Think you saw The Mary Rose at school? Think again.

The Mary Rose museum has changed beyond recognition over the past few decades. In fact, those people who visited on a school trip (and, let's face it, who didn't?!) would be hard pushed to find too many similarities on a return visit.

Here, the museum's Simon Clabby explains just what has changed in those years, and why the museum you can visit today is so different to what you remember from school.

It seems to have been a rite of passage for children in the UK to visit The Mary Rose.

Everybody has a memory of getting off the coach, being dragged up the dockyard and standing either on a gantry getting wet or in a corridor trying to see through misted up windows. Then there was the trudge back down the dockyard to see the artefacts in a very 1980s-looking museum filled with hessian-backed display cases. Because of this, many people believe that they’ve already seen the Mary Rose, and don’t need to visit again. However, much like people grew up and improved in the years after they left school, the Mary Rose has changed and improved too.

The Mary Rose spent most of her time on display being sprayed. This was either with water, between 1982-1994 (when you got wet), or a special wax called Polyethylene Glycol, between 1995-2013 (behind the misted-up windows). This made the ship look atmospheric at best, or, more likely, difficult to see properly.

The Mary Rose as it looked in the 1990s

This got worse when the drying process began in 2013. To maintain a consistent temperature in the ship hall, only a small amount of glass could be used to display the ship, so viewing was done through small windows in a solid wall. As well as this, the ship was covered in ducting, so even more of it was obscured. Obviously not ideal!

However, since 2015 all the ducting has gone, the walls have been taken down and there’s now nothing but glass between you and the Mary Rose. That is, except for the top deck of the museum, where you enter through an airlock to breathe the same air as the ship herself.

Looking down at The Mary Rose from the air lock area

The objects that were once so far away are now inside the same building, a purpose-built museum created with assistance from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. What's more, many of them are on display opposite the ship in a mirror image recreation, so you can see exactly where they were discovered. Gone are the hessian backdrops and nylon carpets; everything is designed to emphasise the artefacts. So while the galleries themselves are perhaps darker than you might expect, the objects themselves are lit in a way that really makes them stand out.

Looking at artefacts through the glass floor

The ship has also been brought to life with an amazing light show. No longer is scale provided by a solitary cardboard cut-out of an archer on the top deck, but by video of the crew going about their business, be it loading and firing a gun, sharpening daggers down in the stores, eating their dinner or even catching up on their reading. These are projected directly onto the timbers of the ship. For the purists, though, we still have the archers projected onto the top deck!

Projections of archers on The Mary Rose

We also put more emphasis on the story of the men themselves. Rather than just having a case for bowls, another for clothing and another for rigging, etc. (although we do have those around the edges of the galleries), objects are displayed in cases based about the person who owned them. This way you can see the carpenter’s backgammon board, the surgeon’s hat, and even the cook’s bowl, complete with his name carved into it.

We even have a new temporary exhibition for 2019, The Many Faces of Tudor England, where we used the latest scientific techniques to discover where the crew came from – the results may surprise you!

You’re not the same person as you were in the 80s or 90s, and we’re totally not the same museum - we’re much more appealing.

Don’t believe us, come and see for yourself!


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