It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since the Mary Rose Museum opened its doors to the public. It feels like only yesterday that we were still in the old museum, surrounded by empty display cases, wondering if we’d ever get to the new place!
Looking back on the day of the launch it’s amazing how much press attention it got. It’s estimated that around a billion people saw the coverage worldwide, and our website collapsed under the sheer weight of people visiting it! (which is why there are so few pictures on here, but you can find more on our Facebook page!)
While the museum was gearing up to welcome the world’s press, I was out nice and early, standing in the rain at the Round Tower, part of Portsmouth’s old sea defences visible in a contemporary depiction of the sinking of the Mary Rose, and is often frequented by ship spotters. While the camera team from Motivation, who were covering the event for the Mary Rose Trust, Jenny Lippiett, wife of the Chief Executive of the Trust and myself were getting soaked, we were having a better time than the team on the boat taking the bell of the Mary Rose out to the wreck site. Despite the choppy conditions, they managed to deliver the prayer for the crew who lost their lives when the Mary Rose sank, lay a wreath for them, and return to harbour with a tugboat escort and a salute from the guns in Gosport.
Then it was time for us to make a quick trip down to Southsea Castle, where I met my colleague and assistant for the day, Heidi, who handled the camera work during the next stage of the celebration. Southsea Castle was where Henry VIII watched the Mary Rose sink, so it was the perfect place for the Purbrook bowmen to deliver a volley of flaming arrows. We also got to see renowned actor Robert Hardy tell off a reporter for talking about ‘firing’ arrows (you shoot an arrow, as any fule kno), plus we got to meet and film Sandi Toksvig in an interview conducted so terribly it can never see the light of day!
The Longbow salute was rather impressive, the sound of the arrows flying through the air was louder than expected, and you could only imagine how it would have been with over a hundred times more arrows, and if they were heading towards you.
After that, we were back to the museum, where the circus was in town. The world’s media, from CNN to BBC South Today, had set up camp in the museum café, the arena outside had been taken over by reenactors, with displays of cloth dying, medical instruments and carpentry. We even had a “try your hand at archery” stand set up!
The outside of the entrance pavilion (sponsored by LV=) was covered with a large flag, a royal standard similar to that used by Henry VIII, and during the day cadets from TS Mary Rose had been practising lowering it, to applause from the crowds looking down from the deck of HMS Victory.
Once the Dockyard had closed to the public, the special guests arrived, people who had helped with fundraising, the organisation both of the museum and the launch event, plus staff from the Historic Dockyard, and the main event began, with the Marines band playing while crew members from HMS Duncan carried the bell of the Mary Rose to its final destination.
This was covered by Sally Taylor of BBC South Today, while I was squashed into a corner, trying to keep out of shot!
It was quite an honour to be part of something like our launch, and the memories of that day will stay with me forever. Looking back at some of the stuff we livetweeted, it makes me cringe.
You can see highlights of the day in the video below, courtesy of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, and an image gallery is available below.