Caught in time, the seconds before the Mary Rose started to sink

The upper gallery of the museum. Picture: Hufton + Crow
The upper gallery of the museum. Picture: Hufton + Crow
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IT IS a moment frozen in time, seconds before disaster struck and hundreds of men lost their lives.

IT IS a moment frozen in time, seconds before disaster struck and hundreds of men lost their lives.

Cannons face from the gun ports, with their ammunition piled all around and ropes coiled nearby.

Standing in the decks of the new Mary Rose Museum, you see a snapshot of the ship before she sank in 1545, painstakingly recreated from the knowledge of where artefacts were discovered on the sea bed.

Timbers and ropes creak in the background, while the sound of waves splashing against the hull of the ship occasionally break through over speakers hidden in the walkways.

The lighting is low, and all around you sit artefacts belonging to another era.

Once you pass through the air lock at the start of the museum, designed to take you from the bright and airy lobby into the darkened collection of galleries, you feel like you have entered another world entirely.

That was the idea behind the design of the museum, in which it is only the artefacts themselves which are lit up.

The timbers of the Mary Rose sit on your right, and on your left, a mirror image has been created in which her cannons, anchor, and equipment lay stretched out before you.

Chris Brandon, of architecture firm Pringle Brandon Perkins and Will which designed the inside of the museum, said: ‘This museum is unique.

‘It is the only one in the world to take its inspiration from the archaeological finds of the Mary Rose and the ship herself.

‘Our role was to create a showcase for the Mary Rose and her artefacts befitting their significance, so we designed a museum that would recreate the experience of being on board the ship hundreds of years ago.’

At the end of each walkway, there is a context gallery containing more artefacts and explanations of what they are.

Penny Mordaunt, the MP for Portsmouth North, said: ‘I was in my second year of middle school when the Mary Rose was raised.

‘It is such a joy to see this museum completed and the ship and her historic treasures and story on display.

‘There is so much interest in visiting not only from all parts of the UK but from overseas as well.

‘It forms a further attraction for our amazing dockyard and will be of huge economic importance to the city.

‘Congratulations to all who strove to achieve this incredible facility.’

Aside from the main museum spaces there is also a new shop, a café, classrooms for schoolchildren and areas for corporate events.

Part of the building holds a special wing dedicated to education, including a science lab with state-of-the-art equipment.

The building itself is nestled behind the majestic frame of HMS Victory, and took form over the dock which houses the timbers of the Mary Rose.

The frame has few windows, and certainly none that allow you to clearly see in, creating an element of mystery about what lies inside.

Wilkinson Eyre Architects led the architecture of the Mary Rose Museum project and designed the exterior.

Chris Wilkinson, from the firm, said: ‘I’m thrilled by the way it has turned out.

‘Hundreds of people went down with the ship and it is a very touching situation.

‘Just because it was a long time ago doesn’t mean it’s any less important to respect them and their memories.’

Engineers used a technique of joining wood together known as the carvel method, which means each timber plank butts up to its neighbour, rather than overlapping.

It is a nice touch borrowed from the Mary Rose herself, as she was one of the first British ships to have sides built in the same way, made waterproof with pitch, in order to allow gun ports to be cut in her.

The construction of the museum was carried out by Portsmouth-based Warings.

Museum bosses say there is plenty more in the pipeline to keep visitors fascinated by the Mary Rose.

At the moment, the timbers of the ship remain encased behind a glass wall, contained in a ‘hot box’ to enable the wood to safely dry out.

But in a few years, the wall separating the museum’s walkways from the hull will come down, offering unrestricted views of the ship.

The chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, John Lippiett, even hinted there may be a 
return to the sea bed to recover more artefacts.

He said: ‘Future generations are going to learn much more about life and death 500 years ago then we are now.

‘I bet we’ll be back at the wreck site to bring up more artefacts in the next 20 years.

‘The future is enormous. I can see when we take down the walls of the hot box we can have galleries all around the outside of it and people walking underneath it.

‘There will be nothing separating the timbers from visitors except thin air.

‘This isn’t even the penultimate chapter of the history of the Mary 

Click here for the Mary Rose section of our website

There’s extensive coverage of the new Mary Rose Museum in The News today and tomorrow

And don’t miss our special supplement The Mary Rose, on sale from Friday for just £1.50