Cutty Sark was bought for the nation in 1922 - but her dramatic story wasn't over yet.
After being sold to Wilfred Dowman by her Portuguese owners, he set about restoring the ship to a close approximation of her appearance as a tea and wool clipper. This was a considerable feat, due to the shortage of necessary materials caused by the First World War. She was also the first historic vessel since Drake’s Golden Hind in the 16th century to be opened to the public, and our oral history interviews have revealed how boatmen used to take many visitors out to the ship.
Cutty Sark was used as a cadet training ship, where half a dozen boys from different backgrounds would live on board and train for a career in either the Royal Navy or the Merchant Marine.
When Captain Dowman died in 1936, his widow decided that she was unable to maintain the ship at her own cost. Cutty Sark was gifted to the Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College, Greenhithe, and left Falmouth in 1938 accompanied by cheers from well-wishers and hoots from vessels in the harbour. This was the last time that she went to sea.
1938-54: The Greenhithe Years
In 1938, Cutty Sark arrived in Greenhithe, Kent as an auxiliary vessel for the cadet training ship HMS Worcester. She was used in training officers for service in the Royal and Merchant Navies, which was soon to be vital with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
In her early days at Kent, the ship was regularly used for sail-training drill and was lovingly maintained by cadets who were inspired by the ship’s record-breaking history. However, by the early 1950s, the College acquired a newer training vessel and were unwilling to keep Cutty Sark.
In 1951, the ship was sent to London, to be moored in the Thames as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations. Returning to Greenhithe, it was not long before her plight was noticed by those determined to save her from the scrapyard.
The Cutty Sark Society was formed by Frank Carr, Director of the National Maritime Museum, and patronised by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. In a special ceremony, just before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip took possession of Cutty Sark on behalf of the society.
1954 to the present: The Greenwich Years
In December 1954, Cutty Sark was towed into a specially constructed dry dock at Greenwich. Watch British Pathé newsreel footage of the moment.
Three years of painstaking restoration work followed, taking the ship back to her tea clipper appearance. She has remained in Greenwich, in her dry-dock, to this day and was officially opened by HM The Queen in 1957.
During planned restoration work in 2007, a dramatic fire damaged three of Cutty Sark’s decks. A global outpouring of support saw donations sent from all over the world to rescue her. Thanks to these, and to a generous gift from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Cutty Sark was restored and opened once again by HM The Queen, on 25 April 2012.
Since 1957, over 15 million people have visited Cutty Sark from all around the world.