Sunday 31 October 2021

Cutty Sark updated!

 If you look at the figurehead of the Cutty Sark at Greenwich, you may notice that she looks shiny and new. Indeed, Nannie - the cutty sark-wearing main character in Robert Burns' poem Tam O'Shanter, - has been reborn recently. 

Photograph of a carved white figurehead of a woman in a shift dress holding a horse's tail in her outstretched hand.
The new figurehead

In the poem, farmer Tam O’Shanter was riding home from market (and the pub) when he saw witches and warlocks dancing around a bonfire in the churchyard. One, Nannie, was wearing a cutty sark: a short petticoat or shift. When Tam O’Shanter couldn’t resist calling out, the witches and warlocks ran after him. Luckily, his mare carried him to the River Doon: as we all know, witches can’t cross water. However, Nannie ran at great speed and caught hold of the horse’s tail just as they reached the bridge. Luckily for Tam O'Shanter, the tail came away in Nannie’s hand and he made good his escape. 

Earlier photograph of a similar figurehead, but her looser shift shows signs of wear and damage.
The old figurehead

Nannie had her own escape in 2007: when a fire badly damaged the ship, she was safely in storage elsewhere. However, by 2019 it was obvious that this wooden figurehead - itself a 1957 replacement - was suffering from rot and a new version was needed. The old Nannie has retired to the National Maritime Museum, and a new incarnation was carved from Swedish redwood by woodcarver Andy Peters. She was installed on the ship in June 2021: a crane lifted her into place, she was carefully attached, and as a finishing touch the 'tail' was placed in her hand. 

If you'd like to see more about the process, there are plenty of videos on the Greenwich museum's website