4125_Gareth-GardnerA brilliantly preserved snapshot of Tudor life recovered from the sea bed is here in Portsmouth’s new Mary Rose Museum.
Looking directly into the stern eyes of the ship’s master carpenter, I wanted to ask what life was really like on board the Tudor warship, Mary Rose. By the look on his face, I feel I would have only got a grunt or a one word Tudor expletive. I would have to find out for myself.
The Tudor Warship, Mary Rose marks a turning point in history. Launched in 1511, Henry VIII’s pride and joy, she served for 35 years until she tragically sank in the Solent. It is said she was almost certainly the first ship to fire a broadside in anger; but one of the last to use archers and longbows to shoot arrows.
Sadly all by 35 of the total 415 crew died when the ship toppled by a gust of wind in full sight of the French Fleet. The King watched horrified from Southsea Castle “They were drowned like ratten”, he was reported to have said.
No one knows exactly why she sank that day there are various theories. The wind caught her and plunged her open gun ports below the water. Was she ambitiously carrying too many canons making her top heavy?
I recently visited the innovative £35 million Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – the very same dockyard the warship was built over 500 years ago.
The new museum gives a thrilling insight into life on the ocean waves in Tudor times. It has been described as the ‘English Pompeii’.
‘This isn’t just about a ship, it’s about Tudor times’ says John Lippiett, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust. ‘It is a memorial to the 500 who lost their lives on the Mary Rose.’
The museum is dedicated to the men that lost their lives on that fateful day in 1545 during the Battle of the Solent.
The wreck was discovered in 1971 buried deep in the Solent silt. You may well remember the delicate operation of raising her in 1982.
She is now ready to be on display next the HMS Victory, in the new timber clad doughnut shaped building in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
It seemed to be a ‘giant airlock’ and time capsule.
The starboard half of ship has been preserved by being sprayed with fresh water, followed by a water soluble polymer until April this year. It is in the process of being dried, using giant airbags, for the next few years.
A representation of the portside has been built in a mirror image and displays artefacts roughly in position when she sank. Imaginative design allowed me to walk through the missing half of the ship and its contents while still able to see the original timbers.
Some of the original and fascinating items on display include sailors’ nit combs – even with the preserved Tudor nits on them – as well a fine collection of weapons of war.
Faces of some of the crew have been recreated by forensic science experts, using skulls found within the wreck: hence my conversation with the ship’s carpenter.
There is more to come as around only 30 per cent is currently displayed. There is a large hunk still left on the sea bed. I was informed that in 2017 the drying pipes are to be removed and the entire side of the ship can be on view.
I was very impressed with the friendly knowledgeable staff, some of whom have been involved in the recovery dives from the beginning, so have a shared passion for the project.
This is no dusty boring museum but a fascinating walk through the past Tudor nautical and social life. I suggest you book an early timed ticket as visitors are reluctant to leave this fascinating museum.