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Sleeping on board Cutty Sark

When the ship was built in 1869, some of the crew slept in accommodation in the fo’c’s’le below the Main Deck. In this space, there were originally 10 bunks for the Ordinary and Able Seamen and although the bunks are no longer there, the portholes are in situ and it is still possible to see the stamp in the beam certifying the number of men who could be berthed there.

After the ship’s second voyage, however, this space was abandoned because it was too uncomfortable being right at the front of the ship, and it was difficult to get the men up on deck quickly. A new deckhouse was built on the Main Deck and in 1872, the petty officers and apprentices moved into the new, aft deckhouse and the Ordinary Seamen and Able Seamen then slept in the forward deckhouse. The fo’c’s’le was then probably used partly as a store and partly as an additional cargo space.

Crew cabin, Liverpool House, Cutty Sark  ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Crew cabin, Liverpool House, Cutty Sark ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

The Master and two Mates had their accommodation at the stern of the ship, known as the Liverpool House. As might be expected, these cabins were relatively more luxurious and each officer had a separate cabin. The original specification for Cutty Sark details that these cabins were also “fitted up with drawers, chronometer case, chart racks, etc.”

Captain Moodie asleep ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Captain Moodie asleep ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Cutty Sark’s crew however did not get much time to spend in their cabins or sleep on board. Their day was dominated by the watch system which meant they had 4 hours at work then 4 hours off duty when they might be able to catch some sleep. Any sleep might be interrupted by stormy weather when all hands would be required on deck and the crew off watch were roused from their beds. Clarence Ray, apprentice on board 1894-5 writes in a letter to his mother “after a hard day’s work I slept like a top, you bet, but was fetched out of it in the middle to drop anchor in the Downs when the tug Shamrock left us”. He later reports “If we go to sleep in our watch on deck they make us ride the grey mare – that is sit up on the upper topsail yard for the rest of the watch. I have not had to do this yet but the other fellow has, twice.”

Later in the ship’s career when Cutty Sark had been sold to a Portuguese company and re-named Ferreira, the arrangement of the captain’s accommodation was relocated within the Liverpool House. A report on board in May 1913 states that the captain’s cabin was “was stripped of most of its old fittings, only a marble-topped washstand and a heavy, teak four-post bed remaining”.

Climbing the bunk beds at Cutty Sark today.  ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Climbing the bunk beds at Cutty Sark today. ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Today, the crew accommodation on board Cutty Sark is arranged as she would have appeared in 1872 and visitors are welcome to put themselves into the shoes of the crew and try out a bunk for size. Alternatively, why not join us on 31 October for our Halloween Sleepover

Meet the Greenwich Sea Cadets on board Cutty Sark

Guest blog by the Greenwich Sea Cadets Welcome aboard sailors! Whether at sea or on land, the Sea Cadets offers young people aged 10-18 amazing opportunities for personal development – by learning new skills and working in teams. We offer an environment where young people find new confidence and inspiration….

Captain Woodget

Captain Richard Woodget engaged as Master of Cutty Sark on 30 March 1885, aged 39, for her 16th voyage.  Previously of the Coldstream, he went on to command Cutty Sark for ten years while she was engaged in the Australian wool trade. Under Woodget, Cutty Sark made her name as…

Back in February, Rebecca Reynolds visited Cutty Sark to find out how actors help bring the ship’s history to life. She met Andrew Ashmore – also known as Captain Woodget – and got a interesting insight into the world of live interpretation. Read her guest blog for a glimpse behind the scenes at Cutty Sark.

Behind the scenes with Captain Woodget
Guest blog post from writer and Museum Studies tutor Rebecca Reynolds

‘That was a really exhilarating day’, says Andrew Ashmore, peeling off his captain’s uniform. ‘We had everything from little kids to old sailors, asking some really interesting questions. There were two older chaps trying to get me out of character but they couldn’t, and they enjoyed that; one person came up to me at the end and asked me to sign a book with Captain Woodget’s signature!’

Captain Woodget on board Cutty Sark

Captain Woodget on board Cutty Sark

I was speaking to Andrew in an office near the ship, after watching him pound the decks in character as Captain Woodget, who skippered the Cutty Sark between 1885 and1895 on trips between the UK and Australia in the ship’s glory days at the height of the wool trade. Andrew had given instructions for knocking weevils out of ships’ biscuits and fielded questions about how the ship sailed up the Thames and whether crew members wore safety harnesses. He had led a singsong and encouraged children to sign up as apprentices – he told girls they couldn’t go to sea, but they then heard the story of Hannah Snell who joined the Royal Navy by pretending to be a man.

‘The stories we tell on the Cutty Sark are all true,’ he tells me. ‘Research is absolutely key – the Cutty Sark here has a vast archive with photos of the ship, the ship’s log, apprentices’ letters. You work with curators and education staff to decide what the key things are that you want to get across. It’s a very exciting time when you are starting on the research and you’re absorbing all the new information like blotting paper. And there are always new things – a new document, the new photo, a new letter comes in, a television programme with new pieces of information.’

And the role requires people skills. ‘The key thing is to make people feel very comfortable, to bring them into the world of the character, and if you’re going to ask them questions at the beginning to keep them really simple, like ‘what do you think of the weather today?’, or ‘how did you get here?’, to get them to relax into talking to you, then bring them into the world of the character, for example ‘would you feel comfortable climbing that high?’, and so forth, to really get them to connect emotionally rather than in an intellectual and abstract way.’

Talking to Andrew gave me an increased respect for the work of live interpreters. I had previously thought of them as taking a few cues and improvising, in order to make history more appealing – mainly, perhaps, to children. But it became clear that live interpreters have to think of creative ways of applying and embodying painstaking research. Part acting, part teaching, part – well, perhaps live interpretation deserves its own unique role in education, as museums themselves do.

A longer version of the interview with Andrew will appear in a book I am currently working on exploring unusual museum objects from around the UK, using interviews with people from inside and outside museums.

Rebecca Reynolds
Twitter: @rebrey

Find out more about what’s on at Cutty Sark, including details of Captain Woodget’s upcoming performances.

Families create beautiful rangoli pattern underneath Cutty Sark

Throughout October we’ve been celebrating the rich and wonderful culture of India, one of the many countries Cutty Sark has sailed to. Lots of families took part in our Rangoli Patterns workshop from the 28-30 October and made this beautiful design on the floor, right under the ship’s hull! Indian…