Tudor Treasures and a Mighty Monument

This is a transcript of episode 22 of our podcast series A History of England in 100 Places. Join Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, Dan Cruickshank, Emily Gee and Christopher Dobbs as we continue our journey through the history of loss and destruction in England.

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Voiceover:
This is a Historic England podcast sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance Group.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Hello. I'm Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb and you're listening to Irreplaceable, a History of England in 100 Places. In this series we're uncovering the amazing places which have helped make England the country it is today. Ten expert judges are choosing from thousands of your nominations to find the 100 places which best tell England's story. In today's episode we explore two more of the most significant locations in England's history of loss and destruction. What has become clear in this category is that places which have suffered destruction and loss have had an important, if sometimes devastating impact on our country. Here with me in the studio to talk through some of these places are again, historian Dan Cruickshank and Historic England's Emily Gee. Thank you so much for joining me. Dan, you were talking earlier about having recently visited Palmyra which is an example, internationally, of loss and destruction very sadly, isn't it?

Dan Cruickshank:
Yes. I've been looking around the world at lost places and have just got back from Syria where I went to Palmyra, which was a shocking attack on history.  The city itself is not too bad in fact. Islamic State targeted, to shock and appal us all, the key buildings and they are in varied straits. So the Monumental Arch and the Temple of Baalshamin are restorable. The Temple of Bel is not.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Well let's think about some of the places associated with loss and destruction here that have made our top ten. We'll begin with the very famous shipwreck, the Mary Rose.  When Mary Beard, our expert judge for this category was choosing this she said, "This site is a reminder of how much sadly we can learn about the past from its tragedies." And of course, she's right. This shipwreck, since being raised from the seabed in 1982, has been helping people understand and immerse themselves in what life in Tudor England was like.

Dan Cruickshank:
It is one of the most thrilling experiences to go there. To see the fragment, the strange section of this great craft. And as we've said before of other sites, it's the quantity of quite humble things: day to day [objects], okay it's a warship not a home but nevertheless, the domestic quality of the objects, things that people lived with…

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Absolutely and the story of how it was retrieved is amazing isn't it? Alexander McKee had that dream of finding the ship. He started searching in the 1960s and finally discovered the wreck in 1971. It was raised in 1982 after enlisting a crack team of diving archaeologists led by Margaret Rule.

Dan Cruickshank:
It was just sensationally exciting.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Yes and the footage is incredible, and it was watched by 60million people at the time as it came up. It's extraordinary. In fact, we've taken a day trip down to the wonderful Mary Rose museum at Portsmouth historic dockyard to find out about this ship that was lost in 1545, raised from the water over 400 years later and now in the very final stages of its restoration and conservation.

Christopher Dobbs:
Well I'm Christopher Dobbs and I'm Head of Interpretation at the Mary Rose. But I first started here in 1979, so I've been involved with every aspect of the project from the excavation and then the salvage and then particularly in the last 12 years, preparing for this museum that we're standing in now, looking at the ship. One of the concepts of the museum is that we have the ship on one side of the central hall, but then on the other side we have a mirror image of the ship with thousands of objects that we found inside. This ship matters because it comes from a really important part of history. Henry VIII is a part of our national psyche perhaps, but the Battle of the Solent is perhaps a very forgotten battle. 1545 was really important because we fought off a French invasion and if we hadn't won that battle, we'd all be speaking French. But much more than that, because the ship survived underneath the mud and we raised it from the seabed in 1982, we've got this microcosm of Tudor life.

This museum is not about a ship, it's about the people who worked and fought and died on board in 1545 with all aspects of society represented. We've learned an enormous amount more about Tudor life and times through the Mary Rose collection because perhaps unlike other museums and country houses and palaces, we have a cross section of society. We've got people from the very lowest mariner to the admiral. We've got peppercorns, we've got plum stones, we've got the shoes that have worn out. We've got their nit combs. We've got their leather and wooden drinking flagons as well as the pewter flagons. We've even got a backgammon set. There are man bags. We even found the ship's dog. Sometimes you can hear him barking…

