THIRTY YEARS after the stricken Mary Rose was brought ashore, Wantage recreational diver Colin Fox recalls his role in salvaging its treasures.

The retired oil company worker helped to explore the ship in his spare time and even came face to face with a skeleton in the depths of the wreck.

Mr Fox made 240 trips down to the Mary Rose, spending a total of 173 hours underwater and bringing weapons, pewter pots and other artifacts back to the surface over a period of five years.

The Mary Rose sank in 1545 and lay undiscovered in The Solent until 1967, when the project to excavate and raise the wreck began.

She sank as she prepared to fight the French in the Battle of Spithead and took 660 sailors to their death.

Mr Fox approached the team in 1978 and offered to work on the project for free during his holidays.

The 68-year-old said: “I wrote and asked if I could help, never expecting to dive on the project. I thought I could carry bottles for them.

“They invited me to come and dive.

“We used a thing called an airlift – a four inch plastic pipe which acts as a huge vacuum cleaner.”

The team placed a scaffold grid over the area to stop finds being carried off in the current while they made a painstaking search of the wreck.

Mr Fox, from Ormond Road, said: “We were briefed over what to do while we were down there.

“There were fantastic finds: long bows, a pair of bellows and lots of small things like shoes and pewter pots.

“It was amazing. One didn’t know what one was going to find; it was unbelievably exciting.

“I couldn’t wait to get in and was really fed up when it was time to come up.

“It was the most exciting period of diving that I’ve experienced. It hooked me.

“The ship was a time capsule. When you came across a long bow it really takes you back because you know the last time someone touched it was an English archer about 400 years ago.

“It was the everyday objects as well, things like boots and jerkins, that made you think about the people who had been wearing those things.”

But the ship also held more gruesome finds.

“There were a lot of human remains down there,” he said.

“There was a barrel which had broken open, and I could see the hand of a skeleton coming out of one side.

“There was a man’s hand gripping a purse. It looked as though he had been trying to escape but that the barrels had rolled on top of him.

“We would often see bones lying around, but didn’t often come across whole skeletons.

“It wasn’t really spooky, but we dived at night sometimes and got a bit of a shock at the movement of the sea weed.

“It would send a shiver down your back, but mostly there was a benign atmosphere.”

Mr Fox was in Portsmouth to see the ship brought ashore in 1982.

He said: “All the divers were gathered in a pub close to the harbour, and when a tug brought her in on a cradle everyone in the pub went berserk shouting and cheering.”

  • The new Mary Rose Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard opens to public later this year.