After my first blog post featuring one of my favourite museums, it was really difficult to pick what to write about next. As I’m sat here writing, May 2019 feels like a lifetime ago. However, it was around the end of May last year that my better half, Dan, and I, went away for a couple of days to the incredible Portsmouth. The entire trip (of course) was focused on visiting as many of the impressive collection of museums they hold on the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. If you’re wanting to visit the Historic Dockyard when things return to normal consider buying yourself a Full Navy Ticket. These can be purchased cheaper online (https://tickets.historicdockyard.co.uk/webstore/shop/viewItems.aspx?cg=PHDTIX&c=TIX) and unlike the other tickets, the Full Navy gets you into 12 attractions -although some additional charges may apply- and your ticket lasts for an entire year! Please be aware The Mary Rose is NOT included in this.
So as you may or may not know, I’m a massive Tudor History geek, demonstrated above! Because of my obvious obsession with the Tudors, I think, visiting The Mary Rose was a bucket list type of visit for me, and from start to finish I was completely mesmerised! You begin by entering the first section of the museum which focuses on what we know about the Mary Rose, featuring a display around ‘The Encampment of the English Forces near Portsmouth’. This is the image of the engraving copied from a contemporary painting depicting the attempted French invasion of Portsmouth in 1545.
I’ve often thought that your experiences with volunteers and members of staff at a museum can really make or break your visit, and I’m pleased to say that everyone at The Mary Rose was absolutely lovely! We spent a little while talking to a volunteer who explained the above image to us and what historians can gain from it. As you walk around this room there are some wonderful artefacts, beautifully lit and displayed as well as videos, information panels and some interactive experiences. The video that caught my attention was opposite the above picture. I vividly remember Dan watching me watch this screen (he had wandered off ahead of me and knew what was about to happen) and **SPOILER ALERT** before my eyes the video disappears and you get your first glimpse at the preserved remains of The Mary Rose in all its glory. At this point, I’m fairly sure my bottom jaw hit the floor!
From here you are able to walk into the Mary Rose room (although obviously the ship itself is behind glass to ensure the careful preservation of temperature and humidity). This space has been carefully curated to give visitors the feel of being inside the ship, demonstrating the separate rooms and the corresponding artefacts that were found. The smallest detail here completely captivated me, the floor is slightly bowed, which adds to the transformative experience of being in this impressive ship. There are several sections that you walk through like this as you effectively walk the different levels of the ship, but let’s tell you something about the artefacts.
So, another reason as to why The Mary Rose was on my bucket list! Dan’s Grandad (who is a complete legend) is a diver and in his youth was part of the Naval air command sub aqua club. In the early 70s the Portsmouth branch of this club had to organise a group of trained divers to volunteer to help excavate a certain wreckage. These guys had no archaeological training at all but were obviously more than competent under water. Each diver was given a square to go and excavate and yes, our Grandad was one of them. He tells a fantastic story (completely blasé about the whole experience) about him excavating his square, first off he found some twigs which were just rubbish he thought and as he continued he found a couple of arrows, turns out the previous ‘twigs’ he had thrown away, were also arrows! More than 3500 arrows were found during the excavation of The Mary Rose, so I think we can forgive my Grandad for ‘misplacing’ a few!
Of course my Grandpa was not the only person involved in the excavation of this incredible piece of history. Over 500 divers and archaeologists tackled the challenge of removing the soil, installing the grid and raising The Mary Rose after over 400 years of being under water. Follow the link to watch the nerve-racking moment of the ships first appearance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XhbXKE6aTc .
Now back to the museum, something that I really loved was the experience they have managed to create with the little touches such as the lighting and projections, which just transport you into this other world. I felt really calm and at ease throughout my visit which was really lovely, and that got me thinking as to whether other people had the same experience. One of my friends has a lovely little boy who has been diagnosed with ADHD and sensory processing disorder, they also suspect that he is somewhere on the spectrum. Just like me, the whole family are museum geeks which is fab because we talk about different heritage sites all of the time! They have also been to The Mary Rose Museum so I was keen to gather some of their feedback, especially relating to their child’s experience.
“We went to the museum pre-diagnosis so roughly in 2017. Like any kid there are tantrums but we were finding that these episodes were more than a kid just stamping his feet. He would bite, kick, scream, pinch, punch etc. So this day we were about to go into the museum and he has what we now know as a meltdown. I had to literally drag him to the entrance and calm him down. Eventually he is happy enough to go in but still pretty agitated. He wasn’t interested in exhibits at all, I mean he was 5, but the ship was a different thing. He was really engaged with the visuals they projected onto the ship. We noticed he was also really calm. Normally he was always pulling us to move on, couldn’t stand still. Constantly on the move. But I think the combination of a genuine interest in the ship (he was fascinated that it sunk) and the calming environment (dimly lit, sounds of the ship, rocking, ocean noises) it created a dulling on the sensory input. It is quite a narrow walk way but for us that wasn’t an issue. For us it was the start of seeing how where we take him matters. What it is going to be like because it does effect the visit for us as a family. It was also the beginning of us learning how to manage him. Plus you know why I love it, #Tudorsforever”
Although I realise the experience will of course be different for everyone I think it is so valuable to hear their feedback of how someone with ADHD and sensory processing disorder, especially at the age of 5, experienced the museum! And there are plenty of things for kids to do on your visit, as a big kid, one of my favourite aspects were the interactives they had.
As well as the many interactives the museum has on site, importantly at this time, they also have a wealth of resources for families to discover online! Under the section ‘Things to make and do’ The Mary Rose Museum provides colouring, science experiments and paper crafts all FREE OF CHARGE! Of course I had a go (please don’t laugh!)
I know I know, I should stick to cross stitch! But, making my very own Pop-Up Mary Rose was good fun, and you can even colour in your own one! Follow the link to have a go! https://maryrose.org/blog/arts-and-crafts/museum-blogger/make-and-colour-your-own-pop-up-mary-rose/
We really had a wonderful time in Portsmouth and the museums, including The Mary Rose are truly incredible! Seeing as Dan is a tattoo artist we thought we would mark how wonderful our visit was in an alternative way, by supporting a local artist to the area!
Due to the pandemic the museum is still currently closed as they await guidance on how the site can be opened safely. Now more than ever, just like other businesses, our museums and heritage sites need our support. The museum are offering a range of interactive learning opportunities at your fingertips, consider exploring them, buying your ticket for when they reopen, using their shop or even donating. Museums rely on our visitors support, financially and emotionally, to continue being able to present our history and inspire our future generations.
For reference I am not affiliated to the Museum in any way, I just think it’s an incredible place!
Thank you for taking the time to read this.