There are a number of ways that the museum is designed to help people get an idea of this living ship. It's also on a series of levels so right down in the hold, right down in the dungeons, we display the things that we found at the bottom of the ship. So we've got barrels and chests and storage items and the ship's kitchen. We've got an incredible ship's kitchen! Then on the main gun deck we've got the working area because it was a warship but also, some of the cabins belonging to the carpenter and the surgeon and the more senior people. Then in the upper decks we've got the things belonging to the posh people because the officers would have had their quarters high up. So everything is related to the ship but the museum is not about a ship and I think that's magical. Although the category is being called Loss and Destruction, to me the Mary Rose is absolutely the opposite. It's about rebirth and recovery of this fantastic ship from the bottom of the sea. There cannot be any better example of something being lost and is now found, than a shipwreck.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Chris Dobbs there, Head of Interpretation at the Mary Rose and it's amazing to hear from someone who has been part of this incredible project from the very start. He and his wife were there for the dives and they've seen it all the way through to this award-winning museum, seen it realised. I was really struck though by him saying all levels of society were represented when of course, actually there weren't any women on board, so not every part of society at least. But anyway, what do we think about the Mary Rose? Do we think it's a location, does it qualify or do you think it's a collection of artefacts?

Dan Cruickshank:
Well clearly it's a collection of artefacts in a most coherent setting which is the remains of the timbers, but they're obviously not on the site. They can't be where the thing took place but it doesn't matter does it?  It's a particularly peculiar and most wonderful thing in its own right. It defines its own terms.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Yes I think so.

Emily Gee:
In many ways you could argue that the Mary Rose became one with the Solent itself, the waters. It was submerged for so long and forgotten and covered up and chewed on by all sorts of watery animals and worn away by currents. It really is intrinsically linked with that water course itself, it just played such an important role in England's naval history.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Yes absolutely because it was part of this - we've heard that there wasn't really a Navy at this time and every maritime historian acknowledges Henry VIII as the founding father of the Navy, so it's under him that we see the beginning of this.

Dan Cruickshank:
Yes. What's interesting is, is there still the debate about how the sinking took place? There used to be the idea that the gun ports were open and it hit a wave and water flooded in. Is that still the notion?

Emily Gee:
Yes

Dan Cruickshank:
It was calamitous and very sudden.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Yes absolutely. So there is still some discussion about this and what did it? Whether it was a gust of wind, whether the ship was over manned or too heavy at the time and basically it seems it was turning.

Dan Cruickshank:
A very bad start to a military into a battle when your major ship keels over under its own weight but that is what happened.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
There's also a couple of myths about the Mary Rose that I'd like to bust whilst we're here.  One is that it sank on its maiden voyage, like the Vasa which did.

Dan Cruickshank:
The Vasa, the Swedish one. The Mary Rose was a veteran wasn't it?

Suzannah Lipscomb:
But actually the Mary Rose did - it was, it had served for 34 years and then the other thing about them is the name. So people sometimes think it was named after Henry VIII's younger sister, who was called Mary. But actually at the same time there were two ships: The Peter Pomegranate and the Mary Rose. The Rose of course was the Tudor rose and the pomegranate was the symbol of Henry's new wife at that time, Catherine of Aragon and Mary and Peter were named after the Saints. So I love the fact that actually it testifies to Henry's profound Roman Catholicism before the break with Rome.

Dan Cruickshank:
Can I say you're absolutely right, because he was a committed Catholic and going on pilgrimages and so on, and the Rose is one of the emblems of the virgin, isn't it? So this is presumably relating back to the Virgin Mary.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
It is the Virgin Mary and then the rose, partly probably to represent her and partly to represent the Tudor dynasty. So it was quite early in his reign that it was built when he knew that they were - they weren't at war at that point but there were threats.  So the Mary Rose then served in more than one war in the 15 teens when Henry VIII wanted to be the new Henry V, so wanted to have his Agincourt so went to battle then. The second French war in the 1520s, in fact there's a moment in the 1520s, May 1522, when Henry uses the Mary Rose to entertain the holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, on board. So it's such an important place. Then she carries troops across to France and then amazingly is refitted, possibly with the funds from the dissolution of the monasterie and then sees service in the last war in the 1540s.

Dan Cruickshank:
That's interesting. Because of course, it was the myth thing. If it was a rooky ship, you can understand how the crew can get it wrong if the gun ports are open. It's a veteran ship, how can they make that mistake? But it's been refitted so maybe heavier guns, more guns or of course the crew could have been changed or something. But there's something isn't there because it seems that the accident should have been avoidable.  The gun ports should not have been open, should they?

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Absolutely and I think it might well be that. Actually, this relationship to the dissolution of the monasteries is interesting as well because monastic bars were melted down to make cannon. Who knows, the Mary Rose herself might have been carrying those. We don't know about that because in the 1540s there were salvage attempts to bring up the guns at least, the important things. And here's an interesting fact: three African divers went to dive to salvage the guns…

Dan Cruickshank:
In the 1540s we're talking about?

