Caroline Miscellany: Cutty Sark Updated!


If you take a look at the figurehead of the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, you might notice that she looks shiny and new. Indeed, Nannie – the main character wearing a cute sark in Robert Burns’ poem Tam O’Shanter, – has recently been reborn.

The new figurehead

In the poem, farmer Tam O’Shanter was returning from the market (and pub) when he saw witches and wizards dancing around a bonfire in the graveyard. One, Nannie, wore a pretty sark: a short petticoat or a shirt. When Tam O’Shanter couldn’t resist the call, witches and wizards ran after him. Fortunately, his mare carried him to the Doon River: as we all know, witches cannot cross water. However, Nannie ran at high speed and grabbed the pony’s tail just as they reached the bridge. Luckily for Tam O’Shanter, the tail fell into Nannie’s hand and he managed to escape.

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

Nannie escaped in 2007: when a fire severely damaged the ship, she was safely stored elsewhere. However, by 2019 it was evident that this wooden figurehead – itself a replacement from 1957 – was suffering from rot and a new version was needed. The old Nannie 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 up, she was carefully tied up, and as a finishing touch the “tail” was placed in her hand.

If you want to learn more about the process, there are plenty of videos on the Greenwich Museum website.


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