The Mary Rose

Portsmouth, United Kingdom

As a history enthusiast (a nicer way of saying a 'history nerd!') the Historic Dockyards were on the top of my list of places to see on my way to the Isle of Wight. The ferry departs from Portsmouth, and I loved the idea of seeing the remains of a ship that had spent centuries submerged in the sea, only to be resurfaced in modern times.

The Mary Rose was a Tudor era naval ship that sank in battle, she remained on the seabed for over 400 years before her remains were found and brought to the surface. The story of the resurfacing of the Mary Rose fascinates me more than the naval history of the ship. She can be visited at the Historic Dockyards in Portsmouth, purchase a combined ticket to see the Mary Rose, the Victory, the Warrior, take a harbour cruise as well as visit the other exhibits, it's worth the price.

The Mary Rose was launched in 1511 and was involved in various naval battles for the following 30 years. She became King Henry VIII's flagship and he watched her go down in battle in 1545, exactly what caused her to sink has been debated, it seemed to be a combination of an unexpected gust of wind, open gunports, modifications that had been made to her, had made her unstable. She listed to her rightside and sank into the Solent. Efforts were made to salvage her but she was stuck firmly into clay and she remained in the Solent, over time her exposed structure deterioated due to the actions of sand, water and various sea creatures. Eventually she disappeared into the clay to be mainly forgotten about.

In 1836 some fishermen got their nets caught in some underwater timbers and they contacted some divers, the original ones that can be seen in photos with metal helmets! They were able to salvage some artefacts including some bronze and iron guns. This identified the wreck as the Mary Rose.

One of these guns is in the museum.

The modern search for the Mary Rose began in the mid1960s and led to her being found in 1971 and eventually a Trust was set up to raise her to the surface and to preserve her. The Mary Rose was recovered from the Solent in 1982 and it's quite the feat to read about how the Trust members and volunteers went about retrieving her, not just the ship but also all the artefacts she had on board.

The remains of the ship were placed in a covered dry dock at the Historic Dockyards where she was built. In recent years a new building was built over the ship and this is the Mary Rose Museum that is open to the public.

To preserve the wooden ship that had been submerged for centuries, her wooden beams needed to be kept moist, first with filtered recycled water and then with polyethylene glycol, it wasn't until 2013 that the spraying of the glycol stopped and the process of controlled drying occurred until 2016, what you see now are the dry beams. 

The public are behind glass so it makes for awkward reflections, the viewing platforms are over several storeys so you can see different parts of the ship up close. At the top are the gunports and a canon placed as it had been originally.

The submerged Mary Rose was an archaeological dig with divers bringing up thousands of artefacts which have all been preserved and many are on display in the museum. The ship is on one side of a walkway and the displays on the other.

The Mary Rose housed a military crew of 200 sailors, 185 soldiers and 30 gunners. The remains of 179 have been found and examined, on the ship there were boys as young as 11 and the majority of the remains are of males under 30 years old. Few escaped her sinking as they were trapped beneath anti-climb nets below decks, only those on top of masts managed to survive.

The new museum is very well done, there is dim lighting to preserve the ship and the artefacts, one walkway was an airlock where you needed to close one set of door before another could open to let you in or out. You don't need to be hugely interested in military or naval history to enjoy the museum. I only knew the bare details of the story of the Mary Rose and learnt quite a lot by seeing the displays and the ship itself. 

The Historic Dockyards in Portsmouth are well worth a visit when touring around the U.K.