Private View of the Mary Rose Exhibition and Tour of Fort Nelson, Thursday 12th May 2014
The Bowyers and the Fletchers met together in Portsmouth on the evening of Thursday 12th June 2014 for a private view of the Mary Rose Museum which is in a stunning new building constructed alongside HMS Victory. King Henry VIII's flagship was built in 1510 but sank in 1545 at the Battle of the Solent when engaging with the French. It is now believed that the ship was seriously overloaded and that water entered the low-lying gun ports as the vessel leaned over during a sharp turn. When first raised in 1982, the timbers underwent years of washing to remove the salt water. That phase has been completed and some of the thousands of artefacts can now be displayed alongside the deck on which they were found. The exhibition describes the work of the stores and kitchens on the Lower Deck, of the life of the surgeon, master gunner, master mariner and carpenter on the Main Deck and of the officers and gentry on the Upper Deck. A glass-fronted lift from the Lower Deck to the Upper Deck gives visitors a chance to view each deck in turn as they rise up through the building. The highlight for the Bowyers and Fletchers was undoubtedly the display of longbows and arrows and of the wooden chests in which they were stored. 137 longbows were recovered along with about 3,500 arrows and these are a significant find as they are the earliest to have survived. The bows are between 6'2" and 6'11" in length with an average of 6'6".
The event concluded with a reception of drinks and canapés on the deck overlooking the stern of HMS Victory on what was a glorious summer evening. Our host, Rear Admiral John Lippiett CB CBE, the Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust, welcomed the guests. He described the Mary Rose as "England's Pompeii" in that so many artefacts survived in the mud of the Solent and that these common everyday objects are so important as they were lost just at the time that medieval science and technology was being transformed by the new thinking of the Renaissance. The Master Bowyer, Michael Wren, and the Master Fletcher, Andrew McMillan, both thanked John Lippiett and his staff for a most enjoyable evening.
Earlier that afternoon, Michael Wren, Sinclair Rogers and Simon Leach from the Bowyers and Alison Wilkie from the Fletchers were given a private view of Fort Nelson, which houses the artillery collection of the Royal Armouries. Sited on the hill above Portsmouth, the fort was part of a chain of gun emplacements built in 1860 to protect the naval dockyard from the threat of invasion by the French. The thinking was that Portsmouth could be lost if Napoleon III were to land an army and secure the downs overlooking the harbour. The forts were to be become known as Palmerston's Follies for, by the time they had been completed, France had been defeated in the Franco-Prussian War and was no longer a threat to Britain. A very warm welcome was given by Nick Hall, Keeper of Artillery, and Nigel Hosier, the Operations Manager and it was very enjoyable visit. One of the earliest pieces in the collection was a Turkish Bombard, or "wall smasher", of 1464, which, despite weighting 16,800 kg, was transported in two sections which screwed together to form a single barrel. One of the newest exhibits were sections of the Iraqi Supergun, Big Babylon, which were described in the export papers as "petrochemical pressure vessels" but which were seized by customs officials. The gun, which was never assembled, would have been 156 m in length and capable of firing objects into orbit.