Preserving Cutty Sark in Greenwich
In October 1952, the Cutty Sark Preservation Society was registered to preserve Cutty Sark in Greenwich as a memorial to the Merchant Navy as Victory had been preserved to commemorate Britain’s Navy in Portsmouth.
Under the patronage of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and the leadership of Frank Carr, then director of the National Maritime Museum, the society aimed to raise £250,000 by public subscription to restore the vessel and create a new berth for the ship on the Greenwich waterfront.
The ambition to preserve Cutty Sark in Greenwich generated a significant amount of support, not least by the London County Council who provided the land on which the ship was to be berthed free of charge, specifically by the riverfront so the vessel would be seen by all shipping passing up and down the river and as a notable feature of great public interest. The dry dock in which Cutty Sark was to be berthed was built at cost by Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons Ltd and during the restoration works, William Watkins Ltd provided towing services to the ship, taking her from Greenhithe to East India Dock and later to Greenwich, free of charge. In addition, many gifts in kind were presented to the preservation society to assist with the restoration including paint, electrical cables, hull sheathing, yarn for the running rigging, wire rope and hemp lanyards.
After the considerable efforts of Frank Carr, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, the Cutty Sark Preservation Society and their supporters, the last remaining tea clipper was opened to the public by HM The Queen on 25 June 1957 as a permanent memorial to the Merchant Navy and icon of the bygone era of sail.
Cutty Sark’s saviours stretch further back in her history than 1952 however, most notably to include Captain and Mrs Dowman who purchased the vessel thirty years earlier. Captain Dowman recognised Cutty Sark off Falmouth in 1922 when Cutty Sark was under Portuguese ownership, at that time with the reduced rig of a barquentine and named Maria do Amparo. Selling off a significant proportion of their estate to make the purchase, the Dowmans paid over the odds to secure Cutty Sark’s future and bring her back to Britain to be restored and used as a sail training ship in Falmouth.
On Captain Dowman’s death, his widow presented the ship to the Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College to ensure Cutty Sark’s continued survival. Moored alongside HMS Worcester, the old clipper was used to train cadets in traditional seamanship skills from 1938 to 1953. The College later presented the ship to the Cutty Sark Preservation Society to secure the long term preservation of this iconic vessel.
More recently, Cutty Sark was fortunate to receive the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, trusts and foundations, major donors and contributions from the public which funded the 2006-2012 Conservation Project to conserve Cutty Sark’s original structure, represent the ship and her stories and ensure Cutty Sark lives on to inspire future generations. Every visit to the ship today helps us to keep this iconic vessel going – come on board and find out why this special ship is worth preserving.