Suzannah Lipscomb:
…in the 1540s yes. Because they could dive great depths without equipment. And one of them was called Jack Frances. He was also the first known African to testify before an English court in 1548. There you go, that's for free.

Dan Cruickshank:
It's thrilling stuff. Gosh. How fascinating.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
But anyway, so how did the ship survive after that point? This is the question. What's going on with it? Emily.

Emily Gee:
Well the ship had settled at a 60-degree angle.  It was wedged into the seabed at a depth of only 11 metres at low tide.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
It's amazing isn't it?

Emily Gee:
Absolutely. As you say, salvage teams retrieved some of the precious weaponry quite early on but it just continued to rest below the water. The rest of the objects ended up being covered in clay and silt and shells down there in the Solent and sometimes the timbers were exposed as the tide changed, but largely it was forgotten about for centuries until in 1836 a few fishermen got their nets caught on her, which is rather lovely- she's tugging up and saying "remember me, remember me!"  But of course it wasn't until 1965 when she was properly found by Alexander McKee.

Dan Cruickshank:
The other thing of course is how many other lost treasures are there like that, that are forgotten and when they're recovered they change our perception of the past and so much information about how people lived. How many other things do you think, if we look hard, are lurking there, retrievable, that would be so equally transformative? I wonder.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
It is amazing that it was forgotten about for so many centuries and when it was found, when they brought it up, that moment we were talking about, they've found 19,000 artefacts on it or around it. I don't know if you've been down to the museum to see it, do you have any favourite objects among them?

Dan Cruickshank:
Oh my goodness, what a question! Many, many, many. I suppose it is the intimate things. Obviously it's the long bows and the shot and various bits and pieces, but it's the personal things that belonged to individual seamen and you have that intimate connection with the past. That's why it's brilliant isn't it?

Emily Gee:
I love the idea that they found so many different musical instruments on the ship and that idea of making music at sea is lovely. Fiddles, three hole pipes. A tabor drum and a shawm pipe (a kind of reeded musical instrument), so that's a really wonderful survival.

Dan Cruickshank:
Gosh, yes.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
I like the fact that you've got dice, because it was illegal to gamble…and they've got rosary beads so you've got this combination. And you've got ear scoops for wax, those are of the - you know, sort of hygiene. But the extraordinary thing of course is that they were setting out for a campaign but so many of them - we think that about 30 out of the 400 on board escaped. So many people died. We don't know the names of all the crew. They've managed to identify some of the names but anyway the finds that we do have, have given us this very special window onto Tudor life and what's extraordinary is it took 28,000 dives to get to this point. 12 years was spent on the seabed in total which is unbelievable when you hear it in those numbers, but we can all go and see it without a diving suit because of this amazing, award winning museum. It is a fascinating place to visit isn't it?

Okay let's move onto our next location, location number five.

Our category judge Mary Beard chose The Monument in London. This is, of course, a memorial to the great fire of London. It has been seen by some as one of the city's greatest pieces of public art. It's a Doric stone column standing around 61 metres high. Visitors from all over the world take the 311 steps to the top and you can take in a spectacular view of the modern capital city. Soaring towers to the East, the former fish market at Billingsgate. St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, all the rest of it. But as you go up there and see the skyline you've got to remember that prior to the great fire, prior to 1666, everything but the river and the Tower of London perhaps, looked very, very different. So let's start by talking about the infamous events that led to the construction of the tower.

Dan Cruickshank:
The fire, yes. Well of course The Monument is one of the most wonderful, wondrous things. We take it for granted now as it's dwarfed by the modern city, sadly. It rose tall and it was provocative of course, because it proclaimed that it was the Catholics that did it and it wasn't of course. That was taken off the inscription in 1830. It's always been an interesting and provocative building and interesting also, the design of it. It is commemorating the great fire and it was part of the modern world that came after the great fire, partly realised for building regulations and building acts and so forth, brick and stone, not timber and so and so forth. But also, the world of science - it's a mysterious building of course, because it's not just a monument. It's also a bit of apparatus. Robert Hooke was really the architect, with Wren, but Hooke was the great character behind it. Royal Society - it was a telescope and you could measure the movement of the planets and God knows what. It's a wonderful thing, isn't it?

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Yes. So tell me about this role as a telescope. Do you know much about that?

