A Walk Through History

I have several posts and collections of photos swimming around and cris-crossing through my mind.  I hope you will stick with me after what has been rather a long break and as I now take a diversion from the theme of patchwork and quilting to share a day out?

Last Thursday we (Husband and our two grown-up children, A & S) took a trip down the motorway to the Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth.  This dockside site is home to several historic ships and museums and is a fascinating place to visit not least because it is slap-bang in the middle of the modern naval shipyard so there are various vessels to see including on this visit an aircraft carrier (I hope that isn’t breaching any security codes but I guess it’s location isn’t being kept secret!).

(c) Fareham Borough Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Our main port of call (sorry, couldn’t resist that!) was the newly re-opened exhibition of the Mary Rose.  Henry VIII’s flagship sank in Solent waters, just off Portsmouth in 1545.  At the time the King was watching from land as his fleet engaged with an invading French fleet. The Mary Rose most likely sank as she was heavily laden with guns and soldiers and having fired a broadside at the invaders was manoeuvering round to fire the guns (cannon) from her opposite side.  As she turned, she tilted and the open gun ports took on water.  Tragically only around 30 of the 500 men on board survived, despite being so close to land.


The ship lay on it’s side at the bottom of the Solent for over 400 years.  The lower side disappeared into the silt and the timbers and many of the artefacts on board survived because the silt prevented destructive, oxygen dependent,  marine creatures being able to get at the perishable items.  The half of the ship above the silt rotted away.   Amazingly archaeologists raised the Mary Rose in 1982  and have been preserving the ship and hundreds of objects found in and around it ever since.  A truly amazing sight! The half ship (like a cross section diagram) has been sprayed with chemicals for decades to stabilize the saltwater soaked timbers.  Now it has entered a new phase in the preservation process and can be seen much more clearly through the exhibition windows.

A selection of open-ended thumb thimbles, needle bobbins used by the sailors to keep their kit and ship in good order.
A selection of open-ended thumb thimbles and needle bobbins used by the sailors to keep their kit and ship in good order.

The museum is laid out on three floors corresponding to the three decks of the ship and on each floor you can look through to the remains of the Mary Rose on one side and then turn to see many of the artefacts found in that particular section of the ship. These items are just so fascinating: everyday objects including shoes, nit combs (lots of these!) spoons, tankards, lanterns, clasps; items of warfare including the huge cannon, long bows and cases full of arrows; and the contents of the sailors and soldiers trunks beautifully preserved; specialist items belonging to the ships carpenter, surgeon and cook.

A pair of workman's shoes. No left or right and with very smooth soles many sailors shoes were stored below decks whie they worked barefoot on the slippery decks.
A pair of workman’s shoes. No distinct left or right, and with very smooth soles many sailors shoes were stored below decks while they worked barefoot on the slippery decks.

We spent more than two hours looking around and could easily have spent double that just taking in all the detail.  I really think it is as engrossing and remarkable as the finds made in ancient Egyptian tombs. It’s the wonder of looking at everyday objects that are 500 years old and can really tell a story about the sorts of individuals to whom they belonged. And of course all those soldiers and sailors had to be fed…

Nit combs!
Nit combs!

Can you believe that in the bottom of that wooden ship were two brick ovens built around enormous cauldrans!  Imagine what it must have been like – those scenes in the engine room in the film Titanic come to mind but it must have been much darker and there was far less head room on the Mary Rose!


For more pictures and information take a look at http://www.maryrose.org/discover-our-collection/

HMS Victory in dry dock Portsmouth
HMS Victory in dry dock Portsmouth

Our trip to the Historic Dockyard couldn’t conclude without a 200 year time jump to HMS Victory, Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship on which he died in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar. Our tour guide was good fun and amongst the reverence for Nelson he also managed to add many interesting facts about the lives of the sailors of the time – including their drink ration – 6½ pints of beer and the equivalent of 2 bottles of rum – a day!  We learned that the phrase ‘three square meals a day’ came from the practice of serving the sailors their three meals on square wooden ‘plates’; that ‘letting the cat out of the bag’  referred to the cat-o-nine-tails being taken from it’s bag ready to punish a sailor whose misdemeanors had been disclosed; and calling someone a ‘toe-rag’ is, well, not something to be said lightly or at the dinner table… but, eh-hem, toilet paper hadn’t been invented then…

So all in all a jolly good day out, all the better for being in the company of A & S!  I promise I have been patchworking and quilting in the meantime and enjoying reading the posts of other bloggers and enjoying watching the progress of their various projects. Normal service will be resumed shortly on this blog page!




5 thoughts on “A Walk Through History

  1. Thanks for sharing this with us Allison. Very interesting. I can’t imagine the lives of those sailors in 1545 ! My head was itching just looking at those nit combs. It is really quite a feat what they have done to preserve this history.


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