wendylady1 (wendylady1) wrote,

1. The Mary Rose Exhibition


Geoff Hunt Sinking


Last weekend, the first part of our two week break started with a trip off down to Sussex, with me recovering from a very nasty stomach bug that had me off work for three days !! Nothing daunted, I dosed myself up with Lomotil and hoped for the best !!

We set off for Kent first, as we had a date with the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, and a Saturday evening performance of 'The Rocky Horror Show', celebrating its 40th anniversary - (wow, is it really that long since I saw the original cast in the King's Road ?!!) Russ, who hadn't seen it before, was delighted that the entire audience did indeed dress up to the nines, in a whole range of costumes from the show - marvellous stuff !!

Our plan for the weekend was to drive over to Portsmouth on Sunday morning, after breakfast, to see the brand new purpose-built dry-dock exhibition-hall housing the newly recovered Mary Rose - Henry VIII's favourite and most-prized gunship, built for fighting the fiercest sea-battles, but fatally scuppered in the Solent by what sounds like a a chain of unfortunate events, and sunk without trace until now !!

Here's the low-down blurb - it's really interesting too - from the official website, for those of you who don't know about the Mary Rose - salvaging this legendary ship has been a major event in maritime history, and a really big deal in the UK !! Here's the website link for anyone who wants to read more:-


Henry VIII inherited the nucleus of a royal fleet from his father Henry VII, including great ships like the Regent and the Sovereign. As he was faced with the ever-present threat of strong French and Scottish navies, Henry wasted no time in building up his navy, and Portsmouth became a hive of activity. By the 1520s Henry had established a permanent ‘Navy Royal,’ the ancestor of today’s Royal Navy.

The earliest reference to the Mary Rose by name appears in a record of a payment made by Henry VIII for bringing the ship to the River Thames. While it is often claimed that the Mary Rose was named after Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's sister, there is no evidence for this. It's more likely the ship was named after the Virgin Mary, who was also known at the time as “The Mystic Rose”. The Mary Rose was a vast ship in her day. She was built from the timber of almost 600 large oaks, which is approximately 40 acres of woodland.#

The Mary Rose first saw battle in 1512, in a naval operation with the Spanish against the French. The English attacked the French and Breton fleets in the English Channel, while the Spanish attacked them in the Bay of Biscay. Henry VIII’s Lord High Admiral was the 35-year-old Sir Edward Howard, who chose the Mary Rose as his flagship. He had 18 ships in his fleet carrying over 5,000 men. Howard’s expedition led to the capture of 12 Breton ships and a four-day raiding tour of Brittany, where the English fought local forces and burnt a number of villages. The fleet returned to Southampton and was visited by Henry VIII before setting sail again for Brest. The English ships met a French-Breton fleet at the battle of St Mathieu, battering them with heavy gunfire. English troops boarded the Breton flagship, the Cordeliere, which caught fire and sank. Over 600 French sailors were killed in the battle, and English sailors raided more towns near Brest until storms forced the fleet back to England.

In 1513 the Mary Rose took part in a race against other ships in the English fleet, and was then chosen again by Howard as his flagship for another mission against the French fleet near Brest. The French had recently reinforced their fleet with galleys from the Mediterranean. Howard made a daring attack on the French galleys, boarding one of them himself but losing his life in the process. Demoralised, the fleet limped back to Plymouth. Thomas Howard was appointed as the new Lord Admiral, and started planning a new attack. In August 1513 the Scots joined forces with the French, going to war against England.

The Mary Rose was involved in skirmishes against the French throughout the summer, but both sides were by now exhausted. The war was over by the autumn, thanks to a new treaty and the marriage of Henry’s sister Mary to the French King Louis XII.

The Mary Rose was kept in reserve from 1522 to 1535 . Despite the ever-present threat of war, particularly from Scotland, the years were quiet ones for the Mary Rose. In 1527 she was caulked and repaired in a new dock at Portsmouth. Although there is little surviving documentary evidence, it seems that the Mary Rose was reinforced and refitted at around 1535-36. This was at the same period that Henry VIII was dissolving the monasteries, which brought him much-needed revenue that may have funded this work.

