Cleaning and reinterpretation of Miss Britain III

As part of the redevelopment of Neptune Court, right at the heart of the National Maritime Museum, the iconic power boat Miss Britain III has been the subject of a great deal of attention from the conservation team.

Miss Britain III (BAE0064)

Miss Britain has always been of interest to me as she was built in my home city of Southampton. In 1933 she competed in the Harmsworth Trophy and later that year became the first boat to break the 100mph barrier. Despite approaching her 90th birthday she still shines in the sunlight and draws lots of attention from visitors.

During the first phase of the redevelopment Miss Britain was removed from her old stand, allowing better access for the conservation team, whilst awaiting her new stand. This allowed the Museum’s metals conservators to gain access and work on the gearbox which had been previously difficult.

Following on from this work, my colleague Fay, and I gave her the most thorough clean which has been possible for some years. Although she is cleaned nearly every week on the outside, the inside is usually out of reach. This clean largely consisted of removing dust, which was a loose covering outside, but thick and more compacted inside the boat. This is important to remove for several reasons. Firstly it affects the appearance of the object, making it dull and less eye-catching to visitors. Secondly, the dust can cause chemical or physical damage through abrasion or retaining moisture.

On the outside, the aluminium bodywork was cleaned with soft cloths and hogs hair brushes. This involved a detailed brushing out of every rivet and join. It is vital that this is carried out carefully, as any rough action can be abrasive and cause damage to the relatively soft surface. Although painstaking, the end result was excellent to see.

Once the outside had been cleaned it was time to turn our attention to the inside of the cockpit, and this was where the fun really started! Access was a tricky issue, with only two small openings, each with a fragile leather seat underneath. This meant that we had to lean head-first into the seating area, balancing on the wings of the boat and working as quickly and carefully as possible. To ensure that we did not cause damage through this process we had to first pad the wings with acid-free tissue and plenty of bubble wrap.

As the leather of the seats is so old it is quite dried and cracked, and so can only be gently dusted with our softest of goat hair brushes. This is done in conjunction with a low-suction vacuum cleaner to remove the dust leaving the surface of the object undamaged. The large ‘clumps’ of dust along the creases of the seat needed to be removed with tweezers as they were more robust than the surrounding leather at this point, and we found a number of stray sweet wrappers in the foot well as well! It was quite slow work due to the build-up of dust, but satisfying at the same time.

On the dashboard we were surprised to see not one, but two St Christophers, the patron saint of mariners. Seeing these small details on museum objects, although in this case it is something not visible to visitors, is always a pleasure. They give objects like Miss Britain a human story, bringing to mind a young man, unsure of how safe his journey was, placing his faith in the saint to bring him back from the journey.

The St Christophers inside Miss Britain III

Miss Britain III will be moving to her new stand in Neptune Court during May.