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New figurehead to be installed on Cutty Sark

28 May 2021

A new figurehead has been carved for the famous tea clipper ship Cutty Sark.

The original figurehead was damaged in a storm in the late 19th century, and a replacement installed in 1957 has suffered from environmental damage and rot.

Commissioned last year, the new wooden sculpture will be installed on the prow on Friday 11 June 2021. Created by Andy Peters − a leading authority on the subject of figurehead carving who was inspired to enter the profession after visiting Cutty Sark as a small boy − it is based on a drawing by the ship's original designer and builder, Hercules Linton.

Figureheads were seen as lucky charms, and represented the spirit of the ship, protecting the crew from harsh seas and helping to guide them safely home.

The Cutty Sark's figurehead represents 'Nannie', a character in the poem Tam O'Shanter by Robert Burns that was also the inspiration for the name of the ship.

The poem tells the story of Tam the farmer, who encounters a group of witches in Alloway Kirk – including the beautiful witch Nannie who is dressed only in a 'cutty sark' - an archaic Scottish name for a short nightdress.

The figurehead holds a horse's tail because in the poem the witches chase Tam after he calls out to them during a dance. He makes his escape on his horse Meg, but just as he reaches safety Nannie grabs the tail of his horse and pulls it clean off.

Andy Peters said: 'An important aspect of the commission was that it provided an opportunity for the art of the ships carver to be kept alive, ensuring that the skills inherent in the craft are not lost. It has been a pleasure to work with the team from the ship, for whom this has also been of paramount importance.'


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