Yesterday we went to HM Naval Base Portsmouth and while we were there we saw the remains of the Mary Rose in its brand new building. We had been once before, at least two years ago, and although it had been interesting to see such an historical artefact I was, quite frankly, a little disappointed with the setting and the information we were given. All that has changed dramatically and it’s all for the good.
For the uninitiated, the Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s Flagship. He signed the warrant for her to be built less than a year after he came to the throne in 1509 and she sunk, just outside Portsmouth Harbour, during a battle with the French on 19th July 1545. She went down with an estimated 500 men on board and only 35 survived. The cause of the tragedy is still uncertain. One of the survivors recorded that the Mary Rose had fired the guns from one side of the ship and had turned to fire again, but dipped her open gunports below the water line and sank immediately. Other accounts suggest French gunfire; an unruly crew; a sudden gust of wind; instability; over-manning or over-gunning. Whatever the cause, the loss of the Mary Rose ensured her place in history.
The Tudors themselves tried to salvage the vessel. Barely a mile offshore, work began immediately to set her upright by pulling on her masts and positioning lifting cables. Removal of sails and rigging was achieved by 5th August but attempts to pull her upright on 8th failed, breaking the foremast and possibly the main mast too. Salvaging of accessible large objects apparently continued for several years after that.
Nearly 291 years later, on 16th June 1836, John Deane and William Edwards , diving to salvage the wreck of the Royal George at Spithead, were asked to investigate a common fishermen’s net snag. It had caught on an old timber, and close by was a gun. John Deane later sent this message:
“We beg leave to report to your Honourable Board that we have discovered by means of our diving apparatus, and picked up in the anchorage of Spithead a Copper 32 poundr Gun 12 feet long… the Inscription is, HENRICVS VIII”.
A project to salvage the Mary Rose at that time was abandoned when the costs started to outweigh the income.
As most people in this country will recall, the remains of the Mary Rose (part of the starboard side of the ship) were brought to the surface in 1982 after an astonishing feat of salvage and marine engineering. Since then the remains of the hull have been painstakingly dried out and preserved. They now sit in a brand new museum in Dock 3 of the HM Naval Base, Portsmouth.
The new setting is a massive improvement on what we saw two years or more ago. As you enter it proudly announces that the Mary Rose was: “The King’s Ship for 34 years; Under the Sea for 437 years; Drying Out for 35 years.” (It hasn’t quite finished the process of drying out yet the anticipated end date being sometime in 2017).
The building has three levels mimicking the missing port side of the ship. The objects found within the remains have been placed on those levels exactly opposite where they were found. It ‘brings to life’ the original layout of the ship and its size. At each end there are numerous items recovered from the wreckage including objects and tools from the carpenter’s cabin, plates, mugs, miscellaneous personal belongings, weapons, a backgammon board and even a complete brick hearth where meat was boiled for the crew!
I have never been a huge fan of historical artefacts – my biggest problem being my own lack of imagination and ability to see it ‘as it was’. The new setting for the Mary Rose and the items they have chosen to display certainly fired my imagination and I have no hesitation in recommending it to everyone I know and their children.
More information can of course be found on the website at http://www.maryrose.org.