In the early 1950s, a movement began to find a permanent home for Cutty Sark. The Cutty Sark Preservation Society was established to bring the ship to Greenwich and open her to the public as a memorial to the Merchant Navy and an icon of the bygone era of sail. By this time, Cutty Sark was in need of a major overhaul to restore her and present her as a museum ship.

On 28 May 1953, ownership of Cutty Sark was formally passed over from The Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College to the Cutty Sark Preservation Society; the ship’s papers were received by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, as Patron of the society. The ship remained in Greenhithe until February 1954 when she was towed to East India Docks for preliminary restoration work. All her masts, spars and rigging were removed except the three lower masts, and a quarter of her sea-sand ballast was also removed to facilitate the later docking of the ship.

The land in Greenwich was given free of charge by London County Council. The area had been earmarked for redevelopment having suffered extensive bomb damage during WWII, and it was felt to be an advantageous position as the ship would be seen by all shipping passing up and down the river. Construction of the dock began in February 1954 by Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons and by 3 June that year, construction had progressed sufficiently for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh to start the driving of the last pile and lay the foundation stone. Eventually, her berth was ready and Cutty Sark made her final journey on 10 December 1954.

Cutty Sark arriving at her new berth, 10 December 1954 © Cutty Sark Trust Cutty Sark arriving at her new berth, 10 December 1954 © Cutty Sark Trust

A major restoration project, carried out by Green and Siley Wier, worked to return the ship back to her appearance as a tea clipper of the 1870s. Support for the project was demonstrated by much of the work and materials being provided for free as gifts in kind or at cost. Extensive research was undertaken to ensure the ship was accurately represented including first hand recollections of two crewmembers: Captain C E Irving (apprentice 1885-1888) and Captain Richard J Woodget (apprentice1888-1892, Second Mate 1892-1893 and First Mate 1894-5). As news of the restoration spread, new sources also came to light including notes of the dimensions of the spars noted by the ship’s first carpenter and a photograph from 1872 showing the gilded decoration at the stern which had long been lost.

Cutty Sark during restoration, 1956-7 © National Maritime Museum, London Cutty Sark during restoration, 1956-7 © National Maritime Museum, London

Eventually, on 25 June 1957, the ship was completed and HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh visited the ship to perform the ceremony of opening the ship to the public. The royal party toured the ship and were presented to members of the Cutty Sark  Preservation Society, and the men who had worked on the vessel throughout the course of the restoration. From the poop deck, to a crowd of people, HM The Queen said she had “much pleasure in declaring the vessel open to the public” and the following day the trail of visitors began.

HM The Queen on day of Cutty Sark’s royal opening, 25 June 1957 © Cutty Sark Trust HM The Queen on day of Cutty Sark’s royal opening, 25 June 1957 © Cutty Sark Trust