Amid the bangs, clangs, mud and dust, a new chapter in the 500-year history of the Mary Rose is being written at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
More than 100 builders are busy creating a new state-of-the-art home for the world-famous warship which was raised from the Solent 30 years ago in front of a global television audience of 60 million people.
The News was given exclusive behind-the-scenes access inside the oblong, steel-framed building that has recently gone up around the Tudor warship just yards away from where she was built five centuries ago.
The new £35m Mary Rose Museum is being constructed around the Grade II listed No.3 dock, adjacent from her sister attraction HMS Victory which is 250 years her junior.
The hull of Henry VIII’s lost flagship is out of sight inside a sealed tent called the ‘hotbox’ but you can hear the protective wax still being sprayed on the wreck as you walk through the building site that surrounds her.
One thousand square metres of Red Cedar timber in 2,835 planks forms the eye-catching cladding to the main building which doesn’t have a single right-angle.
A sweeping aluminium roof has recently gone on top and the impressive sea view balcony is almost finished, giving casual onlookers the illusion that this grand project is nearing completion.
But inside is a different story as workers race against the clock to have the museum looking shipshape by October 11 – the 30th anniversary of the historic moment Mary Rose left her watery grave.
A mass of wires, wood and fittings litter the floor and walls of the empty shell.
The reception area, toilets, cafeteria and exhibition spaces are yet to be installed.
But the curved walls are plastered, the lifts are in and the flooring has been laid.
Work is progressing at an alarming rate to apply the finishing details – no small matter as some 19,000 artefacts need to go in.
‘I’m supremely confident we can do it,’ says the site’s liaison officer Brian Robinson. ‘It’ll be a challenge but it’ll open this year,’ he adds.
Workers are currently building replica decks to show what the ship would have looked like in 1545.
As visitors walk down a central gangway, they will see the wreck on their right and the ‘mirror-image’ replica decks on the left which will be filled with thousands of Tudor artefacts – including the original deck cannons.
When it opens this year, visitors will see the ship without the haze of wax spray for the first time in decades. But the wreck will remain behind a window until 2016 as tubes pump hot air over the hull to dry it out.
It won’t be until the screen is finally removed that visitors will get the full time capsule experience of walking inside the ship.
Excitement is building at the dockyard as the 10-year project comes together.
John Lippiett, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, confidently declared: ‘This is the most important museum that will open this century.
‘It’s going to have an international impact. We’ll have people from all over the world visiting us to see the ship.
‘It’s an event that will put Portsmouth on the map and confirm our world-leading status as a naval historical attraction that’s unsurpassed anywhere in the world.’
He added: ‘Mary Rose is a time capsule and it’ll be the first time we are able to show artefacts which give people an insight into the world 500 years ago. It’s the artefacts in particular that will astound the world.
‘In the previous museum, we could only show five per cent of the artefacts we found with the ship. This museum will showcase 60 per cent of the artefacts and tell the stories behind the items – from the ship’s carpenter to the ship’s dog.’
MARY ROSE’S HISTORY
· 1511 - Henry VIII’s flagship Mary Rose was launched in Portsmouth. She was one of the first ships able to fire a broadside and was a firm favourite of the Tudor monarch’s navy.
· 1545 - After 34 years in service, Mary Rose was sunk during an engagement with the advancing French fleet in the Solent on July 19. Legend has it Henry VIII watched his flagship sink from Southsea Castle. It’s estimated around 500 men and boys lost their lives.
· 1836 - The wreck of the Mary Rose was accidentally discovered by Henry Abinett, a diver employed by five fishermen to untangle their nets from the wreck under the sea.
· 1965 - Alexander McKee, an historian, journalist and amateur diver, invited other divers to search for 12 shipwrecks in the Solent.
· 1970 - The team discovers a piece of timber from the Mary Rose on May 30. A gun from the Tudor ship was found three months later.
· 1971 - Percy Ackland was the first person to identify the shape of the Mary Rose in May 1971.
· 1972-1975 - Further dives confirmed the wreck was lying at 60 degrees on the sea bed. Artefacts including a comb, sandglass and pewter tanker were recovered from the wreck.
· 1975 - Prince Charles dives on the Mary Rose, giving the project worldwide publicity.
· 1979 - The Mary Rose Trust is formed.
· 1982 - The Mary Rose was finally raised from the sea bed. Pictures of the historic moment are beamed across the world.
· 1994 - After previously spraying the ship with water, the Trust’s conservationists begin using a water-based wax called Polyethylene glycol (PEG) to preserve the hull.
· 2009 - Work begins on building a new Mary Rose Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard after a £21m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project costs £35m in total.
· 2012 - The museum is due to open in October.