Preserving Cutty Sark, then and now - (2) Nannie

Documentations Officer Claire Denham takes us behind the scenes at Cutty Sark, to give us an insight into the important daily research, documentation and maintenance work that keeps Cutty Sark preserved for many future generations to come. This month, we find out how figurehead Nannie has fared over the years. 

Our beloved figurehead Nannie has sat proudly at the prow of the ship leading the way to Cutty Sark’s next adventure for nearly 150 years, but with this privileged position she becomes susceptible to what nature can throw at her. Recently she has undergone maintenance work; courtesy of our in-house ship keeping team. But that’s not the only work Nannie has had done throughout the years…

The original Nannie was designed by Hercules Linton, the ship’s designer, and made by Frederick Hellyer (1822-1906) from the famed Blackwall company James Hellyer & son who specialised in ships figureheads, ships carving and gilding.

During one of Cutty Sark’s  voyages, Captain  F. Moore tried out his artistic hand, tinting Nannie’s cheeks, to the outrage of ship owner Jock ‘white hat’ Willis “who ordered the best white enamel to be laid on top of Moore’s colours”. Multi-coloured figureheads were frowned upon on the racing clippers, only pure white was deemed acceptable.

Unfortunately during her time in the roaring Forties under Captain Woodget Nannie lost her head and arm, being replaced by what was seen as inferior replicas.

With Cutty Sark being sold to the Portuguese firm J. A Ferreira in 1895, Nannie took on a different appearance, as noted in the Manchester Guardian on a visit to Liverpool in 1914: ‘he pointed out the figurehead as good as ever it can have been, a fully busted women with flowing blue hair; her robes done in white and blue; her arm fully lifted to the future.’

Cutty Sark as Ferreira Birkenhead 1914


During her time at Greenhithe, in the 1940’s, the traditional pure white of the figurehead was restored.

The 1950’s restoration saw a new Nannie on the scene; designed by marine artist Leslie A Wilcox and carved by Mr Arthur Levison, one of a handful of craftsman of his kind left in the country. Laminated with a block of Canadian white pine, donated by the Canadian department of trade, commerce and lumbermen’s Association.

Cutty Sark - 1950's restoration

During her time in Greenwich, Nannie has undergone regular maintenance. During the 2006-2012 conservation project for example, Nannie was stripped back, timber repairs carried out and re-painted.

Today, after being exposed to the elements for another 5 years, Nannie is in need of some care and attention. Further investigation has revealed a substantial area of rot found on her back, and at the bottom of her ‘cutty sark,’ other cracks in the paintwork were found all over. All damage to the timber is being treated with borocol and filled with resin, finally applying two coats of paint to make her sparkle once more!   

2016: Nannie in need of repairs

The Nannie from the 1950’s can be seen at the bow of the ship, with the original (excluding original head and arm!) directly underneath in the dry dock. Visit the ship and have a look for yourself!