The New Mary Rose Museum, at the Historic Dockyards in Portsmouth, England, will be a remarkable experience for visitors when it opens in time for London 2012. But visiting the small museum that tells the story now is remarkable too.
About 1,000 of the objects recovered from the Mary Rose are currently on display. More than 19,000 objects were retrieved from Henry VIII's flagship when it rested on the bottom of the Solent, the channel that separates England's south coast from the Isle of Wight. They include objects that don't exist anywhere else - that have only been seen in paintings or written about in contemporary accounts and inventories. One item, a musical instrument known as a still shawm, for example, was believed to have been invented 50 years after the Mary Rose sank in 1545. The instrument, a precursor of the oboe, went down and was recovered waterlogged but intact, in its box.
As of July 2010, 465 years after the Mary Rose heeled over and sank, the ship is out of sight undergoing preservation. Until 2011, she is being sprayed 24/7 with a mixture of water and polyethylene glycol, a wax that penetrates the timbers of the hull. When dry, the impregnated timbers should, like bog oak, last at least 70,000 years.
In 2012, when the new Mary Rose Museum opens to the public, the hull will be in a kind of hot box, drying out but visible through glass with her artifacts displayed over three levels, opposite. In 2016, the drying process will be complete, the glass will be removed and visitors will be able to traverse walkways that will pass through the hull.
Buying a Plank for the Mary RoseThe preservation of the Mary Rose and the creation of a museum to house her will cost £35million. So far, £29.5million has been raised, including, in 2008, the largest Heritage Lottery Fund grant ever awarded - £21 million. Among the many fund raising initiatives, one that might interest visitors is the chance to buy a plank. Many of the Mary Rose artifacts bear the cyphers or other marks engraved on them by the sailors who owned them. These marks are going to be etched on the the wooden outer cladding of the new museum. Donors who buy a plank (for £50 to £1,000) can have their own marks added.
And Why Does it Matter?
Like a lot of people, when the Mary Rose was raised in 1982, I was only marginally interested. I didn't really understand what all the fuss was about. She was a wrecked battle ship, not a treasure ship. So what?
I could not have been more wrong. Mary Rose holds a vital place in British history. The techniques used to preserve and retrieve her artifacts advanced the sciences of underwater archaeology and material conservation. The historical discoveries changed much of our understanding of Tudor England. Read on to find out why.