I last saw the Mary Rose museum in the 1980s. The ship was being preserved, the museum was good but the building was pretty grim. Going back has been a bucket list item for me. The museum is absolutely outstanding. The stated intent is that it be a memorial to the 500 or so men who lost their lives. That puts it in a different light somehow. 35 men escaped with their lives, all the rest of the crew, the soldiers and officers drowned – the ship was rigged with netting and this hindered their escape. That’s about the size of our church I guess. I wonder what a memorial to the lives and accoutrements of our members would look like.
As I go round the museum, it hits me powerfully and very obviously given the huge quantities of recovered “stuff” that everything is crafted, it all uses natural materials – or simply manufactured ones – wood, horn, textiles of wool and leather, metal objects of pewter, iron and bronze. There’s no plastic! I am a little museum-ed out so I start to reflect that my fancy coloured leather polo belt and buckle, metal watch strap and leather shoes would probably survive. And the lace ends to my shoes – we stare at Tudor shoe and jerkin lace ends too! There’s just so much stuff -little bits of plaid shirts, woolly socks, leather jerkins, bow staves, buckets, rosaries and the fun named “ballock daggers”. Well, you can possibly imagine what the hilts of the daggers resemble from the name…
I’m fascinated by the information on the crew’s bones and facial reconstructions. Bad teeth and twisted or compressed spines, arthritis and healed fractures. These are fit, prime fighting men in their twenties and thirties. This is a world of simple “survival of the fittest” and being on the gun crew or an archer does skeletal damage: I’ve ripped an obviously un healed shoulder injury trying my hand at pulling a half weight archery bow – the full bow is 79lb draw weight I think. (That will make swimming fun for a while) Not the souvenir Henry V111 bath duck I was planning on buying but either didn’t see or totally forgot about. I didn’t buy a T shirt either. Shame.
Here, by contrast with the other two ships, the gun barrels are pretty primitive – they look like pipes wrapped in thick metal “bandages” – there are a few cast bronze guns but I think these are possibly iron? I recognise the planes, Tenon saws and the oddly shaped marking gauge from the carpenters shop – woodwork seems not to have changed too much.
The boat section is pretty massive – but it’s really the artefacts and the story they tell, and the imaginative way the museum tries to help me understand such a different worldview that makes such an impression. There are holograms and high tech stuff in plenty but the ordinary finds sort of speak a little louder somehow. I have to do the museum in a couple two hour stints and a last minute dash round because there is just too much – after a while it’s “oh another amazing Tudor artifact, where is the tea shoppe?!!!”