The collection: Museum and gallery staff put their favourite artefacts on display

2nd July 1999 at 01:00
Week 25: A wooden tankard. The Mary Rose Museum and Ship Hall, Portsmouth.

An effective warship for 34 years, the Mary Rose was only two kilometres from Portsmouth when she sank in the Solent on July 19, 1545, during an engagement with the French fleet.

Like the lava which engulfed Pompeii and preserved an entire town, the Mary Rose became a 16th-century time capsule at the bottom of the sea. The silt of the Solent seabed helped preserve the warship, which lay buried for nearly 450 years awaiting discovery and excavation by archaeologists.

Seventeen years after the ship was raised, the conservation and study of the thousands of artefacts that remained within it is a continuing process, and it continues to inspire awe and wonder in visitors and academics.

This collection presents a unique opportunity for gaining an insight into everyday Tudor life. Many of the objects recovered are those which, in the normal course of events, would not find them-selves cherished or handed down through generations in the same way as something more ornate and sumptuous would - but that does not make them any less precious.

This wood-en tankard, for instance, provides us with valuable clues about the types of utensils used for commonplace tasks. Lined with pitch to prevent leakage, 18 similar stave-built drinking tankards were found in the Mary Rose, made in a variety of woods. Serving flagons with the capacity to hold a gallon of liquid were made in the same shape.

A number of the tankards and flagons bear graffiti, which would seem to be personalisation or ownership marks applied by the men who served on the ship. These tankards were used for drinking beer, while the officers drank from pewter ones.

Throughout the Tudor per-iod, beer was one of the most important sinews of a country's war machine. Without it, ships could not sail and armies would not fight.

Its importance lay more in its preservative qualities than its alcohol content - it was the only liquid in bulk that would keep for the duration of a campaign. The quantity of beer consumed was prodigious. By 1565, navy victuallers were contracted to supply each man in the fleet with seven gallonsa week.

Maggie Richards

Maggie Richards is curator of domestic and personal artefactsat the Mary Rose Trust, College Road, HM Base, PortsmouthPO1 3LX. The museum and ship hall welcomes school parties.Educational visits include the opportunity for hands-on sessions with real and replica artefacts.For group bookings, call them on 01705 839766

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