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Cutty Sark
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A figurehead is often thought of a the "soul" of the ship – and Cutty Sark's figurehead is no different.

'Nannie' the witch is one of the most recognisable parts of Cutty Sark, her outstretched arm pointing the way for generations of sailors and visitors.

But why is she called Nannie, and what's the story behind the piece of rope hanging from her hand? Tap the arrows below to learn more about the history of Cutty Sark's figurehead.

What is a figurehead?

Figureheads are carved wooden sculptures that decorate the prows of sailing ships. In the perilous life of ship at sea, figureheads were seen as lucky charms: they represented the spirit of the ship, protecting the crew from harsh seas and helping to guide them safely home.

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Why is Cutty Sark's figurehead called Nannie?

The name 'Nannie' comes from Tam O'Shanter, a poem by Robert Burns. The poem also was the inspiration for the name of the ship itself, Cutty Sark.

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Who was Nannie?

The poem tells the story of Tam the farmer, who encounters a group of witches in Alloway Kirk - including the beautiful witch Nannie... 

Nannie is scantily clad, dressed only in a ‘cutty sark’ - an archaic Scottish name for a short nightdress. The ship is named after this dress.

Why is the figurehead holding a tail?

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.

This is why Cutty Sark’s figurehead is holding a horse's tail. 

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A new figurehead for Cutty Sark

The figurehead you can see on the ship today is a new commission, made by ship’s figurehead carver Andy Peters. The previous figurehead was a replica created in 1957.

Cutty Sark’s original figurehead, created by the legendary ship’s carver, Frederick Hellyer, was damaged in a storm in the late 19th century.

The new Nannie is based on drawings by Hercules Linton, the ship's original designer. The figurehead aims to reflect the beauty of the original ship designs and celebrate the art of ship’s carving.

Learn more about the project

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