Almost 500 years after Henry VIII’s favourite warship, the Mary Rose, sank off the south coast of England as the king watched despairingly, visitors to Portsmouth are being treated to an extraordinary new view of the vessel in its stunning new museum (pictured above, by Nelson’s Victory)
The Mary Rose was dramatically raised from the seabed in 1982 and first went on display the following year but has always been obscured by the pipes, supports and sheets of glass necessary to preserve the precious timbers.
Thanks to another £5m revamp on top of the £34m already spent on conserving the ship, the paraphernalia has gone and an upper viewing platform with no glass between viewer and vessel has been created that should make visitors feel closer to it and get a better experience of what life on board must have been like.
Helen Bonser-Wilton, the chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, said it had been an emotional experience when a huge Tudor standard that had been hiding from view at its resting place at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard dropped away on Tuesday.
“So many of us we saw the wreck come up so we have had an emotional connection with the ship for very many years,” said Bonser-Wilton. “But to see her like this uninhibited for the first time is huge. I don’t think people realise how big she is. We’ve been spraying her with water, with chemicals, drying her. Nobody has ever really seen Mary Rose since Henry VIII in the way you’re seeing her now. You’re breathing the same air as Henry VIII’s warship.”
Many people at the grand reveal were clearly moved at the sight of the ship, on which more than 400 men died as it did battle in the 3rd French war. The setting is dim, partly to help protect the precious structure but also to give an impression of how dark and oppressive it must have been to be on the ship. It makes for a haunting experience.
New filmed vignettes giving a glimpse into the life of the crew are beamed on to screens showing shadowy, ghostly figures playing, working and fighting. A clever feature is that the visitor can see an image of, for example, the ship’s carpenter with his dog, then turn to see his tools that were found buried in the silt of the Solent along with the ship.
The historian David Starkey, who describes the Mary Rose as Britain’s Pompeii – because of the snapshot it affords into life in Tudor Britain, said he was delighted at the new view. “There were obstacles between you, the visitor, and the ship. Now all of that has been taken away and you can see the thing, it’s there, it’s a three-dimensional object.”