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The Cutty Sark

Home > London > Family | Fun for Children | Fun Things To Do | Museums
by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published June 21st 2013
The Ship That Fuelled Our Tea Addiction
cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich
The Cutty Sark


Cutty Sark sounds more like a type of sushi than a ship, but it is in fact a nineteenth century merchant vessel owned by John Willis. The ship was first launched on November 21st 1869, and named after a Scottish garment worn by Nannie, a malevolent creature from Robert Burn's poem Tam O'Shanter. Nannie features as the masthead on the front of the ship.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, gift shop, model
Models of the Cutty Sark are available at the gift shop.


Tickets to The Cutty Sark are 12 for adults, 9.50 concessions, and 6.50 for children. On the way there, I teased my dad that he had missed out on the senior citizen price by just two days, but when we got there, he told the receptionist that it was his birthday on Friday, and she gave him a concession. She also asked if I was a student, and although I said no, she said I looked like one and gave me a concession ticket too.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, framework
Despite a fire, much of the framework is original to the ship.


The first thing you notice when you enter the cargo hold, is the different coloured metalwork. Everything painted white is part of the original framework, while the grey supports were installed later, most likely to replace the damage done from a 2007 fire.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, cargo, crates, tea


Before I even started reading, the purpose of the vessel was evident from the flooring, which has been constructed out of tea cargo crates.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, video, tea


There were further details given through the use of video monitors, which described the process of making different teas. All tea comes from the same plant, but each type goes through different processes. To make black tea, the leaves are tossed, aerated, and bruised to release the enzymes that help it ferment. The leaves are then baked over burning logs to give them a smoky flavour. Green tea, on the other hand, is made by drying the leaves very quickly after plucking.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, video projector
A history of The Cutty Sark is told using a projector screen.


The museum provides one of the most interactive ways of learning I've seen. There are projector screens, visual displays, factoids written on boxes, and is very good at relaying information for the visually impaired, with lots of sensory activities.

Tea began to be imported to Britain in the 1650s, but was very expensive; by the eighteenth century, tea was often smuggled from the Netherlands to make it more widely available. To stop the illegal import, the tax on tea was slashed from 119% to 12.5% in 1784, making it affordable to almost everyone.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, framework


The Cutty Sark was built by Scot & Linton Shipbuilders for 16,150. The 'rib cage' was made from heavy iron, and planks were made out of teak, a hardwood that is strong and lasts a long time. The hull was then lined with smooth copper for protection.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, video projector, john willis, white hat willis
The owner of The Cutty Sark was known as 'White Hat Willis', for the distinctive top hat that he wore.


cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, globe
Globe mapping The Cutty Sark's route.


The ship was owned by the former sea master (captain), John 'White Hat' Willis, who would wave goodbye to the ship whenever it departed. The Cutty Sark's most frequented destination was China, but it made several stops along the way, exporting and importing other goods such as wool, whisky, and coal.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, games


cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, games
Can you map a quicker route than The Cutty Sark?


Children will have fun learning all about The Cutty Sark and its cargo through interactive games, trivia, and puzzles. There are things to touch, things to sniff, sea chanties to listen to, wobbly benches so you can feel what it was like on the waves, and there is a video game in which you try to navigate your way round the the world in as short a time as possible.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, bell


There were various objects from the ship on display, and these included The Star of India, and the bell. The bell was stolen in 1903 by an officer who once served on The Cutty Sark. He offered to give it back in 1922, but only if in exchange for the bell from the Shakespeare.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, telescope
The telescopes are a bit blurry.


Up on deck, there are fantastic views of Greenwich. Although they have telescopes, they are pretty blurry, and you can actually see much better without them.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, cabins


While we were walking round, Dad was wondering where the crew slept, and we were both surprised to discover that the cabins were not below deck, but on the deck itself. At least that was the case for most the crew. The master, first, second, and third officer had slightly more comfortable arrangements.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, dining lounge


They had access to a private dinning lounge. Most of what was in this room was original, although a strange mirror projecting random people preening themselves was rather off putting, and did not seem to fit in.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich,
The wheel is at the stern of the ship.


The main surprise we had was the location of the wheel, which was at the stern of the ship rather than the front. We were both trying to figure out how the helmsman was supposed to see where he was going, but neither of us were sure.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, cafe
The Cafe


When we walked off The Cutty Sark, I thought that was the end of the exhibition, but there was a further floor below the ship. Here there was a cafe selling soup and cakes, plus giving further information about the ship's restoration. The original restoration began in the 1950s, when they re-created the deckhouses, masts, and rigging. Then between 2006-2012, The Cutty Sark underwent a restoration project to prevent further deterioration of the ship's fabric.

cutty sark, ship, merchant vessel, museum, greenwich, figureheads, long john silver
The Long John Silver Collection of Figureheads


At the very end of the room, there was a big display of The Long John Silver Collection of Figureheads, the largest in the world. They are mostly from the nineteenth century, and include figures from literature, such as Snow White, figure from history, such as Hiawatha, and figure from myth, such as Athena.
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Why? Fun for families
When: 10am-5pm
Phone: 44 (0)20 8312 6608
Website: www.rmg.co.uk
Where: Greenwich
Cost: 12 adult, 9.50 concessions, 6.50
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