Graffiti depicting ships is not uncommon, and there are as many examples found inland as on the coast.
We might think that ship graffiti on the walls of a coastal church was simply the result of local sailors and their families sketching what they saw every day. The work of the survey nationwide, however, has shown that although many ship images are located in coastal churches, with particular concentrations around medieval ports, just as many are to be found inland – even as far from the coast as Leicestershire. It is also notable that the inland ships are seagoing vessels too rather than river craft. The ships vary from extremely simple depictions, with just a few rough lines representing the hull, and with or without a mast, to examples with details of planking, rigging, gun ports, flags, and people aboard.
In some churches, such as St Nicholas, Blakeney (Norfolk), and St Thomas, Winchelsea (Sussex) there is a distinct distribution pattern to the ships. At Blakeney, despite the whole church being covered by early inscriptions, all the ship graffiti appears on the south arcade, clustered around a side altar and an empty image niche. Remarkably, each ship was drawn respecting the other images around it, and it is believed that they were created over a period of at least two centuries.
It is suggested that many of these ship images were devotional in nature – perhaps made in thanks for a voyage safely undertaken, or as a prayer for a safe future voyage. It seems possible that the images represent informal versions of the votive ship models displayed within churches in the middle ages, and later.
Inscribed ships have been found recently in a number of Devon churches.