The Mary Rose was a maritime marvel of her time. Built in 1510, one of the first purpose-built sailing warships and bearing fierce new heavy gunnery, she served three decades in the navy of King Henry VIII, seeing action in wars against France, Scotland and Brittany. After this illustrious tenure, she met her tragic end in a battle against a French fleet in 1545, when she sank just miles off the south coast of England.

She lay in her seabed resting place for more than 400 years, before being discovered and eventually raised in 1982. After a lengthy and complex conservation process, she resides now in a stunningly designed £27m ($45.47m) boat-shaped museum in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, near Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory and the more youthful ships of today’s Royal Navy.

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Having been reunited with tens of thousands of items recovered from her hull, the Mary Rose and her belongings provide a fascinating glimpse into Tudor seafaring life and naval warfare. The only 16th-century warship on display in the world, she has proved popular since her museum debut in early 2013: more than 500,000 visitors have arrived so far.

Small city, big ideas

The Mary Rose’s return to glory is a harbinger of what local officials hope is to come for her host city as they strive to channel Portsmouth’s naval past into a sustainable economic future.

“I think we’re at the start of a new chapter,” says city council leader Donna Jones. “Portsmouth is a physically small city, but it has a massive heart. And I think that’s indicative of all the programmes and the projects we’ve got on the go here. I think within five to 10 years’ time, Portsmouth is going to be unrecognisable.”

In June, the Portsmouth City Council gave the go-ahead for plans by Olympic sailing gold medallist Sir Ben Ainslie to establish his America’s Cup sailing team base in Portsmouth, to the delight of economic developers keen for the jobs and image boost it will bring to an area where the first America’s Cup race was held in 1851. Supported by more than £7bn of government funding, the £12m team headquarters at Camber Docks are initially expected to employ 90 people.

UK prime minister David Cameron, in announcing the support, said of the project: “It will not only build on Portsmouth's global reputation as a centre of marine and maritime excellence but will also deliver a real sporting and economic boost to the UK.”

Mr Ainslie has vowed to help the UK claim the America’s Cup in 2017, but for now securing the project itself can be counted as a win for Portsmouth. And it is not the only one: a joint bid with nearby Southampton brought tens of millions of pounds in funding from the government through a 'City Deal' scheme to development develop crucial sites, provide training and boost local companies in the Solent area. It will lend particular support to the Solent region’s maritime, marine and advanced manufacturing sectors.

A good deal

City Deal money in Portsmouth will go towards the creation of 2370 new homes and 58,000 square metres of employment space, but that is just a slice of the £2bn-plus being invested in economic development schemes in the city. These include a £300m city-centre overhaul; a £100m business park at Dunsbury Hill Farm; and various large-scale developments for sprucing up the seafront, adding shopping areas, bolstering flood defences, building homes and improving transport infrastructure. The contribution to the local economy by the goods and services produced within these developments (gross value added) could reach an estimated £1bn.

Kathy Wadsworth, director of regeneration at the Portsmouth City Council, says that the coming together of these projects, the funding boost secured by the national government and a new joined-up economic development approach with the broader Solent region, which also includes Southampton and the Isle of Wight, presents an exciting opportunity to change the face and the future of the area.

“At a strategic level, we see our regeneration plan as key to creating 16,000 jobs, 5000 homes and [providing] a gigantic boost to our economy. We also want to create a sense of expectation in the city – that people can expect to achieve their potential,” she says. 

Nearby Southampton, Europe’s busiest cruise port and the cruise capital of northern Europe as well as a major cargo port, is getting a makeover of its own, with a £3bn city-centre regeneration scheme expected to create 7000 jobs by 2026 and 24,000 in the longer term.

In the channel

The Solent region, with a population of 1.3 million, has defined some strengths in advanced manufacturing with employment rates in the sector higher than the UK average. But the area’s fortunes will remain tied to the sea. The maritime and marine sector accounts for 20% of gross value added and is expected to grow by another 5% over the next decade. 

Portsmouth is one of the three operating bases for the Royal Navy, home to the surface fleet and the UK’s most advanced warships. Fears about over-reliance on naval activity were exposed when UK defence company BAE decided to end its shipbuilding in Portsmouth, shedding 900 jobs. But a transformation of the function of the base will compensate for these losses, officials insist.

BAE will still be running the maintenance of all the navy’s warships in Portsmouth – meaning the focus shifts from shipbuilding to maintenance – and the number of warships docking in Portsmouth is set to increase, providing a continued workload.

Two huge new aircraft carriers are also on their way to the city – the largest warships ever commissioned by the UK navy – and their arrival means Portsmouth will see the most ship tonnage at its base since the 1950s and another 2000 seamen could be relocated to the base by 2020. The first of the ships, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, is due to arrive in 2016 – a contemporary counterpart and neighbour for the reborn Mary Rose.