Teamwork Tudor-style! | The Mary Rose
Teamwork Tudor-style!
Learning | 20 Jun, 2023 | The Learning Team
Gun Drills at the Mary Rose

 Have you got what it takes to be in our Tudor Gun crew? We recently celebrated 10 years in the new museum. The Tudor Gun Drill was well established in the original museum and is still one of our most popular activities. Over the years, thousands of young people have taken part in this unusual opportunity. Tudor Gunner, volunteer Mike, explains…

“Gun crew, have a care... Give fire!”

With these words a pupil brings to a climax one of the most popular activities provided by the Learning Department at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth.

As visitors emerge from the lift on the upper deck of the museum, they are frequently confronted by a group of enthusiastic children clustered around a full-size replica of a Tudor gun known as a port piece. They quickly become fascinated by what the children are doing, as they go through the key stages of loading and firing the massive gun.  A generous round of applause often follows the completion of the task as the sound effect of the explosion dies away.

Why do we offer this activity and what are the educational benefits?  After all, the children are very unlikely to use Tudor gunnery skills in their later life!

Firstly, and importantly, it is fun to try something so unusual and different from their everyday experience.  Also, it is an activity unlikely to be found elsewhere due to the unique nature and atmosphere of the Mary Rose Museum.  As the children peer down the length of the gun, they gaze through a huge plate glass window at the eerie remains of Henry VIII’s flagship.  Not bad for starters!

In terms of language, the children are introduced to a range of specialized and unfamiliar vocabulary.  Repetition of words such as ‘linstock’, ‘slow match’ and ‘oakum’ by the presenter helps to cement the meaning in the memory and understanding of the pupils.  When encouraged to use their imagination in follow up work, children have produced some outstanding creative writing, particularly in the form of poetry.

Our gun drill is also an exercise in observation and concentration.  The pupils are given one carefully explained demonstration of the loading and firing process.  After that it is over to them to carry out the actions.  Now is the time for some kinetic learning to take place.  Each team has to work out the practicalities of safely lifting and moving some rather awkward and unfamiliar objects.  The quickly learn that teamwork is the key to success and that carrying out the task safely is everyone’s responsibility.

An element of drama adds to the spice.  With encouragement (and sometimes without!) the person acting as gun captain barks out the orders and makes the gun crew jump to it as they carry out the various tasks.  Adding the sound effect of the fun firing rounds off the activity as the gun crew stand clear, crouch down and cover their ears.

When everyone has had their turn, the pupils have the chance to handle a real stone shot from the Mary Rose and we give an opportunity for questions and answers.

As a souvenir and reminder of what they have done, we give the group a copy of the poem shown below. Many schools like to use this as a basis for a class assembly or as a stimulus for creative work back at school. Hear our Tudor Gunner read it here

We deliver this activity with great success to a wide variety of age groups and to people of varying abilities, including (with appropriate adaptations) special needs pupils.  It also proves highly popular with families and the wider public in holiday times.

One of the Mary Rose cannons features in the British Museum’s 100 Objects for Teaching History which features incredible objects from museums across the UK with resources, information and teaching ideas to inspire students’ interest in history.