Last week a lucky group of staff and volunteers travelled to Sweden, in search of the Vasa, a Swedish warship that sank in Stockholm harbour in 1628. Jane Anderson, one of our museum volunteers, documents their trip…
“Everybody in the Mary Rose Museum has met the visitor who says ‘it’s not like the Vasa’; so we needed to see this ship for ourselves, and form our own opinions!
Our accommodation had strong maritime connections; Drottning Victoria’s Orlogshem was founded by the Swedish queen in 1908, to provide a home from home for sailors on shore leave in Stockholm. Gleaming brasswork, nautical paintings and memorabilia lined the corridors. Most exciting, it was built on the site of the Vasa shipyard.
The welcome at the Vasa Museumwas overwhelming, yet the abiding memory will be the first time we saw the ship. We divided into two distinct groups; one taking numerous photos from various angles, the other standing still, gazing upwards, awe-struck. When we had dragged ourselves away, Emma Hocker, Conservator, and her husband Fred, Director of Research, gave introductory talks and guided us through the conservation areas. It was great to meet Emilie again, who led a tour of the ship, and after a VIP lunch in the restaurant we lingered in the ship hall, checking out the exhibition areas, including eerie reconstructions of some of the victims of the sinking, life on board, details of the divers and raising of the ship in 1961.
The Vasa is situated on the ‘museum island’ of Djurgarden, next door to the ABBA museum. A swift culture shock followed; moving from a seventeenth-century warship to a seventies pop group demands flexibility, and the Mary Rose group stepped up to the challenge admirably. Original costumes, golden discs and archive films are displayed and we realised that Anna-Frid and Agnetha were even taller and slimmer than they appeared on TV. We also discovered previously untapped reserves of talent within our group. Unforgettable sights and sounds followed as many took the opportunity to perform as the fifth member of ABBA, or create demo tapes in the studio. No names here, unless you’d like to own up, James?
The day was rounded off by a trip to ‘Aifur’, a restaurant in the Old Town [Gamla Stan] with a well-researched authentic Viking menu, music and lively ambience. Every arrival was heralded by an ear-splitting blast on a hunting horn, and applauded by the assembled diners; we were introduced as the Mary Jones Museum, which may not have been a bad thing. Some of our group, when trying on Viking headgear, looked like pleasant museum volunteers in strange hats while others took on a more sinister aspect. Again, no names here.
Thursday’s full programme provided more contrasts; some returned to the Vasa, taking advantage of their open invitation. Others visited the Royal Palace, and in the afternoon we went back to mediaeval Stockholm via the Medeltidsmuseum, originally destined to provide car parking for the Parliament Building, but much better employed displaying artefacts found during excavation, including a warship dating from the 1520s. A walking tour of Gamla Stan followed, concluding with a descent into the surviving cellars of the Blackfriars Monastery, destroyed during the Swedish Reformation.
On our final evening the museum welcomed us back for a special talk by Fred Hocker, outlining recent research, and we were joined by the British Ambassador and his wife. By now, we really were feeling like royalty! A big thank you must go to James and Paul who fearlessly shepherded us around Stockholm and, of course, to the Vasa Museum, who looked after us so well. An unmissable experience!”
We’ll be posting more updates from our trip to the Vasa over the next week, hopefully including a video diary, so watch this space!