Be­low the sur­face, there can be a world of won­der

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - JO BRIGHOUSE -

I TURNED a cor­ner in the mu­seum and emit­ted the kind of gasp of amaze­ment you rarely hear out­side low-bud­get thrillers.

The Mary Rose, Henry VIII’S prize war­ship, stood be­fore me, half a hull en­cased in a gleam­ing box of glass. The ship’s be­long­ings were laid out on the port side in their orig­i­nal po­si­tions so that visi­tors could walk be­tween the hull and its con­tents on floor­boards that dip and rise in line with the ship’s curves.

I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced some good his­tory lessons in my time but noth­ing that came close to this. An em­bar­rass­ment of Tu­dor riches; a whole way of life pre­served in the anaer­o­bic silt of the So­lent. I saw ev­ery­thing from the leather mono­grammed pouches and be­long­ings of the rich cap­tains to Tu­dor nit combs, flasks, backgam­mon sets and the re­con­structed skele­ton of the ship’s dog, nick­named Hatch.

“She’s the only 16th-cen­tury war­ship on dis­play in the world,” said a mu­seum guide who saw me gaw­ping and came over to chat. “So much of what we know about Tu­dor life we know from the Mary Rose.”

But our gain was their tragic loss. While no one can agree on ex­actly what caused the ship to sink they do know it went down very quickly and with great loss of life (there were only 35 sur­vivors from a crew of more than 500).

“It was a huge blow,” my guide told me. “The bat­tle of the So­lent is one of the most im­por­tant events in Tu­dor his­tory and yet the only thing they seem to teach them in schools is the Span­ish Ar­mada.”

Mak­ing a men­tal note to swap my Ar­mada les­son for a new one, I asked him about the dis­cov­ery and preser­va­tion of the ship. Tu­dor his­tory aside; what is equally as­tound­ing is the most re­cent part of the story – how you can raise half an en­tire ship, and most of its be­long­ings, from a 437-year sleep on the ocean bed and keep it all in­tact. The sim­ple an­swer is: with great dif­fi­culty. There was a mil­i­tary his­to­rian called Alexan­der Mc­kee who wouldn’t give up till the ship was found; over 25,000 dives; an ar­chae­ol­o­gist named Mar­garet Rule who had to learn to dive so that she could su­per­vise the project from close up and, of course, the sim­ply in­cred­i­ble feat of lift­ing the hull in­tact.

I have vivid mem­o­ries of watch­ing the TV news re­ports as a child. Now I could have stayed gaz­ing for hours. Sadly, it was a mere 39 min­utes be­fore Mr Brig­house ra­dioed in for parental backup but the as­ton­ish­ment of the place re­mains undi­min­ished.

So much so that, back in our hol­i­day cot­tage I spent a happy hour trawl­ing the mu­seum’s web­site, tak­ing a longer look at arte­facts I only had time to glance at in the flesh. On one of the pages I no­ticed they were re­cruit­ing vol­un­teers to work at the mu­seum and I had a fleet­ing de­sire to run off and join them.

But come Septem­ber, I have places to be. New school, new class, new pos­si­bil­i­ties. The an­nual chal­lenge of sift­ing through the six-week anaer­o­bic silt to see what we can pull up to the sur­face.

Jo Brig­house is a pseu­do­nym for a pri­mary school teacher in the Mid­lands.she tweets @jo_brig­house

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