2012 will see the grand opening of the new Mary Rose Museum at Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard. Veronica Cowan talks to those behind the plans about what visitors can expect from one of the most exciting projects in the county
My preconceptions of the Mary Rose as an expensive soggy lump of wood were sunk when Rear Admiral John Lippiett, Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust, showed me the eerie-looking ship's hull. Although I narrowly avoided being keel-hauled or put on ships' rations when - looking at the artefacts in the museum and archive store - I exclaimed more than once: "Are these really from the ship?" This was because some of the 500- year-old items - including leather shoes, drinking vessels, head lice combs, musical instruments and medical syringes - were so well preserved. The ship will be reunited with most of them when the new museum opens in 2012, and the hull will meanwhile be dried before going on display in 2016.
She was defending England against a French invasion when, without warning, she capsized. Nobody knows why, although theories abound about whether it was enemy cannon, orders lost in translation to a foreign crew, ill-discipline or incompetence.
The Tudor warship certainly soaks up money, not least in keeping the hull sprayed with a preservative. A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund of �21 million towards the �35 million museum construction costs was unlocked in June when the Trust raised almost �10 million, aided by �800,000 from Hampshire County Council, "which demonstrates the importance placed on the project by the county," comments Jacquie Shaw, head of communications at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, who described it as "a considerable boost at a critical time." It came on the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to the throne, and would have pleased the self-indulgent Monarch. For the historic dockyard itself, Ms. Shaw anticipates that "the draw of such a museum will be highly significant and attract many new and repeat visitors."
Labour of loveThe Mary Rose has many admirers: the Trust's former chief executive, Martyn Heighton, now director of National Historic Ships, is still besotted with the old girl. "Anyone associated with it sees the Mary Rose as a wonderful thing." He recalls being in a brainstorming session with Dr David Starkey when the lottery bid was being re-submitted: "There were stories the ship had to tell, that were not being told. It is one of the largest maritime awards, which recognises the quality of the project."The plansThe architects, Wilkinson Eyre, are "privileged and thrilled" to be involved in such a high-profile project. Associate architect Paul Conibere explains the concept of a jewel box was because "we had to design from the inside out, with the precious jewels inside." Some of the 19,000 artefacts will be put into hermetically sealed galleries, said Simon Bone, associate interior designer at Pringle Brandon, who explained that the new museum will be built around the ship, with the preserved starboard side as its centrepiece, and new galleries corresponding to the principal deck levels imitating the missing port side. This will allow the artefacts to be displayed in context. Design constraints were inherent in having to work with the dry dock - itself a scheduled monument and Grade I listed structure - in which the hull is sitting. "We could not move the hull, but feel it is a very site-specific design - a unique one-off,"Since it will be adjacent to HMS Victory, we were aiming for a strong iconic image that does not compete, but is something more subtle." The ship hall closed in September, but the existing museum will remain open, and the hull interpreted imaginatively, with a film, enhanced displays and time-lapse photography. "Because the building work is alongside HMS Victory we are at pains to ensure the visitor experience is not unduly affected," said Ms. Shaw. As the need to raise a further�4 million sinks in, public fundraising is underway. Donors won't have to walk the plank, but they could buy one. Just as the ship's sailors engraved personal possessions with their individual marks, schools, individuals and businesses will be invited to buy a plank, with their names etched onto them. There's nothing wooden about that as a way to become part of history. Henry VIII's Mary Rose - The storyThe warship was Henry VIII's flagship, and favourite, and was typical of the larger sailing ships of the naval fleet, with high castles at bow and stern. She was defending England against a French invasion when, without warning, she capsized. Nobody knows why, although theories abound about whether it was enemy cannon, orders lost in translation to a foreign crew, ill-discipline or incompetence. Henry had travelled to Southsea to see the fight, but instead of cheers from jubilant sailors, he heard their screams as they were caught up in netting designed to prevent enemy sailors boarding the vessel. Most of the 415 on board drowned, and the ship joined them in the watery depths, falling onto her starboard side, which was preserved in the silt of the Solent, leaving the exposed port side to decay. The lifting of the starboard side on a giant metal cradle on October 11, 1982, was watched by an estimated world-wide television audience of 60 million. Much of the interior, including passageways, cabins and ancillary structures remained intact. When thousands of artefacts were later recovered, the plan to build a museum was conceived. It was not initially supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, although it had already given grants totalling �9.5 million for a range of conservation, development and planning activities as the 34-year conservation programme unfolded. The latest award almost completes the voyage. What to expectThe purpose-built museum the 'Final Voyage' will bring together the ship and 70 per cent of its artefacts, giving a unique snapshot of life at sea in the 16th century. Objects include military weapons, uniforms, medical equipment, the captain's silver tankards and the crew's rough pottery mugs.6 things you didn't know about the Mary Rose• She was the first English gunship.• The Mary Rose was named after Henry VIII's sister. • There were 91 cannons, 185 soldiers and archers, 200 sailors and 30 gunners onboard• The ship stood 42ft above the water, was 126ft long and 38ft wide.• Nearly all of the 200 skeletons found were men in their 20s, with an average height of 5' 7". • Pig bones found on wreck led to new ways of isolating DNA.