The Mary Rose Museum opened to the public on May 30th, instantly becoming a worldwide sensation (and one of the most popular Twitter trending topics that day). Designing the museum’s interior united my two passions in life – architecture and marine archaeology.
The story begins over fifty years ago in the cold, dark waters of the English Channel, when as a young boy I first learnt to SCUBA dive, a hobby that I pursued through my architectural studies. I eventually became involved in recording and surveying shipwrecks for a French archaeologist along the southern coast of France, littered with wrecks from the Roman era dating back over two millenia.
It was all very romantic, being a young graduate diving in the blue Mediterranean Sea with plenty of sunshine, wine etc., but what enthralled me was touching history, coming into contact with things that hadn’t been seen for over two thousand years. Over many seasons working on underwater archaeological excavations around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea I became involved in the Nautical Archaeology Society, an international organisation based in the UK to promote awareness for our maritime cultural heritage. By 1998, I had become Chairman. Although not been actively involved in the Mary Rose excavation (she sank over 1500 years after the period I was interested in), I was well aware the project and most of my committee members had been or were still actively involved.
Following the ship’s being raised in 1982, several attempts were made to build a museum for the Mary Rose, all of which came to nothing. In 2004, a new initiative was launched, including an international competition, and I registered my interest. My knowledge of what was important and my ability to speak the same “language” as the Mary Rose Trust archaeologists helped me get through to the shortlist. From then on it was our design idea of creating the missing port side, the context gallery, which won the competition.
Working in nautical archaeology for decades and having been in touch with the archaeologists of the Mary Rose Trust, I was familiar with the quality and detail of the archaeological record. This gave me the idea that we could recreate the ship at the moment before the Mary Rose capsized and sank on the 19th July 1545. We set about creating the principal exhibit at the centre of the museum; a representation of the missing port side to house these incredibly well-preserved objects positioned in the mirror image of where they would have been in a frozen moment in time.
Designing the museum from the inside-out and working around the starboard section of the ship’s hull being conserved in a hot-box, we created a virtual port-side hull over three levels to view the ship and house the context gallery. It’s like being aboard the ship hundreds of years ago and gives visitors access to a remarkable piece of history – my delight in ‘touching history’ is finally shared with the public at large.
I look forward to the 2016 season, when the ship will be released from her protective cocoon and the gallery walkways are opened up. You’ll be able to see the Mary Rose without barriers. It’s going to be another momentous event and well worth the wait.