Today (the day I’m writing this, wifi may cause delays) is just 2 days of exploring left before we board a train for London and then fly home. I’m still having a hard time realizing this is almost over. Today, however, that feeling was out weighed by finally getting to visit a place that I’ve been looking forward to for a couple years now.
The Mary Rose Museum is the home of the remains of the Mary Rose, a warship that belonged to Henry VIII. It was built in 1510, and 35 years later, it sank during the Battle of the Solent. Of the 400 men on board, only 35 survived. The ship sank to the bottom of the sea bed, taking the objects on board and the men’s remains with it ( as well as one terrier type dog). There it would lie, covered with silt, for years to come.
In 1823 the ship was rediscovered when two men with primitive diving helmets went down to find what had been snagging fishermens nets. They found a large gun that had and identifying mark, showing that it belonged to the arms of Henry VIII. For a few years the salvaged some items, before abandoning their project.
Moving forward more than 100 years, to when Alexander McKee started to look for wrecks in the Solent waters ( our guide today pointed out that he was looking for one, the Mary Rose, but it sounded better to say he was looking for any he might find) an old chart and sonar imaging led to finding the ship once again.
During the 1970’s a number of excavations took place. By the end of the decade it was determined that nearly half the ship was still intact ( the rest having been eaten away over time by water dwelling organisms that eat wood and metal). It was after this determination that excavations increased and eventually the remains of the hull itself were brought up. A massive conservation project continues to this day. The museum was literally built around the ship, which was placed in a dry dock in almost the same place it was originally built.
So that brings us to today. After a two hour train ride we arrived at Portsmouth Harbor. At the museum we were ushered behind the scenes to meet with one of the former archeologists, who gave us a private talk about the ship and the men on board.
The men who went down with the ship are now telling their stories. When the ship was excavated the remains of more than 100 men were found, some still dressed in their leather clothing and shoes. Some of the men were found with items that likely belonged to them, and helped identify them. The remains of a few of these men are on display at the museum, next to their belongings and helping tell the story of the Mary Rose to the public.
They are aided by that terrier I mentioned earlier. The skeleton of a dog was found by the door of the ships carpenters cabin. He may have been a pet, but more likely he was on board to help control vermin. He was given the name “Hatch” by local school children and now is a mascot for the site.
Back to our tour, after the discussion we were taken out to the exhibition. Nothing really prepares you for seeing a 500 plus year old ship in front of you. Despite the glass protecting it, and the pipes that supply air to dry it, the latest step in the ongoing preservation plan, it’s a marvel to see. On each level is a collection of artifacts, that are in positions that mirror where they would have been on the ship. There is then a gallery on each level that displays artifacts.
I was more than impressed with the layout and how they presented everything. It was engaging, without being dumbed down at all.
Overall it was a great experience. It was a great taste of Tudor history ( one of my favorite periods), and an excellent example of archeology in action.