1796 Account of the Submerged Forest

1796 Account of the Submerged Forest

Account of the Submarine Forest on the Coast of Lincolnshire, at Addlethorpe, Ingoldmells, Huttoft, Sfc.

“It was a common report in Lincolnshire, that a large extent of islets of moor, situate along its coast, and visible only in the lowest ebbs of the year, was chiefly composed of decayed trees. These islets are marked in Mitchell’s Chart of that coast, by the name of clay huts; and the village of Huttoft, opposite to which they principally lie, seems to have derived its name from them. In the month of September, 1796, I went to Sutton, (le Marsh,) on the coast of Lincolnshire, in the company of Sir Joseph Banks, to examine their extent and nature. The 19th of the month, being the first day after the equinoctial full moon, when the lowest ebbs were to be expected, we went in a boat, at half-past 12 at noon, and soon after set foot upon one of the largest islets then appearing. Its exposed surface was about 30 yards long, and 25 wide, when the tide was at the lowest. A great number of similar islets were visible around, chiefly to the eastward and southward; and the fishermen, whose authority on this point is very competent, say, that similar moors are to be found along the whole coast, from Skegness to Grimsby, particularly off Addlethorpe and Mablethorpe. The channels dividing the islets were at the time we visited them, wide, and of various depths; the islets themselves ranging generally from cast to west in their largest dimension.

“We visited them again in the ebbs of the 20th and 21st; and, though it generally did not ebb so far as we expected, we could notwithstanding ascertain, that they consisted almost entirely of roots, trunks, branches, and leaves of trees and shrubs, intermixed with some leaves of aquatic plants. The remains of some of these trees still standing on their roots; while the trunks of the greater part lay scattered on the ground in every direction. The bark of the trees and roots appeared generally as fresh as when they were growing; in that of the birches particularly, of which a great quantity was found, even the thin silvery membranes of the outer skin were discernable. The timber of all kinds, on the contrary was decomposed and soft, in the greatest part of the trees; in some however it was firm, especially in the knots. The people of the country have frequently found among them very sound pieces of timber, fit to be employed for several economical purposes.

“The sorts of wood which are still distinguishable, are birch, fir and oak. Other woods evidently exist in these islets, of some of which we found the leaves in the soil; but our present knowledge of the comparative anatomy of timber, is not so far advanced as to afford us the means of pronouncing with confidence respecting their species. In general, the trunks, branches and roots of the decayed trees were considerably flattened; which is a phenomenon observed in the Sortebrand or fossil wood of Iceland, and which Scheuchzer remarked also in the fossil wood found near the lake of Thun, in Switzerland. The soil to which the trees are affixed, and in which they grew, is a soft greasy clay; but, for many inches above its surface, the soil is entirely composed of rotten leaves, scarcely distinguishable to the eye, many of which may be separated by putting the soil in water, and dexterously and patiently using a spatula, or a blunt knife. By this method I obtained some perfect leaves of ilex aquafolium [holly], which are now in the herbarium of Sir Joseph Banks; and some other leaves, which, though less perfect, seem to belong to some species of willow. In this stratum of rotten leaves, we could also distinguish several roots of arundo phragmites*

“These islets, according to the most accurate information, extend at least twelve miles in length, and about a mile in breadth. The water without them, towards the sea, generally deepens suddenly, so as to form a steep bank. The channels between the several islets when the islets are dry, in the lowest ebbs of the year, are from 4 to 12 feet deep; their bottoms are clay or sand, and their direction is generally from east to west. A well dug at Sutton, by Joshua Searby, shows that a moor of the same nature is found under ground, in that part of the country, at the depth of sixteen feet; consequently, very nearly on the same level with that which constitutes the islets. The disposition of the strata was found to be as follows:

Clay ——————————————————————————————16 feet.

Moor, similar to that of the islets——————————————————————–3 to 4 feet.

Soft moor, like the scourings of a ditch bottom, mixed with shells and silt—-20 feet.

Marly Clay———————————————————————————–1 foot.

Chalk Rock——————————————————————————1 to 2 feet.

Clay—————————————————————————————–31 yards.

Gravel and water; the water has a chalybeate taste.

“This moor extends over all the Lincolnshire Fens, and may be traced as far as Peterborough on the south and Grimsby on the north, abounding with trunks and roots of trees. Little doubt can be entertained of the moory islets of Sutton, being a part of this extensive subterraneous stratum, which, by some inroad of the sea, has been there stripped of its covering of soil. The identity of the levels; that of the species of trees; and above all the flattened shape of the trunks, branches, and roots, found in the islets, which can only be accounted for by the heavy pressure of a superinduced stratum, are sufficient reasons for this opinion.

“I am inclined to suppose the original catastrophe which buried this forest, to be of a very ancient date; but I suspect the inroad of the sea which uncovered the decayed trees of the islets, to be comparatively recent. The state of the leaves and of the timber, and also the tradition of the neighbouring people, concur to strengthen this suspicion. Leaves and other delicate parts of plants, though they may be long preserved in a subterraneous situation, cannot remain uninjured, when exposed to the action of the waves and of the air. The people of the country believe, that their parish church once stood on the spot where the islets now are, and was submerged by the inroads of the sea; that, at very low water, their ancestors could even discern its ruins; and that even their present clock belonged to the old church. So many concomitant testimonies, incline me to believe their report, and suppose that some of the stormy inundations of the North Sea, which in these last centuries have washed away such large tracts of land on its shores, took away a soil resting on clay, and at last uncovered the trees which are the subject of this paper.”

Source: A paper in the Philosophical Transactions, Volume Lxxxix, p. 145. By Joseph Correa de Serra, L. L. D. F. B. S. and A. S. written c1796

Note: * I understand this to be a type of pine

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