No one knows exactly what changes were made to the Mary Rose, but experts speculate that her construction may have been altered from clinker planking to carvel planking. Clinker planking is when planks overlap, creating an uneven surface, whereas carvel planking is smooth, edge-to-edge planking. Crucially, this meant that shipbuilders were able to cut holes in the hull for the large guns and fit them with watertight lids

In May 1545, the French navy gathered in the Seine estuary, intending to land troops on English soil. The English fleet mustered at Portsmouth under Viscount Lisle. In early July the French fleet set sail and entered the Solent with 128 ships on 16 July. The English had 80 ships in place to oppose them, including the Mary Rose, but retreated into Portsmouth harbour as the fighting vessels were most effective in sheltered water.

The first day of the Battle of the Solent consisted of a long range cannonade between the French galleys and the English fleet in which neither side suffered any real loss. On the night of the 18 July 1545, Henry VIII dined on the current flagship, the 'Henry Grace a Dieu', along with his admiral Viscount Lisle.

There are conflicting accounts as to what happened in the battle. According to the French, early in the morning of the 19 July, the French galleys took up the battle, trying to lure the English within range of their main fleet. The calm allowed the French to pound the English ships all too easily. Suddenly, much to the delight of the French, the Mary Rose heeled over and sank.

Other accounts say that the French fleet attacked when Henry VIII was at dinner, and the Mary Rose sank towards the evening. What is certain is that hundreds of men aboard the Mary Rose drowned as she went down, with only around 25 survivors.

After the Battle of the Solent, a number of attempts were made to salvage the ship. Expert Tudor divers were hired to undertake the work, and on the 1st August it was reported that “By Monday or Tuesday the Mary Rose shall be weighed up and saved.”

However, this confidence was premature. They failed in lifting the ship, and weren’t able to shift her into shallow ground either. Despite all the strenuous efforts, the Mary Rose remained stuck fast on the seabed, and by December 1545, all attempts at salvage had been abandoned.

The only confirmed eyewitness account of the Mary Rose’s sinking says that she had fired all of her guns on one side and was turning when she was caught in a strong gust of wind. Other accounts agree that she was turning, but there could be a number of reasons why she sank during the manoeuvre.

The most likely reason for the loss of the Mary Rose is probably the most straightforward. In the heat of battle with the French galleys, perhaps the captain or the crew made a mistake. With the skirmish raging, it would be difficult for the captain to maintain order. Or perhaps the crew refused to follow orders, knowing that the ship was a disaster waiting to happen.

Did a gust of wind hit the sails at a crucial moment, making the ship unstable? Eye-witness accounts described a sudden breeze as the Mary Rose went to make the turn to the north. With the gunports opened for battle, the ship could have flooded and quickly foundered. So why had she never foundered before? Perhaps she had simply become too heavy after a recent refit, which had added extra guns to her fire-power.

A French cavalry officer present at the battle stated that the Mary Rose had been sunk by French guns. A cannonball low in the hull would enable water to flood in, making the ship unstable and leading to her sinking. Perhaps that was why the ship turned north so suddenly. Was she aiming to reach the shallows at Spitbank only a few hundred metres away?

Was she overloaded with heavy guns or with extra soldiers? If so, a strong gust of wind could have heeled her over into the sea.

My feeling is that it was probably two or more of these possibilities in combination, as any one of these reasons alone probably wouldn't be enough to scupper such a well-made ship... who knows, but it's interesting to conjecture.

Having raised the largest section of the hull from the sea floor back in the 1980s, the scientists were presented with the massive problem of what to do with it to ensure that it didn't dry out too quickly, or indeed at all - the timbers had been under the sea for 500 or so years, and the cellular structure of the wood had lost it's integrity, so as soon as it dried out, it would simply crumble to dust, so the scientists spent about twenty years figuring out how to preserve it in the most enduring way for future generations to come. Here's what the salvaged remnants of the ship's hull looked like without all the framework of tubes running around it.

