Fortifying the Museum | The Mary Rose
Fortifying the Museum
Collections | 01 May, 2023 | The Collections Team
The 10 year anniversary of the installation of bronze guns at the Mary Rose Museum

The Mary Rose Museum celebrates its 10th birthday on 31st May 2023. A new, modern museum built around the remains of the hull and with it, at the time, still undergoing the polyethylene glycol treatment. The museum brought together many of the thousands of artefacts to display alongside the ship for the very first time. But this required careful and precise installation of these delicate objects into their new home by members of the Collections and Conservation team. 

Curators spent years planning the layout of artefacts in the new Mary Rose Museum to give the best visitor experience and to tell the stories of the individuals on board using their items. Thousands of additional objects to those that were on display in the former museum went through conservation treatments in preparation for their eventual installation into the environmentally controlled showcases of the new building. These included artefacts that had never been seen before by the general public. 

Mounts for the objects were designed and produced in the years prior to opening, each one individually hand made. These helped to support fragile objects and also positioned them in a way to best exhibit them. For many of the smaller objects, installation into the showcases was straight forward and problem free. However, some of the larger artefacts required further planning and equipment to move them into place and to display them in a way that the curators had imagined. 

The biggest challenge came from the bronze cannons and their wooden gun carriages. The majority of these can be found in our large display case, opposite the remains of the hull. Three were to be positioned on the main deck and one on the upper deck. The cannons weigh between 1.3 and 2.5 tonnes and measured between 2.9 and 3.6m long. The first task was to move them into the gallery walkway opposite their intended position in the showcase. The floor is sloped to replicate that of the ship therefore the cannons needed to be slowly winched down to avoid losing control of them and subsequently damaging the newly installed 3.6m high glass panes of the showcase. The next difficulty came in how to move the cannons across into the bay and onto their mounts. This was made more challenging by a gap in the floor between the walkway and showcase as well as the ceiling height mimicking the actual height on the ship; 6 ft, barely tall enough to stand upright let alone lift a cannon using traditional lifting equipment.

Fortunately, through planning and preparing for the installation of the cannons, a unique lifting device was manufactured to combat just those problems. It allowed for lifting in areas of low height and had extensions that let it bridge the gap between the walkways and showcase. With the help of a specialist lifting team, the cannons were all moved into positions. Due to the fragility of the wooden carriages and trunnion support cheeks, after 400 years buried in the Solent, we could no longer rest the heavy cannons directly on them. Supporting steel mounts were designed and manufactured that would hold the cannons in position and allow for the gun carriages to be positioned underneath. Thanks to these innovative designs and novel installation method we have been able to display the cannons and gun carriages together for the first time, giving visitors the chance to see the impressive fire power behind Henry VIII’s great Naval flagship.