Did you know that London’s most famous sailing ship is named after a shortie nightie? The Cutty Sark, permanently moored on dry land in maritime Greenwich, is so-called because of a poem by Robbie Burns. ‘Tam O’Shanter’ tells the story of a farmer called Tam who is bothered by a gang of beautiful witches. One of them, Nannie, is only wearing a ‘cutty sark’: some bum-skimming leisurewear.
Why you’d name a ship designed to transport tea after a saucy vest is anyone’s guess, but Nannie is also the inspiration for the figurehead on the Cutty Sark’s prow. Figureheads were seen as the lucky totems of sailing ships, and sailors were (and are) notoriously superstitious, so Nannie is extremely important to the vessel. The Cutty Sark was launched in 1869, and its original Nannie figurehead was damaged during a storm at the end of the nineteenth century. The ship got a new Nannie in 1957, but she has sadly got a bit rotten over the years, so now it’s time for Nannie III.
On June 11, a new figurehead for the Cutty Sark will be craned into place. She’s been carved by Andy Peters, one of only three expert figurehead carvers in the UK. Like previous Nannies, this one will be holding a horse’s tail. When the witches pursue Tam, he escapes on his horse. Nannie grabs its tail, which comes off in her hand and Tam escapes. The new figurehead is based on a drawing by the Cutty Sark’s original designer and builder, Hercules Linton.
Peters says: ‘An important aspect of the commission was that it provided an opportunity for the art of the ship’s carver to be kept alive, ensuring that the skills inherent in the craft are not lost.’
The Cutty Sark will get its new figurehead on June 11.
In other extremely-old-lady news, we’re getting an extra bank holiday thanks to the Queen.