Arguably the most famous shipwreck is that of the RMS Titanic, which sank in the North Atlantic in 1912 after leaving for her maiden voyage from Southampton. However an equally interesting sinking took place around the coast at Portsmouth some 367 years before.
It is likely the Mary Rose was built around in 1510 in Portsmouth but the first documented reference to this great ship was in the 1520s when she was recorded as being in the River Thames. She was one of the capital ships of Henry VIIIs ‘Navy Royal,’ which became the Royal Navy of today.
The Mary Rose distinguished herself by fighting against French ships several times before being refitted in 1535. In July 1545, she sallied out of Portsmouth to face the French once again. It is unclear what happened but whilst King Henry was dining on another ship, the Henry Grace a Dieu, the Mary Rose heeled over and sank with the loss of hundreds of men.
There were several attempts to salvage the ship but to no avail. As the years passed by the wreck was covered by the soft silt found at the bottom of the Solent, which sealed the hull from erosion. Every now and again artifacts from the ship would be found on the seabed: tantalizing evidence that kept the legend of this great ship in mind.
In 1982, a team finally managed to raise the majority of the ships hull in the full glare of television cameras, following her rediscovery in 1966 and many years of excavation and planning. More than 10,000 artifacts were collected and preserved.
Now began the preservation of the timbers and the items recovered. From the very beginning, the Mary Rose Trust received some £9.5 million from the British National Lottery to get the work done and a makeshift museum was built to house the ship and the exhibits.
In recent years, progress has been made to build a proper Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth, just yards from that other great ship, HMS Victory. The project required £35 million for completion and the British National Lottery funded much of it with a £23 million grant.
The Mary Rose is the only 16th Century ship on display in the world. The new museum, to be opened on 31 May 2013, houses not only the hull but also the now 19,000 artifacts found with the wreck. Exhibits include items in a remarkable state of preservation, ranging from the skeleton of the ship’s dog to leather sandals and books.
With the help of the British National Lottery money, the preservation of the ship’s timbers is in its latter stages. Visitors can still only see the hull through a series of windows but it is hoped these will be removed in four or five years time so the ship can be seen in its entirety.
The Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Dame Jenny Abramsky, said, “It’s incredibly exciting that, after much painstaking conservation work, the Mary Rose is finally ready to go back on show in a wonderful new space where she will undoubtedly wow all who come to visit.”
It is exciting that money from the British National Lottery is being put to such good use.
Find out more about this fascinating project on the Mary Rose website.