Dan Cruickshank:
Well it has a wonderful staircase inside which you go up and down to get to the viewing platform. It's an open well staircase, beautifully made out of stone, very typical of the late 17th century. But the open well, obviously it lets light in up and down but also I think there was originally a Zenith telescope inside the tower which meant one could precisely measure star positions and so on. So it was a great scientific apparatus. There's a ticket booth and below that, almost subterranean, was a little science laboratory where pendulum experiments took place. So you know, another level of activity. Everything about this building could be used at two levels to commemorate the fire but also as part of the experiments of modern science as it was.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Yes, but we must get back to this fire. So it did say it was caused by Catholics, which wasn't true but what was the fire caused by? Emily.

Emily Gee:
Well as all school children know, it was caused by the bakery of course.

Dan Cruickshank:
The royal bakery.

Emily Gee:
And we all know the year of course as well, 1666 and a site not far from where The Monument stands today on Pudding Lane. As we all know, the buildings were largely timber and the fire spread so quickly and vastly through the city bringing devastation where it went. Four days it burned…

Dan Cruickshank:
But it went slowly. You see, it's unstoppable. When Pepys talks about it, its starts as a little fire and he sees it from Pudding Lane, and it's unstoppable, it's slow, remorseless, unstoppable.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
And there was a massive rebuilding of the city and the modern city began to take shape.  So why was the monument a priority Emily?

Emily Gee:
Well as we know, Wren and others have this great vision for rebuilding the city in a grand monumental European way- there were many lovely plans built of that. Inevitably complications over ownership and the desire to just rebuild really, really fast meant that didn't come to pass. So we have a few wonderful emblems of that and what it might have been like. Of course, St. Paul's Cathedral and The Monument are there standing in a real axial position, but largely we have a lot of the medieval street pattern surviving and that's what's so brilliant- that we can read ancient London there whilst also having these grand new baroque monuments of the future. The lovely thing about The Monument of course is that not only was it necessary to commemorate the disaster but also this idea that it was commemorating this optimistic vision for the future in London and what it would be, there with its sculpted urn of flames at the top. So, reminding of the devastation of fire but also sparkling and thinking about the phoenix like nature of the city.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
It's interesting isn't it, because the monument itself I suppose is a symbol of the fact that, for the royal family (at the time Charles II) this was a tremendous PR coup. I mean the fire was obviously devastating but he handled it so well. You've probably come across those tales of him…

Dan Cruickshank:
In the streets, yes. Also revealed the complete absence of any power or money to do anything about it afterwards. The visionary plans were presented within days of course, Wren and other people. Hopeless because he has no power or money to make the vision take place.

Emily Gee:
But he did ride through the streets didn't he, handing out Guineas and handing out buckets of water.

Dan Cruickshank:
So it says, yes.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Of course it was the London Gazette probably trying to make him look better but it does tell us that, yes. Do you think we learned anything about urban planning as a result of the tragedy of the fire?

Emily Gee:
It had a huge impact on the architecture of London, both in city planning terms and on design. You know, materials, the idea of - you know, we don't see any jetties very much anymore.

Dan Cruickshank:
And the belief in uniformity! Things we may think now are a little bit deadly dull, you know, repetition of elevations, uniform street vistas; the building act was very important afterwards because it related height of buildings with the street. It all sounds a bit ploddy, but actually it helped create the harmonious classical city of the 18th century that we now so admire. But its roots also, a bit like Bath or the Edinburgh New Town, are in rebuilding of the city after the fire and in the fire itself of course.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Our judge, Mary Beard, remarked on the effectiveness of the monument in commemorating the scale of the disaster. And really, if we think about it, the great fire rewrote the architecture of the city and it's fitting that everybody, every school child even, knows the history of this. It's a very special spot still, I think, don't you?

Emily Gee:
It is yes, and from Historic England's new offices in the city, we can just see the sculpted urn with its gilded flames on the top. And I must say, it's a really important reminder to us every day of the importance of protecting the significance of the capital and also thinking about height. Of course, when the monument was built it was a rare high thing and we have to think about the importance of height and the impact that has on a wider area and not to dwarf it too much.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
There is still that spectacular moment on the summer solstice when, if you're looking at the right time, looking East in the morning or West in the afternoon, you can see the sun sitting directly upon the urn.  I don't know if you've ever seen that. It's a really wonderful moment. You probably see it from your offices.

Dan Cruickshank:
The summer solstice, 21st. Interesting, it sits on the urn does it?

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Yes that's how it was designed.

Okay, well that's all we have time for. Thank you for joining us, thank you for joining me. Everybody what do you think of our list so far, you can join in the conversation by using the #100places, that's the number 100, to let us know your thoughts about what destinations you think tell England's loss and destruction story. Please do share this programme with your friends. Thank you to my guests, Dan Cruickshank and Emily Gee. We'll be back next time.  We've got lots to think about.

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