The eyes of the world were again on Portsmouth for the opening of the Mary Rose Museum – and it heralds a fascinating era for the city.
Just as the raising of the wreck in the Solent in 1982 was a momentous event, watched avidly by viewers around the world, so was yesterday’s unveiling of the museum. It drew messages of congratulation from the great and the good, and to use some 21st century parlance, its popularity was confirmed by the fact that at one stage in the morning it was the second most popular subject trending on Twitter.
The reasons for this are not hard to divine. Firstly, the plan of the museum itself – both externally and internally – is arresting, and grabs the attention of anyone.
Secondly, because the wreck was raised within many people’s memory, there is a warm emotional attachment to the warship.
But perhaps the main reason for the interest is the hold that the Tudor era has on us. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I still inspire countless pieces of art, such as the recent Booker-winning novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and there is a clear sense that our sense of a modern nation state was forged in the late 15th century.
This feeling of attachment is one that the Mary Rose Museum will explore. The design of the museum is intended to make visitors feel that they are inside the ship, with the artefacts arranged as closely to the warship’s layout as possible. The aim is to bring history to life as much as possible and capture the imagination of future generations.
And with this attachment and recreation comes a final facet – the fact that the Mary Rose should be seen not as a curio but as a warship, as modern for its time as HMS Duncan is of hers.
She is a reminder that this is a naval city, and that the sailors who perished on her were the forerunners of those who man the technically-astonishing Type 45s that now call Portsmouth home.
This city has been centred around the navy for generations. We would urge everyone to take advantage of the stunning document of naval history that we now have on our doorstep.