Ship's hull
Ship's hull a

They had to keep it wet for all that time, but now they have injected everything with a sort of resin that is now in the process of drying out and setting hard - the conservation team sprayed the hull with polyethylene glycol (PEG) to replace the water in the cellular structure of the wood. There were three distinct phases, with a low molecular weight PEG to begin with, then a higher weight to strengthen the outer layer of wood. Finally the hull will be carefully air dried. This process is under way at the moment, and my first photos are of the timber framework of the main hull, with the black tubes running alongside which are blowing air at the whole thing to dry the PEG and set it hard. This will take around four years !!



The first thing we saw as we went in was this amazing cannon, probably the biggest size cannon on board, with these beautiful lions' heads carved on top, with the crest of Henry VIII alongside.


As we entered the dry dock area, there are three levels of the ship with all the relevent artefacts on show at each end for that level. The lift to go from level to level has a glass side so that you can see the whole timber framework as you go up or down. Really, the whole exhibition is so well designed, with views of the whole ship's hull visible through the glass windows on one side, and on the other, you have a recreation of the other side of the ship's hull mirroring the whole length of the ship, with artefacts on show in situ to show you what it would have looked like on each level. The detailed information and artefact collections are in the big exhibition rooms at either end.

We started on the middle level, with all the cannons and cannon-ball stocks, knives and other accoutrements on show. As you walk along the long corridor, you have all these cannons in situ on one side, with the actual ship's framework on show on the other. As you can see, they brought up quite a few of the ship's guns with loads of cannonballs to go with them. Light levels were very low, to recreate the actual light levels the sailors had to work in at the time !!






Here are some of the key artefacts brought up by the divers who recovered around 19,000 objects in all. I've taken some of the website's own gallery photos of particular key items because they are better pics than I could possibly take in the low light levels of the exhibition.

Down in the lowest level, where the galley and mess rooms were, we got to see lots of the cooking and eating implements, including the huge gallon tankards made of wood used for the men's weekly beer ration, and wooden lanterns and trenchers for eating their meat off, instead of plates.Lots of earthenware jugs and bottles were found along with some musical instruments too. There was a barrel top with a game of Nine Men's Morris scratched into it, shown in the photo below left, and quite a few ivory or bone combs used to keep the nits at bay - some of them had actual nits wedged in the teeth !!

SAM_1206    SAM_1207


Earthenware jugs and bottles, and a wooden lantern.

SAM_1204    lantern

These are lidded wooden cannisters, possibly for keeping dried goods like beans, and pulses, herbs and spices, etc, in the galley area.

canisters with lids

A bronze cooking pot, with legs to keep it stable.

cooking pot

Some of the eating bowls made of carved wood, a leather bottle, and a selection of wooden knife handles, the blades having rusted away...


Below is a beautifully turned wooden pepper mill with a grinder lid to crush the peppercorns to powder.


The fire accoutrements - a coal-shovel, bellows and kindling to light the fire, and a tray for unknown purpose...

Fire instrumentsSAM_1205

There were two huge cooking cauldrons on board, used to cook up around 350 litres of broth each. One, in the photo above right, was still in situ in it's own brick-built oven housing, while the other one, which was on the other side of the ship, suffered damage when the ship went down, as everything fell on top of it - as you can see, the whole brick oven housing has been toppled and the cauldron has been crushed out of shape.


On the middle level, the exhibition room at the far end had the contents of the Master Carpenter's cabin, including his chest, and contents - pewter plates and beer tankards, some jewellery, a small embroidered leather pouch, probably for coins, a small leather-bound prayer book and a sundial in an embossed leather case.


An adze and a drill, and the embossed leather pouch..


Embossed leather   drill

They also found a beautiful Backgammon set, with some of the gaming pieces and a small skeleton of his dog. The dog's breed has been established as a cross between a whippet and a terrier, so marvellous for catching rats aboard ship !! While today we think of the ships cat as being more traditional,dogs were used on board ships for a couple of reasons:-

Firstly, contrary to popular belief, cats aren't that good at ratting, as many rats are big enough to fight back. Dogs such as terriers were considered to be much better for the task, and still are in some circles.

