The remains of Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose are in “mortal peril” after the museum closed its doors to visitors amid the Covid-19 outbreak, according to the charity’s chief executive.

The Mary Rose Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard announced last week it was closing its doors at the same time as its neighbouring attractions HMS Victory and the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Both organisations have warned of the impact on their funding from the closures.

Helen Bonser-Wilton, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, warned that the “clock is now ticking” on the museum’s survival.

Helen Bonser-Wilton, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust (Mary Rose Trust/PA)

She explained that 90% of its funding comes from visitors, with the majority generated between April and September.

Ms Bonser-Wilton warned that urgent financial help was needed from the Government to ensure the complex conservation processes for the preservation of the wreck and its artefacts can continue.

She said: “The trust’s whole income for the year is now at risk, and with it the safety of the unique 19,000-item Tudor collection.

“Staff at Mary Rose are working hard to reduce costs during this period of closure, however the majority of costs do continue, as we have to care for the unique Tudor collection, even at a time of crisis.

“Mary Rose’s fragile archaeological objects, dramatically rescued from their seabed home in 1982 after 437 years under water, have to be kept at a set temperature and humidity to preserve them for future generations to enjoy.

“The costs associated with this include specialist staff time, multiple complex systems and equipment to heat, cool and dehumidify air 24/7, 365 days a year, as well as significant energy bills.

Mary Rose Museum press preview
The Mary Rose Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“The clock is now ticking on the survival of independent museums such as Mary Rose, with the coronavirus crisis highlighting the extreme financial vulnerability of these unique British heritage assets.”

Ms Bonser-Wilton welcomed the Government policy to cover 80% of salaries during closure and to allow deferred payment of VAT/PAYE and national insurance bills but said more needed to be done to cover the museum’s costs.

She said: “We call on the Government to make substantial grants available to cover essential collections’ care costs during the time of crisis and beyond, in recognition that the financial challenges for heritage organisations will endure beyond any closed period, due to the loss of income from the main visitor season, which tides charities over the winter period.

“We are also calling for an urgent conversation on building resilience and better funding mechanisms for independent heritage charities.

“If the irreplaceable heritage of our proud nation can fall into mortal peril so quickly, we believe we must ask ourselves serious questions about our national priorities.”

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