Drying times ahead for Henry VIII’s Mary Rose warship

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Groundbreaking conservation work is being undertaken on the Mary Rose.

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For the first time since the ship was raised in 1982, the hull is being carefully air-dried in a controlled environment.

For 12 years from 1982 to 1994 the ship was regularly sprayed with filtered, recycled water kept at a low temperature, which stopped it drying out and prevented the growth of damaging fungi or microbes.

From 1994 the conservation team sprayed the hull with polyethylene glycol (PEG), to replace the water in the cellular structure of the wood.

Without spraying, the wood would have shrunk by up to 50 per cent, and cracked as water evaporated.

Now, after tests revealed a suitable level of water in the wood has been replaced, researchers at the Mary Rose Trust in Portmouth are working to dry the ship.

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In what is the final stage of conservation, the hull is being dried at temperatures of 18–20C. This process is expected to take around five years.

To monitor the success – or otherwise – of the treatment, the team will twice a year test samples of the ship at the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, Diamond Light Source.

The synchrotron generates intense ‘beams’ of light, 10bn times brighter than the sun, that enable scientists to look at samples at intense, atomic levels.

The light produced at Diamond Light Source is mainly in the form of x-rays and its intensity will enable researchers to examine the ship’s timber in unparalleled detail.

Eleanor Schofield, the conservation manager at the Mary Rose Trust, told historyextra: “The process of conserving the ship since the 1980s has now completely changed. The people working here, who were previously looking after the spray system around the ship, are doing entirely different jobs.

“The findings will tell us more about how best to conserve ships.”

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The Mary Rose first saw battle in 1512, in a naval operation with the Spanish against the French. The English attacked the French and Breton fleets in the English Channel, while the Spanish attacked them in the Bay of Biscay.

The ship also helped escort English troops over to France when, in 1522, the countries went head to head once more.

The Mary Rose sank in July 1545 in battle of the Solent. Hundreds of men aboard the ship drowned, and only around 25 survived.

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The ship was discovered in May 1971, and raised in 1982.