Ded­i­cated Places

An oc­ca­sional se­ries on small, lo­cal mu­se­ums ded­i­cated to one artist, group or sub­ject. By Huon Mal­lalieu

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Huon Mal­lalieu en­joys a visit to the Mary Rose Mu­seum and gets closer to the wrecked ship

The Mary Rose Mu­seum in Portsmouth his­toric Dock­yard re­opened in July 2016 af­ter a three-year makeover. Any­one who vis­ited it in its pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion, ad­mirable though that was, should re­turn, pre­pared to be both moved and im­pressed. There is a par­tic­u­lar power to wrecks that rise again. Those of an age to have been among the 60 mil­lion peo­ple who, on Oc­to­ber 11, 1982, watched what was then the long­est-ever tele­vi­sion out­side broad­cast are un­likely to have for­got­ten the emo­tion of the mo­ment when henry VIII’S flag­ship, Mary Rose, broke sur­face af­ter 437 years on the So­lent bot­tom. Swedes sim­i­larly re­mem­ber where they were in 1961 when Vasa was raised.

For 12 years, the tim­bers had to be con­stantly sprayed with wa­ter, later with a so­lu­tion of polyethe­lene gly­col, and could only be viewed through mist and glass. Now, one can share the air with the sta­bilised tim­bers and seem­ingly walk the length of the ship’s spine on the lev­els of three decks. This is an il­lu­sion, of course, as only the ma­jor part of the star­board side sur­vived un­der­wa­ter.

To one side as one walks is the ship, onto which are pro­jected an­i­ma­tions of the crew work­ing at their sta­tions and, on one’s other hand, is a vir­tual port side fur­nished with ac­tual sal­vaged ob­jects po­si­tioned as they would have been on the day she cap­sized— July 19, 1545. Rather touch­ingly, the an­i­ma­tions were acted by mem­bers of the mu­seum staff.

The new mu­seum has been con­ceived as an oys­ter, with the ship as pearl, but, from the out­side, it more re­sem­bles an el­lip­ti­cal mus­sel shell and its tim­ber-clad lower parts ref­er­ence tra­di­tional english boat sheds. The hand­some build­ing is by Wilkin­son eyre Ar­chi­tects; the in­te­ri­ors, the work of Pringle Brandon Perkins + Will, are low lit to cre­ate a dark, claus­tro­pho­bic be­low-decks at­mos­phere.

There were only 35 sur­vivors among the 500 men aboard and the re­mains of 179 in­di­vid­u­als and the ship’s dog were found among the thou­sands of arte­facts in the So­lent silt. Ninety-two have been par­tially re­con­structed and one has been buried in Portsmouth Cathe­dral. To­gether with their ac­cou­trements and equip­ment, they pro­vide us with a new un­der­stand­ing of Tu­dor life and death.

Fa­cial re­con­struc­tions have been cre­ated from skulls, us­ing the foren­sic tech­niques of crime in­ves­ti­ga­tors to bring the story of Mary

Rose and her crew to life. The many thou­sands of arte­facts on dis­play, some of which can be han­dled, along with re­con­struc­tions, in­clude per­sonal be­long­ings such as wooden bowls, leather shoes and many of the ship’s weapons, from long­bows to two-ton brass guns. Great changes had oc­curred dur­ing the 35-year ca­reer of Mary Rose—in war­fare and gun­nery as in Church and State—and th­ese are recorded in the hull it­self, as well as in the dry doc­u­ments of Tu­dor bu­reau­cracy.

Af­ter 12 years, Mary Rose can now be viewed at close quar­ters by mem­bers of the pub­lic

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