Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark has been a fixture of life in Greenwich since 1957

A complaint from a member of the public means Greenwich Council will have to decide whether the Cutty Sark’s new figurehead should have been installed.

The historic tea clipper had “Nannie”, which is on the bow of the ship, replaced two years ago because the old figure was rotting away because of water getting into the structure.

But Royal Museums Greenwich, which owns the ship, has had to apply for retrospective planning permission after a complaint was received by the council.

The Cutty Sark has been a fixture of Greenwich town centre since 1957, when it was put on display in a dry dock following a campaign by Prince Philip to save the ship.

While the ship was built in 1869, its bosses believe that the new figurehead was the fourth to be installed on the ship, with the third put in place when it came to Greenwich.

Cutty Sark figureheads side by side
Old and new: The 1950s figurehead, left, is more scantily-clad and has a different face

“Since her time in Greenwich, she has had numerous repairs carried out but during the last few years the rate of degradation has increased and water ingress has rotted the figurehead inside, making it impossible to carry on displaying her on the ship long term,” documents submitted to the council say.

Nannie comes from the Robert Burns poem Tam O’Shanter, which describes a beautiful witch wearing a “cutty sark”, a short nightdress. The story ends with Nannie holding a horse’s tail in her hand, a scene depicted in the figurehead.

The 1950s Nannie was based on a model kept by the granddaughter of Hercules Linton, the designer of the ship.

However, the newer Nannie has a different face and is less scantily-clad as it is based on an original design by Linton kept in the museum’s archives.

“This unique design is what we intend to base our new figurehead on, this being the only known documented evidence we have at the time of the ship’s launch,” a proposal included with the documents said. “We also require the figurehead to be carved in the style of who we believed carved the original Nannie; Frederick Hellyer of Blackwall.”

Cutty Sark figurehead artwork
The new figurehead is based on original artwork by the ship’s designer

A cover note explaining the application added: “The new figurehead was carved by the world-renowned figurehead carver Andy Peters from Oxfordshire.

“The materials used for the carving are as close to what the original would have been carved from, ie, top quality pine, sourced by Andy himself. The painting and gilding of the figurehead was also done by Andy using weatherproof paints and 24K gold leaf.”

The new figurehead has been in place since June 2021. The story of its installation is described in detail on the Royal Museums Greenwich website.

Full details of the retrospective planning application can be found on the Greenwich Council planning website.

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