those in peril on the sea! Please contribute generously to the Lifeboat charities.

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (12/01/2014)
  • This seems to be east of Rottingdean and looking back at Rottingdean Gap.  In the background the landing stage from the old Daddy Long Legs can be seen.

    By Peter Groves (13/01/2014)
  • Sadly it is a depressing fact that over the years so many brave seafarers have lost their lives due to the awesome power of the sea or enemy action during two world wars.  The sea eventually gives up its grim secret and bodies are often washed up on our beaches.  Recent tragic events are proof that the sea commands our utmost respect.   It is estimated that there are hundreds of sunken wrecks now “rusting in peace” deep below the English Channel many of them would have been coal burning ships used in the first half of the 20th century.  I dog walk daily (weather permitting) on the Undercliff walk between Saltdean and Rottingdean and I regularly find lumps of coal the size and shape of large beach pebbles.  I wonder!  Could this coal come from a sunken wreck and washed ashore over the decades by time and tide?   Last summer we collected bucket loads of this beach coal – it makes wonderful slow burning BBQ fuel!

    By Chris Wrapson (13/01/2014)
  • Sorry, Peter, the view is westward (since the cliff is on the right). The landing stage was the one at Ovingdean.

    By Douglas d'Enno (13/01/2014)
  • The picture was taken just to the west of the Rottingdean landing stage for Daddy Long-Legs and shows the Ovingdean Gap jetty in the distance. The house depicted was destroyed in the early 1900s as a result of coastal erosion. Have a look at James Gray pictures in volume 32, numbers 38,39,43,54,55,59 and 130 (the same picture is also reproduced as 70).

    By Andy Grant (14/01/2014)
  • I see, I guess it was taken standing on the Rottingdean landing stage!

    By Peter Groves (14/01/2014)
  • With reference to the date of the loss of the clifftop property (named ‘Cliff House’), James Gray is very tentative in his captions and his placing of the fall of the house in the early 1900s is incorrect. The property survived for a good many years thereafter. I have seen postcards depicting it as a ruin which date from the 1920s. Further evidence of the late date is provided by a feature in the postcard collectors’ magazine, one of the co-authors of whom is the highly respected Rendel Williams who runs the splendid Sussex postcard publishers’ site. The authors wrote:
    The village of Rottingdean is now protected by a recharged beach, sea walls, and massive concrete and rock groynes, but in Edwardian times a few flimsy, wooden groynes provided the only sea defences. Postcards record the fate of properties that lay too close to the retreating cliff edge. A card dating from about 1903 shows, for example, the once proud mansion of Cliff House perched on the cliff a short distance back from the brink. By 1910 the cliff edge had almost reached the south-western corner of the building. By 1914 the western end of the property had had to be demolished. The surviving portion of Cliff House was later abandoned by its owners and tramps moved in. It was demolished in the 1920s.
    (Battling the sea in East Sussex, Picture Postcard Monthly, July 2011, No 387)
    There are two references to the property dated as late as 1925 and 1926 respectively in the ESRO archives

    By Douglas d'Enno (15/01/2014)
  • The beach looks as though it was some way below the photographer’s feet to give this sort of perspective and such a good view of the house. I suspect the photo was probably taken from the Rottingdean landing stage itself, looking west.

    By Alan Hobden (16/01/2014)
  • The same thought occurred to me. Looking closely at the picture, it is just possible to make out the Daddy Longlegs car standing at the Ovingdean jetty. Apparently this was where it finished up after the railway fell out of use, and remained there for years, lashed to the jetty to prevent its accidental movement by the elements, before the scrap men moved in, round about 1910.

    By Mark Thompson (17/01/2014)

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