PhD.: HMS Victory and the Mary Rose: Comparative Conservation Strategies for the Preservation of Neighbouring Historic Warships

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HMS Victory and the Mary Rose: Comparative Conservation Strategies for the Preservation of Neighbouring Historic Warships

The Mary Rose and HMS Victory are arguably the two most important historic warships in the UK, and are internationally renowned. The Mary Rose served in King Henry VIII’s naval fleet for 34 years before sinking in battle in 1545. It was raised from the seabed in 1982, and is now housed in a purpose-built museum situated within a dry dock with bespoke environmental control at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. HMS Victory was Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), and has been dry-docked since 1922. It stands in the neighbouring dock to Mary Rose but, in contrast, is uncovered and constantly exposed to the elements. Both ships face multiple challenges in terms of their conservation and share similar goals in terms of their long-term preservation, although their contrasting histories and the environments in which they are now housed have driven their conservation strategies in different directions. These strategies must be responsive to changes in the preservation of the wood that can occur for a variety of reasons, including constant movement and structural changes, exposure to the elements (Victory), contaminants from environment and treatments, and the activity of fungi and wood borers. It is easy to assume that, as both ships were made from oak, they remain composed of similar material, when in reality there is a great deal of variation not only between the two ships, but also between different timbers from the same ship.

The student will investigate the preservation state of the original oak timbers of both ships (as well as historic replacements on HMS Victory) and explore how the different environments and conservation treatments they have experienced have altered the initial materials and their associated properties (chemical, biological and mechanical). How this then influences their respective conservation management strategies and can be incorporated into the ships’ long-term conservation strategies will subsequently be explored; do the findings change current approaches to either/both ship(s)?

The project will further investigate how the different wood preservation states and the impact of conservation treatments can be recorded visually for dissemination through museum websites and visitor attractions, thereby engaging the public with this crucial work that ensures the survival of these unique objects. Both museums, individually caring for unique pieces of history, have an obligation to share their research, processes and results with the public and their peers. It is critical that they have the right tools to do this.

Fiona Brock is Lecturer in Applied Analytical Techniques at Cranfield Forensic Institute. She is a chemist with over 15 years’ experience working in archaeological sciences and alongside museum conservators. Her main research interests are in the preservation of organic materials through time. Fabio D’Agnano is an architect and Associate Professor in the Centre for Fine Print Research at UWE, specialising in 3D modelling and manufacturing. Diana Davis is an accredited large objects conservator and Head of Conservation for the NMRN. She is responsible for the team maintaining and preserving HMS Victory as well as the museum’s other historic ships, aircraft and collections. Eleanor Schofield is Deputy CEO at the Mary Rose Trust and is responsible for the care and understanding of the collection. Her background is in Materials Science and Engineering and her research focuses on understanding degradation mechanisms in both organic and inorganic marine archaeological objects, developing new conservation treatments and methods to evaluate their efficacy. Fiona and Diana have worked together for several years, co-supervising two MSc projects investigating challenges to conservation on HMS Victory, and one PhD student who is currently investigating and communicating Deathwatch Beetle activity on the ship. Diana and Eleanor have a collaborative working relationship as leads of conservation teams at the neighbouring organisations on Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

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