The New Mary Rose Museum – A Review

Mary Rose
A view of the Mary Rose

Clare Cherry and her partner, David, visited the new Mary Rose Museum last weekend and Clare has kindly reviewed it for those of us who can’t get there at the moment. I’m so jealous as it sounds like a wonderful day out and I enjoyed my visits to the old museum. Over to Clare…

The Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s flagship, building work having started on her in 1510, shortly after Henry came to the throne. She was launched in July 1511. The ship sank in the Solent on 19th July 1545, not because she was fired upon, but due to pilot error. She remained submerged in the mud, lost and forgotten, until discovered in 1971. At that time it was only known that there was a wreck under the waters, but not that she was the Mary Rose. After years of exploration she was identified by relics brought to the surface, and she was finally brought to the surface herself in 1982. I can vaguely remember seeing the salvage as a child and being disappointed because she just looked like a lump of wet wood! She was taken to Portsmouth where she has been ever since, but a new Mary Rose museum was completed in May 2013, and there she will remain.

Myself and my partner visited the ship on 29th June 2013. The museum is actually part of a massive complex which includes the National Maritime Museum, The Victory (Lord Nelson’s flagship) and The Warrior (the world’s first iron warship). When we visited, there were 14 modern day warships in dock, and it was quite a sight to see The Victory sandwiched between 2 of the most modern and sophisticated warships on earth. It seemed a case of brawn versus beauty, as the yellow of The Victory’s sides conflicted with the grey of the modern ships, and as her glorious masts towered above the funnels and anti-radar towers of the destroyers.

The cannon
The cannon

The Mary Rose Museum stands next to The Victory. It is quite a modern looking structure, but has been built to reflect the shape of a ship in which the real ship nestles. You enter the building on the middle level of three, and upon entering, the first exhibit you come across is the ship’s bell, stunningly preserved, closely followed by one of the ship’s cannons clearly identifying Henry’s insignia and the Tudor rose. The cannon had notices surrounding it clearly asking the public not to touch it as the acid on fingers would eventually eat away at the metal work. David and I watched as children and adults alike stroked and prodded the cannon. It was a matter of having to bite down hard on my tongue!

What I found remarkable was the incredible preservation of items found on the ship. Everything from arrows to shoes to medical equipment and musical instruments. As salt preserves wood, we have baskets, buckets and boxes in wonderful condition. Unfortunately salt erodes metal, so although knife handles exist, the blades do not. There are, however, dozens of cannons and hundreds of cannon balls which have survived.

After seeing some of the vast number of exhibits on display you travel through into a viewing platform to see the mid-section of the ship. You travel along a corridor with viewing windows alongside the ship itself. The corridor has been cleverly built to reflect the section of the ship you are viewing, so that although you are allowed nowhere near the ship itself, you feel as if you are actually in it – hard to explain! There are also vast numbers of items on display that would have been in the sections of the ship you are viewing. It is incredibly well done. So clever. All three levels are the same, but give a different aspect of the ship. The actual ship is interlaced with massive pipes which are still drying it out. They do spoil the effect because they do intrude on the overall view, but it can’t be helped. The pipes are there to keep the ship at the correct humidity and are, therefore, essential.

Mary Rose skullYou then travel down to the lowest section where you see the bottom part of the ship. There are further exhibits on every level (14,000 in total), including skulls and a full sized skeleton. At that point I felt a little bit ashamed that in my excitement at seeing the actual ship which had sunk nearly five-hundred years ago, and which had remained submerged for nearly four-hundred and fifty years, I hadn’t given much thought to the poor sailors who had died on her. There were 500 men on board when she sank, and only 35 survived. The Mary Rose really is a memorial to the tragic loss of life.

From the bottom of the ship you get in a lift which takes you to the top level. This is also extraordinarily well done. The side of the lift is glass and it travels upwards at the front of the ship. As it slowly goes up the lift lights are extinguish so that you get the most incredible view of the whole of the ship from the bow. It was a magical experience. On this level there are about 10 items removed from the ship that you are able to touch and hold. They include an original piece of rope on which you are still able to smell the Tudor tar which it was painted with for protection (very smelly!). Then, after a look of the ship at the top level, where you can see the beams and structure at their best, it’s back down to the middle level and through the requisite gift shop, complete with some of the most expensive mugs on the planet.

We decided not to remortgage the house to buy a mug, and instead had a look at the stunning Victory, before taking a boat trip round the site to see the warships. It was a great day out. The Mary Rose herself is far better preserved than I had thought she would be having seen her brought to the surface all those years ago. But even more impressive were the items found on her. Awe inspiring and poignant at the same time. So I suppose my final words should be, ‘rest in peace to all who died on her’.

