The literary life of EDWARD JAMES, author,reviewer, occasional poet and former pension adviser to the government of Kyrgyzstan
Last week I was back in Portsmouth to see the Mary Rose for the third time and for the first time in its new purpose built museum. The museum is in the New Brutalist style featured in the Imperial War Museum North (see pic) but the display inside is magnificent. For the first time one can see the hull without peering though a mist of water or wax, but the real wonder is the thousands of objects recovered from the wreck.
I expect you all know the story of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s veteran warship that capsized in Portsmouth harbour in 1545 as it sailed into battle. There was no time to salve anything so a moment in time, with all its untidy diversity was sealed for 400 years in the silt of the Solent.
For me the most interesting objects were the guns. Ships guns play an important role in both my forthcoming Tudor novels, although in both stories they were deployed on land. I had seen the Mary Rose guns before but to see them on a recreation of the gun deck is to see what a weird collection of armament the ship had. No two guns are the same. Guns fashioned from iron staves bound by hoops (the barrels really were made like barrels) sit alongside sleek cannons cast in bronze with ornate heraldry. Some fired iron shot, others stone, and each had a different calibre with its own ammunition. No wonder the gunner had to measure the shot before loading.
Then there are the bows and arrows in their hundreds and thousands, telling you everything you wondered about about the English longbow.
There is much more to see in Portsmouth but luckily I had seen most of the attractions before, including the Victory and the Warrior, but I did find time to pop in to the new Naval Museum and crossed the harbour to the Submarine Museum in Gosport, both well worth the visit.