Work Placements at the Mary Rose - Part 2
Collections | 12 Jul, 2018 | Guest Blog
In part 2 of her blog, Gemma McDermott, an archaeology student from Leeds, talks about her experiences with experimental archaeology...

If you missed it, go back and read part 1

As part of my internship I participated in a project of ‘Experimental Archaeology’ for the Mary Rose. At the rear of the museum there is a replica of the galley found on board the Mary Rose. The galley consists of hundreds of bricks built around a firebox with a cauldron in the middle lined with lead. I was able to learn many things, including how hot it gets working next to a fire in Tudor clothing!

I was tasked with making a pottage and an aigredouce. These fine meals consisted of meat (either beef or venison) and seasonal vegetables such as cabbage, turnips and onions, with a paste which included prunes, ground almonds and peppercorns. Of all these ingredients the one I found most interesting was the peppercorns, as these were found in three different locations on the Mary Rose. As well as the galley area, peppercorns were found in a gentleman’s chest, telling us that he may have liked to season his food, as well as the surgeon’s cabin, suggesting that they were used medicinally!

The most fascinating aspect of the galley was the versatility of such a simple looking oven. There are at least five different ways you can cook a meal on this galley and each one is as amazing as the next;

  1. “Dangle spit roasting” - Basically hanging a piece of meat in front of the fire and turning it every few minutes. Heat coming out of the oven would rise across the meat, cooking it rather quickly.
  2. Using a pot in front of the fire - This method is how we cooked our pottage and aigredouce, placing a metal pot in front of the fire and letting it cook by using the radiant heat.
  3. “Bain-marie” - Food is placed in a ceramic pot and covered over the top with a linen cloth. Then the pot is floated in the broth stewing in the cauldron. This method works remarkably well, unless you’re a novice cook and don’t tie the cloth tight enough…
  4. “Boil in the bag”- This is how we cooked the crew’s food. We would place a mess’ meal, feeding about eight men, in a linen bag and, again, let it boil in the broth at the top.
  5. Using the oven - When the daily meal is done, and the oven is cleared of ash, the ships cook would place kneaded dough in the empty oven and cover the entrance with a wooden door. This allowed the bread to bake using the heat that was stored in the bricks.

My personal favourite has to be the ‘bain-marie’ as it shows we can learn a lot about modern cooking techniques by simply looking at historic styles. It’s truly remarkable how techniques in food preparation have changed so little in over 500 years!

Watching other volunteers and staff talk to the public about Tudor cooking techniques meant that it wasn’t long before I could confidently follow suit. The volunteers at the Mary Rose are so passionate about what they do that it is very hard to not pick up on this energy!  While cooking on the galley was a lot of fun, the best part was seeing how deeply engaged the public were with what we were doing. This is the most rewarding feedback you can receive, especiall if talking to groups of people is not one of your strongest points. It is thanks to the staff and volunteers that so many visitors come to the Mary Rose and discover something that will stay with them for years to come.   

Whilst working at the Mary Rose I have not only developed my archaeological skills, but I have developed as an individual. What will really stick with me is the personal aspects; skills that will follow me throughout my life, developing my teamwork skills by working with volunteers and the public, and improving my communication skills by discussing theories with experts.

Going into my final year, and faced with the task of doing my dissertation, I will hold in my heart that, if these people can excavate and then raise the Mary Rose from the bottom of the sea and be front runners in maritime archaeology despite the struggles and barriers in the way and then create a massively successful visitor attraction, then I can write a dissertation and tackle anything.