The ship's bell
The ship’s bell
A paw print from the ship's dog
A paw print from the ship’s dog
A wonderfully preserved lute
A wonderfully preserved lute

You can find out more about The Mary Rose Museum and information on visiting it at

P.S. Thank you to all those who participated in our fundraising efforts for The Mary Rose Museum – look what we were a part of!

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10 thoughts on “The New Mary Rose Museum – A Review”
  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing.Ironicly, 1971 was when I first discovered Henry via the Keith Michell series! I wonder how they got the dogs paw? Was it done by the crew or how could it have been preserved.? Awesome indeed!

    1. Actually, having just come back from a visit, I saw that the dog’s paw print was from a tile used in the galley – it was made before the tile was fired, and therefore from a different Tudor dog!

      Feeling very fortunate as I live only a couple of miles away so will be paying another visit soon. There’s a lot to take in, I found the whole thing very moving.

  2. Thanks Clare. It ‘s wonderful to read about your visit to the museum and I can’t help feeling more than a little envious!

  3. Thanks for the review, Clare, and like Claire, I am TOTALLY jealous of what sounds like a great day out to see a piece of history!

    I have always wondered why replicas are not made of some historic artifacts, such as the ship’s cannons and the bell, so that folks can touch THOSE, without risking the deterioration of the original items. Of course, you also wonder at the ill manners of people who are supposedly literate, look at those signs, and decide that it does NOT apply to either them or the offspring they are raising to carry on the tradition that the rules do not apply to them.

  4. Wow! This was a great find! What a display, to go and see the everyday things from life 500 years ago. The British are so lucky!

  5. Wow! The new layout and the objects brought out of conservation, thousands of them look incrediable. The new outlay makes the experience with the ship more realistic and much better for those visiting her. Can’t wait myself to visit in later in the year.

    However, the Mary Rose did not sink due to pilot error but because she was not only shot upon but hit. She was hit by a shot below the waterline by a galleass, a low decked boat, sitting at the waterline, with a huge gun loaded at the front of its forecastle. She could get close up to the ships of the line, let loose with one large canon ball and sink even a ship of the Mary Rose standard. For evidence we have the report of the French ambassador, and the drawings of the battle themselves depicting these battle machines. The evidence of inspection of the Mary Rose points to her having a huge hole that was being repaired below decks, and that an unusual number of people had been diverted to that part of the ship. This is from the bodies recovered there: with a repair kit. She may also have been attempting to save herself and the crew by heading to beach in the Solent. Again the engraving shows this.

    The evidence also shows that with her being hit earlier, may-be while moared up and then the water came in. She was also engaged in gunfire with a French vessal and turned after this with her gunports open. She may have also had a combination of this and pilot error. It seems unlikely as she had an experienced crew, but not an experienced commander. This and the fact that there were a number of foreign servicemenn on board combined to sink her. The hole was not repaired on time and a swift turn without having time to close her gunports let in extra water and down she went. Pilot error; no! Water, a hole in her side, enemy fire and a fast turn all combined to sink the Mary Rose. Sorry: King Henry may not have wanted to admit it: the French get the award for this one!

    1. I’m so jealous of Clare being able to visit the new museum. I was invited to visit the old museum a few years ago when The AB Files were involved in fundraising for the new museum and I was able to see some of the artefacts that they didn’t have room to display – it was amazing seeing Tudor nit combs with dead nits still caught in them!

      Re the cause of her sinking, they still don’t know for certain why she sank -see for the various theories. The argument for human error is a popular one because according to Sir Peter Carew (brother of the Vice Admiral of the Mary Rose, Sir George Carew, who died when the ship sank) his uncle Sir Gawain Carew had sailed past the Mary Rose as she began to heel and asked Sir George what was wrong. Sir George replied that “he had the sort of knaves whom he could not rule.” I don’t think we’re ever going to know the answer.

      1. An eye witness account states that she had fired all her guns on the one side and that this made her unstable.

  6. The documentary Why the Mary Rose Really Sank done a couple of years ago looks much more closely at the Chaudry Engravings and the report from the French ambassador as evidence for her being hit. Also some evidence as to where people where found in the ship, a tool kit being found down there and evidence of repairs, suggest that she was at least hit once. It was probably a combination of factors; but it all adds to healthy debate.

    I love the reconstructed skull and the reconstruction of what people looked like that they have done in the new museum. Can’t wait to go down later in the year!

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