Cutty Sark Facts

Read the incredible facts and figures about Cutty Sark to understand why she was such a feat of Victorian engineering.

What is Cutty Sark?

One of the last tea clippers to be built, Cutty Sark was the fastest of its time. It was one of the last tea clippers to be built, coming just before the advent of the steam ship.

What is a tea clipper?

‘Clipper’ is used to refer to a fast sailing ship, with three masts and a square rig. The word comes from ‘clip’ meaning to move swiftly, or at a fast pace.

Because the ship was designed and built to transport tea, it is known as a tea clipper. However Cutty Sark actually transported a wide range of goods during her time on the seas.

Tea clippers were also known as China Clippers, as they made the route between Europe and the East Indies. Cutty Sark is one of the only surviving tea clippers.

How old is Cutty Sark?

Cutty Sark was launched 22 November 1869. The week it was launched was also the week that the Suez Canal opened. This meant that tea clippers which undertook long journeys to China were suddenly bypassed by steam ships which could go through the Canal.

2019 sees Cutty Sark celebrate its 150th anniversary.

Who built Cutty Sark?

Cutty Sark was built for a firm of ship owners called Willis & Sons, headed by John ‘Jock’ Willis. His ambition was that Cutty Sark be the fastest ship in the annual race to bring home the first of the new season’s tea from China.

The ship was designed by Hercules Linton, a partner in the Dumbarton firm of Scott & Linton. It is believed that he moulded the bowlines of Willis’s earlier vessel Tweed into the midship attributes of Firth of Forth fishing boats. This created a beautiful new hull shape that was stronger, could take more sail, and be driven harder than any other.

The company had never built a ship of this size before and ran into financial difficulties. They eventually went bankrupt before she was completed. The final details of the fitting out had to be completed by William Denny & Brothers, Scott & Linton’s landlords and the guarantors for the completion of the work on the original contract. 

Where was Cutty Sark built?

Cutty Sark was built on the River Clyde in Scotland, before being towed to Greenock for final work on her masts and rigging. It was then brought to London to load her first cargo for China in 1870.

Where is Cutty Sark?

In 1954 Cutty Sark was moved to a dry dock in Greenwich, custom-built to hold the ship. The restoration process began, and the ship was opened to the public. Cutty Sark remains an integral part of Greenwich.

How fast was Cutty Sark?

Cutty Sark's top speed was over 17 knots. 

Cutty Sark Facts

  • It cost £16,150 when it was first built
  • The area of all of the sails when out is 32,000 square foot.
  • There are 11 miles of rigging altogether.
  • The main mast is 153 feet high
  • The hull has a copper and zinc alloy on it. This is to keep things like seaweed, barnacles and molluscs away and unable to burrow into the ship. Copper bleeds into the water, and so this stops these creatures from being able to get a grip.
  • Cutty Sark was opened twice by Queen Elizabeth II. Once in 1957, and again for its reopening in 2012.
  • Cutty Sark held the record for fastest journey from England to Australia for ten years.
  • The ship’s motto was ‘When there’s a Willis away’

Ship’s flags

Cutty Sark flew signal flags representing the letters J K W S (depicting the name of the owner, JocK WilliS) and from her main mast flew the Willis House flag – blue background with white diamond and red cross in the centre.

Who owned Cutty Sark?

1869-1895 John Willis, Willis & Sons

1895-1922 Ferreira & company

1922-1922 Companhia Nacional ce Navegacao

1922-1938 Captain Wilfred Dowman, Falmouth

1938-1953 The Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College, Greenhithe

1953-1955 The Cutty Sark Preservation Society

1955-1989 The Cutty Sark Society

1973-1989 The Maritime Trust (managing agents for The Cutty Sark Society)

1989-1990 The Cutty Sark Maritime Trust

1990-2000 The Maritime Trust

2000-2015 The Cutty Sark Trust

Current owner: The National Maritime Museum 

What was the name given to Cutty Sark in 1895?

When Ferreira and company brought Cutty Sark in 1895 they renamed the ship Ferreira. The ship was renamed again in 1922 when Companhia Nacional ce Navegacao bought it – they named it Maria do Amparo. This ownership was brief however, and Captain Wilfred Dowman brought it back to Britain in 1922, restoring it and giving it its original name.