One of the last tea clippers to be constructed before steamships took over cargo duty across the oceans, the Cutty Sark plied its trade for over 50 years before becoming a training ship in 1922. From 1952 onwards she has been on public display on the Thames riverside in Greenwich. In May 2007 she was seriously damaged in a fire caused by a malfunctioning piece of electrical equipment, and it took several years for the Cutty Sark Trust to find the funding to complete a £50m restoration of the ship. The Queen officially reopened the exhibition just over a week ago, on 25 April (strangely enough, she opened the original exhibition 55 years ago!).
The Cutty Sark exhibition now includes a large glass-enclosed space on two floors which envelops the lower half of the ship. Within the ship itself there are displays dedicated to her history as a trading vessel on the lower decks, and visitors can climb a set of stairs up to the impressive main deck, where the highly-polished wooden cabins and bridge are located, and where you can get a close look at the complex rigging supporting the ship’s ten sails.
Down beneath the ship there’s the obligatory cafe and gift shop, and a large gallery space which can be used for exhibitions. You’ll also find what I think is the Cutty Sark’s main attraction – a large collection of colourful ship’s figureheads which once upon a time would have graced the prow of every ocean-going vessel. There are impressive examples from all over the world, including maidens, knights, goddesses and even an American Indian.
The Cutty Sark is part of the Royal Museums Greenwich group, but unlike her sister institutions, the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House, there’s a rather hefty £12.00 charge for adults to enter. Clearly, the Trust has to recoup the enormous cost of the restoration but I don’t think it offers terribly good value for money, given that you can see everything within about an hour. In contrast you could spend an entire afternoon in the National Maritime Museum and not get all the way round.
If you’re unable to get along to the exhibition yourself, you can see the images that I’ve captured from my visit here.