Bell finally tolls for the SS Ladoga

The Dive 125 crew who found the shipwreck off Hastings.
The Dive 125 crew who found the shipwreck off Hastings.

A SHIPWRECK at the centre of a century old mystery has finally been identified – 109 years after it sank off the East Sussex coast.

Up until earlier this year the underwater remains of the SS Ladoga was known purely as Wreck 355. That was until a dive crew from Eastbourne made an important discovery amid the ruins.

A boat from local firm Dive 125 headed out to explore the wreck on Saturday and during their trip one of their number, Pete Hodkin, unearthed a ships bell, complete with the name SS Ladoga engraved on it.

Mr Hodkin, who joined the crew from his home in Bedforshire, struggled to contain his delight.

He said, “Finding a bell is one of the most exciting and valuable things a diver could find. It is usually the only positive means of identification.

“Before jumping in, the boats skipper told us to bring up anything we find that might help identify the wreck.

“I was swimming along when I saw something round in the sand. At first I thought it was a plate.

“As I got a bit closer I thought it could be a bucket but as I picked it up I realised it was a bell. My first thought was ‘wow, what a find’.

“It was the most exciting thing I had ever found.”

With the boat’s name now known, researchers confirmed it had sunk off the coast of Hastings back on March 15, 1903, after a collision which claimed the life of three men.

It was a steam cargo ship that was built by William Doxford and Sons Ltd in Sunderland in 1892 and Mr Hodkin now faces a 12-month wait to see whether the rightful owner of the bell puts in a claim.

If not, he has promised to hand it over to a museum in Hastings.

Dave Ronnan, the co-owner of Dive 125, said a number of artefacts had been found on the site over the years, including a Wedgewood cup.

Mr Ronna, who has dived the wreck countless times himself, said, “The cup was made between 1940 and 1950.

“This led us to believe that the ship was probably a casualty of the Second World War.

“We now know that the ship sank in 1903. So, how the cup got there is a mystery.

“It was possibly dropped from an angling or dive boat. It just shows how incidental finds may not be conclusive.”

The SS Lagoda is the ninth wreck Dive 125 has helped identify. Others include the War Monarch, Clara, and Ville de Bordeaux in Eastbourne.

Pictured: The Dive 125 crew which found the wreck