"We've Done It!" Excitement As Mary Rose Stem & Anchor Raised

By David Prudames | 11 October 2005
Shows a photo of maritime archaeologists supervising as a large piece of timber is lowered onto the deck of a ship.

Alex Hildred, Project Manager on board the dive ship Terschelling, exclaims as the stem timber is lowered onto the deck. © 24 Hour Museum.

24 Hour Museum deputy editor David Prudames watches a piece of history emerge from the Solent on October 11.

Described as "key pieces" in the Mary Rose puzzle, the stem timber and an anchor from the Tudor warship have been raised from the bed of the Solent where they’ve been buried since she sank in 1545.

A Sky News helicopter circled, boats bobbed and a flurry of photographers managed to keep their footing as at around 10.40am the anchor, heavily encrusted with mud and all manner of sea creatures, was slowly lifted out of the water.

Shows a photo of a large anchor being lifted out of the sea in front of a boat.

The anchor breaks the surface for the first time in more than 400 years. © 24 Hour Museum.

When, an hour later, the suitably substantial stem emerged John Lippiett, Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust, turned to Margaret Rule, the trust’s Archaeological Director from 1979 until 1994, and exclaimed: "We’ve done it, we’ve done it!"

For Margaret Rule, watching with a tear in her eye, it was "almost like family coming home."

Shows a photo of John Lippiett and Margaret Rule.

John Lippiett and Margaret Rule look on as the stem timber is raised. © 24 Hour Museum.

The artefacts were raised on the last day of a three-week dive during which maritime archaeologists have spent 400 hours underwater.

While their work yielded more than 100 other artefacts, the items that brought a bustling press pack and boat-load of sightseers to the middle of the Solent were the anchor and stem.

Speaking to the 24 Hour Museum, John Lippiett marvelled at the amazing condition of the anchor: "It looks strong enough for us to have it out and use it next week," he said.

But it’s the stem - a huge 10-metre long, curved timber - he added, that is the real star of the show: "It’s the most important archaeologically, because it will give us the structure of the ship," he explained.

Shows an artist's impression of the Mary Rose at sea.

The Mary Rose as it is believed she would have looked in her prime. Courtesy Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The Mary Rose sank in 1545 on her way to engage the French fleet, which had already landed on the Isle of Wight. She was at the forefront of naval technology and was reputedly Henry VIII’s favourite warship.

However, no drawings or plans exist and as such every piece brought to the surface adds to our knowledge of what the vessel would have looked like. The stem, in particular, will show the shape of the bow.

Shows a photo of a large timber being lifted out of the sea.

The stem timber is a whopping 10 metres in length. © 24 Hour Museum.

As John Lippiett put it: "We can learn an extraordinary amount from this one piece of timber."

Having learned to dive on the Mary Rose wreck in 1971 and later been responsible for the excavation and recovery of the famous Tudor warship in 1982, Margaret Rule is fully aware of the timber’s significance.

In 2005 she’d come back to the site where exactly 23 years previously she’d had to leave it behind.

"When we left it behind in 1982," she told the 24 Hour Museum, "I never thought I would see it in my lifetime, so it’s a terrific joy to see it recovered and to see it in such good condition."

Shows a photo of a large timber being lifted out of the sea on a platform by a crane on the deck of a ship called the Terschelling.

Experts at the Mary Rose Trust believe the stem timber will significantly add to our knowledge of the ship's shape. © 24 Hour Museum.

Maritime archaeologists will now cover what’s left down there with fabric, weighed down with sand bags and over the several tonnes of sand will be used to cover the whole thing up.

The project was the third in a series of three annual dives to the wreck site which have yielded not only countless fascinating artefacts – take your pick between swivel guns, primers and even a piece of a sailor’s shoe – but vital information about what the Mary Rose would have looked like.

All three dive seasons were made possible by funding from the Ministry of Defence as a consequence of its plans for a £150-200 million redevelopment of Portsmouth Naval Base.

The scheme will allow the harbour to accommodate the Navy's new generation of massive aircraft carriers and as such requires the dredging of a deeper and wider approach channel. One of the potential routes suggested would have passed through the edge of the Mary Rose wreck site.

Shows a photo of a large anchor being lifted out of the sea.

The anchor is in particularly good condition. © 24 Hour Museum.

However, it now seems that the Navy would rather develop the natural channel through which current warships already pass than create a new one.

"After a lot of very thorough work," Mike Power of the Warship Support Agency told the 24 Hour Museum, "we’ve decided that our objectives can be met with modifying the existing channel."

Despite the obvious threat the original plans posed, the gains for the Mary Rose Trust have been significant.

"As a direct consequence the Mary Rose Trust has learnt a lot more about the ship and recovered a lot more of it," explained Anton Hannay of Portsmouth Naval Base.

"So it’s a happy irony that the planning for the biggest and most powerful warships the Navy’s ever had has resulted in an increase in knowledge of one of the most powerful warships the Navy had over 400 years ago at the beginning of the service."

Although there won't be any more excavating of the wreck for the foreseeable future the trust has the almighty challenge of raising funds to carry on the conservation programme.

Ultimately, John Lippiett explained, the plan is to build a new museum to open in 2011 - the 500th anniversary of the maiden voyage of the Mary Rose - to display the ship and the thousands of artefacts raised with her.

"For the future we are dependent on public interest and support," he told the 24 Hour Museum. "Preserving our national heritage is always a challenge, you can't let Stonehenge or Hampton Court fall down - this is the equivalent. We've got it and we can't throw it back."

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