An explorer whose quest to uncover Suffolk’s lost city led him diving into the North Sea has died, aged 90. 

Marine archeologist Stuart Bacon was the first person ever to find evidence of the medieval city of Dunwich.  

“There’s something about Dunwich that gives you this awesome feeling,” Mr Bacon said during an interview in 2015. “It’s a deep feeling, once you’re down there, in the dark.” 

In its heyday of the 13th century, the place was capital of the Kingdom of the East Angles and would have been a bustling port city with a thriving shipbuilding industry. 

However, powerful storms hitting the east coast during the 14th century ensured that much of Dunwich was lost to the sea. 

Mr Bacon had visited Dunwich as a child and was filled with determination to uncover the secrets of the lost city. 

When he qualified as a diver as a young man, he threw himself into learning everything he could about the lost city.  

“A lot of so-called experts suggested that all of Dunwich had been washed away. But that’s not the case. It’s there, if you can find it,” Mr Bacon explained. 

East Anglian Daily Times: In 1994, Mr Bacon and his team discovered an eight-foot cannon thought to have come from a Spanish Armada vessel. Image: Archant Archive (Jamie Niblock)In 1994, Mr Bacon and his team discovered an eight-foot cannon thought to have come from a Spanish Armada vessel. Image: Archant Archive (Jamie Niblock) (Image: Archant Archive)

In 1972, he discovered the ruins of Dunwich’s All Saints church, its tower an eerie sight looming through the dark waters covered in crabs, lobsters and pink sponges. 

During a subsequent dive, Mr Bacon discovered the ruin of St Peter’s church. He had developed the ingenious method of taking a rope which was exactly the length between the beach to where he estimated the ruin should be, some 400 metres out to sea. 

At 8am one morning, Mr Bacon was waiting for two fellow divers to join him, but they never arrived. Mr Bacon took to the sea alone. He was “plodding away” when the rope became taught, telling him he was swimming in the location where the ruin should be. He looked down – and there were the ruins of St Peter’s church.  

Mr Bacon’s findings were the first of their kind, and paved the way for a full survey of the seabed which was carried out decades later, which provided a much fuller picture of what the city would have been like centuries before. 

He later published a study of his findings, Ancient Dunwich: Suffolk’s Lost City, which was co-authored with his wife of many years, Jean Carter. 

A friend of Mr Bacon's described him as “hugely knowledgeable” with an unbridled passion for Suffolk’s shores and the secrets of the sea off its coast. 

Richard Cornwell, who served for many years as a volunteer with the Suffolk Underwater Studies unit, of which Mr Bacon was director, said: “Stuart was dedicated to exploring the Suffolk coast – both the shipwrecks and lost buildings under the waves and its ever-changing coastline. 

“His work as a diver, exploring and retrieving artefacts, often in treacherous and uncomfortable conditions in all weathers, sometimes working by touch with virtually nil visibility because of the thick North Sea sediment, was amazing and his discoveries have been vitally important in helping us to understand the history of our coast and chart its changes over more than 1,000 years.  

“His work at places such as Dunwich, Sole Bay and Walton Fort at Felixstowe is nationally important.” 

Mr Cornwell, a retired EADT journalist, said: “I interviewed Stuart many times over the past 40 years and it was always a privilege to chat to him. He was hugely knowledgeable and always so interesting and passionate about his work as a marine archaeologist and so keen to help others understand his topic and encourage their enthusiasm.

"He was kind and generous, had a lovely sense of humour and was easy and fun to work with.” 

Stuart Bacon died on January 9, 2023 at his home in Dallinghoo.