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The Raising of the Mary Rose: 40 Years On

Written by Amber Turner-Brightman

On this day in 1982, the hull of Henry VIII’s infamous flagship The Mary Rose was raised from the bottom of the Solent. The raising concluded an eleven-and-a-half-year recovery project, which to this day remains the largest maritime excavation ever undertaken, with 28,000 individual dives and 19,000 artefacts recovered.

The search was pioneered by historian Alexander McKee, who started ‘Project Solent Ships’ in 1965 with the hope of finding the Mary Rose. After several years, divers began to explore an area flagged by sonar scans in 1968, with the first timbers being discovered in 1971. After eight years of exploration, the decision was made to excavate the ship entirely, and the Mary Rose Trust was formed in 1979 with then Prince Charles as its president. A team of staff and over 500 volunteer divers, overseen by archaeologist Margaret Rule, worked tirelessly to recover all artefacts and timbers before the hull was finally raised forty years ago.

The cultural impact of her raising is undeniable. Ask anyone who was around in the early 80s and they’ll be able to tell you where they were when they watched her come up from the seabed, along with sixty million others. Today, people travel from all over the world to visit her wreck at the Mary Rose Museum here in Portsmouth. As someone used to work at the museum, I often saw visitors moved to tears by the breadth of her history and the hard work which went into her recovery.

The wreck site of the Mary Rose. Photographed by Amber Turner-Brightman, edited by George Wilson.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of her raising, a trip to the site of her wreck was organised by the Mary Rose Trust. Staff, volunteers, special guests (including divers and the families of Alexander McKee and Margret Rule), and several lucky members of the public climbed aboard for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Sailing out, Southsea Castle was visible in the distance, the place from which King Henry would have watched his flagship sink in a matter of minutes.

Speeches were given to honour all those involved in the Mary Rose project; a newly composed song by Portsmouth Music Hub was performed by pupils of St John’s and St Edmunds schools; and, most touchingly, 500 roses were laid at the wreck site to represent the 500 volunteer divers and everybody else who made the raising possible.

As we returned to Portsmouth, just as the Mary Rose did in 1982, Head of Interpretation and original diver Chris Dobbs recounted the thousands of people who had gathered at the seafront to catch a glimpse of the ship on the day of the raising. He described the excitement and cheers of the crowd as the hull was towed into the Harbour, adding that it was amazing to think that forty years had passed.

The 500 roses. Photographed by Amber Turner-Brightman, edited by George Wilson.

At the end of the trip, Dominic Jones, CEO of the Mary Rose Trust, said that he was “absolutely thrilled” to be aboard with the people of Portsmouth. He also expressed gratitude towards the University of Portsmouth and its students for their work on the museum's new Extended Reality exhibits, which he said were “helping make the Mary Rose fantastic”.


About the Author: Amber Turner-Brightman (they/them)

Hi, I'm Amber, EIC! I'm an MA Journalism student with an undergraduate degree in Politics and International Relations. I'm particularly interested in current affairs and societal trends.

About The Image Editor: George Wilson (he/him)

Hi, I'm George. I am a third year Film Production student, aiming to do an MA in Illustration and I am the Head of Design for Spyglass. In my free time I enjoy video games, digital art and anime :)


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