17/06/2015 09:27 BST | Updated 15/06/2016 06:59 BST

Ask a Stupid Question...

A lot of people use the same starting point when they ask our volunteers questions in the museum; "This may be a stupid question, but..."

The thing is, 99.999% of the time it isn't. They tend to be pretty obvious questions, such as when the Mary Rose sank (19th July 1545, fact-fans!), or were there any survivors (30-40), but that doesn't make them stupid.

Sometimes you can become so involved in a subject that you forget what is actually common knowledge, and what is actually rather specialised. For us, things like the number of crew, the date of her recovery, even the name of the body of water in which she was lost are considered 'the basics', which all of our staff and volunteers should be able to tell you, yet they'd all make pretty good pub quiz questions.

Some people over the age of 40 might remember the morning of 11th October 1982 from their childhood, either from the telly being wheeled into the classroom, or taking the day off school/work to see the raising, but for a lot of people, it was sometime in the 80s, or even the 70s. While the Solent is a fairly well known term for the body of water between Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in the south of England, the further away you get from the coastline the less people know about it. As to the number of crew, even at the time of her loss people disagreed on that, with numbers varying between 400-700 men! We tend to err on the side of caution, and say around 500.


The Battle of the Solent. A French fleet twice the size of the Spanish Armada sails within 10 miles of Portsmouth and invades the Isle of Wight. Hardly anybody's heard of it, or even knows what the Solent is!

This is always worth bearing in mind when giving answers to the general public. If they ask where the Mary Rose sank and I say "The Solent", I might as well reply "Flaggady Gibbidy Donk" for all the use it would be to most people. "Off the coast of Portsmouth" is usually sufficient for most people, and if they want further information you can then go into details.

Some people might call this 'dumbing down', or 'pandering to the lowest common denominator', but then they're missing the point of a museum. Museums aren't there to make you feel clever because of what you knew before you arrived, they're there to make you feel clever because of what you've learned during your visit. What's the difference between learning about the existence of a ship's dog at home, or on a trip out to a museum? Looking down on someone because they don't know something you do know is forgetting that there was a time when you also didn't know it, you just happened to learn it before them. (Saying that, I do reserve the right to have a laugh at people who make stuff up, then say it with authority!)

Of course, this means that we have to be careful what we say. Pretty much every question we get asked about the ship, her contents and the world in which she lived has an official answer, based on the work of the archaeologists, historians, and other researchers at the Mary Rose Trust, and we hold training sessions for our staff and volunteers to make sure that they know these answers. As museum guides, they hold a position of authority when it comes to matter relating to the Mary Rose, and if they give a wrong answer, it either reflects badly on us, or worse starts a new myth that we have to spend the next few years trying to correct.

This brings me to a confession. I used to believe that the Mary Rose sank on her maiden voyage. I'm not sure where I got that from, I'd visited the old museum back in 1993 so I should have heard the truth there, but clearly I didn't bother to ask any 'stupid' questions...

Learn more about the Mary Rose at (or ask questions on twitter @MaryRoseMuseum)