Secondly, Pope Innocent VIII had declared cats unholy in 1484, and the companions of witches, so owning one was generally considered unlucky, not to mention likely to get you in a lot of trouble. This opinion ended in England around 200 years later.

SAM_1197    SAM_1199

Historians were able to identify the skeleton of the Master Gunner by the two jerkins he was wearing, which had been stained by the lid of the gunpowder dispenser he was carrying. He was in charge of all guns, shot and gunpowder. He had to prepare and secure the guns, and also trained the gun crews. He used a whistle to give commands, including when to fire the guns.
His chest had a beautiful crest carved into the front, and contained various objects and personal possessions, including a very early example of a woodwind insrtrument which later developed into the oboe.



Here's the leather jerkin he was wearing when he drowned.


Quite a few of the skeletons recovered have been identified as archers, due the extra strong shoulders and upper body muscles, and a skeletal condition affecting their shoulder blades, called os acromiale. They recreated the face of one of them, shown along with the contents of his cabin - fascinating stuff !!

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This mystery object below is actually a leather arrow-spacer, presumably it sits in the top of the quiver, and ensures that separate arrows are easily reachable.

They also recovered over 130 longbows and thousands of arrows, many of which were on display - we could even try one out !!


The Ship's Surgeon was an extremely important person in the crew as any infection in the crowded community could seriously affect the running of the ship. They were often highly skilled, and would have had to be able to perform surgery such as amputating a wounded limb or cauterising a wound to help it heal. The excavations found the remains of the surgeon’s cabin on the starboard side of the main deck. In his cramped cabin he would have acted as a doctor, dentist and pharmacist. The cabin had a large wooden chest which contained canisters filled with ointments, as well as peppercorns which were used as a medicine. He also had two metal syringes, some surgical tools and a bowl to collect a patient’s blood. His equipment included razors, a whetstone and a shaving bowl.

SAM_1203    SAM_1202

On the top level, we found the wealthy possessions of the Vice Admiral, Sir George Carew and the Ship's Captain, Roger Grenville, who had enormous amounts of pewter for dining and drinking etc...a complete dinner service, including beer tankards and knives, plates and bowls, and also a large quantity of gold coins and several leather purses...



SAM_1229    SAM_1222

They also recovered a beautiful bible cover of embossed leather, and several beautiful wooden rosaries, which were of interest because, despite the fact that Henry VIII had split from the Catholic Church of Rome, and had pretty much outlawed the Catholic faith, it's clear that many people stuck with their old beliefs regardless. They said that many of these rosaries were being clutched by sailors as they went down with the ship...

SAM_1224    SAM_1225

SAM_1226    SAM_1228

Personal clothing items, shoes and boots, leather purses and bags, and a manicure set of carved bone in near-perfect condition.



An embossed signet ring with the initial 'K' engraved into the bezel.

Signet ring

Here's the Mary Rose crow's nest, which was a tiny wodden barrel-like structure sitting atop the highest mast, and just big enough for a small man or a boy to sit in and keep a look out for enemy ships.



The whole Mary Rose Exhibition is well worth a visit, and takes about two hours to really get your money's worth - and you have to book a timed ticket - we got in on the last time slot of the day, which was very lucky...

When we came out, we saw the HMS Victory, of course, which lies alongside the exhibition building, and there is a large poster listing all the names of the men who served at the Battle of Trafalgar - so as we have a pewter medal in our family, given to one of my ancestors for his services at that very battle, I had to look for his name - and lo and behold, there was a George Pearson listed at the top of one of the sections.i



This was the very ship that George Pearson served, on at the age of 20 years old...



After we finished at Portsmouth Dock, we drove over to Chichester, to a hotel where we stayed the night. The next day we went off to see two extremely important Roman villas and their amazing collection of mosaics and artefacts.
Part 2 up soon !!

Tags: days out, historical places, history & culture, mary rose
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