Cannon raised from rare Elizabethan wreck off Alderney: New museum on Channel Island will be devoted to artefacts from Armada supply ship. Bill Brown reports

HALF A MILE off the tiny Channel Island of Alderney last night a team of divers raised an Elizabethan cannon 100 feet from the wreck of the only ship of the period ever found.

Fred Shaw, the diver who found the cannon, flicked the switch on an air bottle to fill a buoyancy bag which raised the cannon to the surface. It had lain undisturbed for more than 400 years.

After four years at a conservation centre in Britain, the cannon will be returned to Alderney where it will take pride of place in a special museum dedicated to the wreck. The museum will eventually contain more than 1,000 items already retrieved from the wreck.

A number of eminent archaeologists have said that the wreck is as important as the Mary Rose because it is the only warship ever found dating back to Elizabeth I's long reign.

The mission to raise the cannon was the culmination of four years' hard work, a labour of love started by a group of Alderney divers and finished with the help of a team of experienced archaeologists.

The wreck is believed to be the Makeshift, a 60ft pinnace from Drake's squadron in the fleet that defended Britain from the Armada, which sank half a mile from Alderney in 1592.

Her cargo of armour, musket and personal possessions is providing a unique insight into a little-known era of maritime history.

Bertie Cosheril first discovered the wreck 14 years ago when one of his lobster pots snapped up an old, encrusted musket. No one was particularly interested, but Mr Shaw, a local salvage diver, decided to take another look. 'As I slipped over the side, Bertie said: 'Find us a cannon.' I dropped down 100 feet and landed on two,' Mr Shaw said. Experts initially dated the wreck as 19th century; it was not until 1991 that examination of pottery recovered by the divers established its real history.

The archaeological exploration is being led by two of Britain's best-known marine archaeologists, Mike Bowyer and Mensun Bound.

They are both full of praise for the local diving team. 'In many countries the submerged cultural history has been pillaged. The local divers here have done an incredible job,' Mr Bound, director of MARE, Oxford University's specialist marine archaeology unit, said.

The unit has also discovered 20 extremely rare brass apostles, small containers which would have been filled with a charge of powder. They were known as apostles because soldiers carried 12 on a bandolier across their chest.

The Makeshift was about the same length as the Golden Hinde, on which Drake sailed around the world, 70 tons in weight with between seven and nine cannon. The 15-strong team are just completing their second summer session on the wreck. They will be back next year but are still limited by lack of finance.

The remains of the hull are covered in several feet of sand and as the vessel is believed to have been a supply ship for an English army fighting the Spanish army in Brittany, it is almost certain to yield a treasure trove of artefacts in the years to come.