Guardian: "Huge UK Naval Figureheads Rescued From Obscurity To Go On Display"

soleil

War Hero
"Thirteen wooden figures that once adorned warships have been suspended from ceiling of new Plymouth museum

In their heyday they gazed out grandly from the prows of British warships as the vessels whose fighting spirit they were supposed to embody powered into battle.

Now as part of an £1m restoration project an extraordinary collection of 14 wooden naval figureheads has been rescued from damp obscurity and given a glorious new lease of life.

Thirteen of the figures, weighing a total of 20 tonnes, have been suspended from the ceiling of the atrium to a new museum and gallery in the maritime city of Plymouth, Devon.

At more than two tonnes and four metres high, the 14th figure, William IV (King Billy), is too hefty to be hung from the ceiling of the Box and has instead been given a prominent position at ground level.

The museum opens to the public in May but before then passersby will be able to glimpse the figures through the Box’s large windows.

Steve Conway, conservator at the museum, said he was delighted with the effect. “They seem to sweep in from each side,” he said. “We want people to gaze up at them as they would have looked up at them from the quayside when they were on the prows of their vessels.”

Conway’s favourites include HMS Defiance, who has a bushy beard and plumed helmet. “He needed extensive restoration,” said Conway. “His timber was incredibly decayed and concrete had been used during a previous restoration for his armour and breast plate.” Defiance needed a lot of care to be save.

But Conway also has as personal reason for being keen on the figurehead as his mother, Joan Harvey, served during the second world war on a ship that inherited Defiance’s proud name. “It’s a nice connection,” he said.

Conway also likes the more modest HMS Minerva, a smaller figure that never actually made it on to a ship. He thinks the figure’s creators jumped the gun and made it before the commission had been confirmed.

Some of the figureheads were so ravaged by spending decades at sea, in addition to being poorly looked after following their retirements, that their insides had turned into a soggy mulch; one or two were still so wet that water poured out when they were pierced.

Experts used a method called sonic tomography, usually employed by arborists to check the integrity of living trees, to map the internal state of the figureheads. Their insides had to be dried in large purpose-built chambers to minimise warping and shrinkage.

Another challenge has been restoring the colour of the carvings. Experts carried out microscopic analysis of the paint the figureheads had been decorated with over the years.

Some were found to have started off-white, but the decision was made to keep them colourful. The hues used are based on those to be seen on a set of 1912 cigarette cards depicting navy figureheads.

The figureheads have seen a great deal of history, their ships taking part in campaigns in China, Crimea and New Zealand. They would have seen good and bad – from battles with pirates to the sight of their crews plundering treasures from others.

Abby Coombs, who was involved in designing the exhibition, recalled the moment she first came across some of the figures in their old home at the Devonport dockyard. “The contrast with their surroundings was striking – inside this unassuming engine house were these huge objects that spoke so much about Plymouth’s heritage, its relationship to the sea and its role as a gateway to the rest of the world,” she said.

The decision was made to bring them out into the light and airy spaces of the Box. “As we worked with the architects on the layout of the new building, we began to realise the potential of the atrium,” said Coombs. “The space is triple-height and filled with light, and this gave us the idea of positioning the figureheads up high, as though they were still on the prows of a flotilla of great ships.”

Actually finding a way to do that was a challenge.

“We collaborated with structural engineers to develop a system of mounts and suspension points that were fixed directly into the atrium ceiling. Meanwhile, the conservation team assessed the figureheads for structural integrity and began a programme to stabilise them and fit them with the internal and external supports we needed to put them in position.”

Tudor Evans, the leader of Plymouth city council, said the effort had been worthwhile, arguing that the figureheads were much more than just wooden sculptures. “They’re iconic symbols of the history of the city of Plymouth and the Royal Navy. They’re also fantastic representations of the craftsmanship and skill of the sculptors who made them over 200 years ago.”"

 

Helm

MIA
Moderator
Book Reviewer
They just couldn't help themselves, could they?
"The figureheads have seen a great deal of history, their ships taking part in campaigns in China, Crimea and New Zealand. They would have seen good and bad – from battles with pirates to the sight of their crews plundering treasures from others. "
 

daz

LE
So, just added a few more items to the collection then

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard - Victory Gallery (8) (Custom).jpg


Portsmouth Historic Dockyard - Victory Gallery (19) (Custom).jpg



Portsmouth Historic Dockyard - Victory Gallery (20) (Custom).jpg
 
They weren't really in "damp obscurity" as they were in the old engine hall of the Devonport Heritage Centre, the only part of the building that didn't leak like a sieve. More just dusty obscurity (Actually, they were, generally, very accessible if you wished to visit).

The models of ships that were upstairs from them were also excellent. Hopefully they too have been moved to the new site.

Would be nice to see HMS Courageous made more accessible somehow.
 
There was, when I was but an Army Cadet, a BigFeckOff One-Of-Those by the main gate into the Chilterns house of the Liberty family (as in Liberty's Of London) - a village called The Lee, IIRC. It was still there when Mrs Stonker was employed by said family to nurse Stuart Liberty, the ailing and elderly head of the fambly a few years later.

It was somewhat disconcerting to unsuspectingly negotiate a bend by night, on the way back home from the excellent (but sadly now-defunct) Free House/Cider House nearby (The Gate, again, from memory) and suddenly have it looming over you in your headlight main beam.

Happy daze.
 
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Good news, but a pity the journo doesn't know his King Billy from his King Willy.
 

endure

GCM

soleil

War Hero
There was, when I was but an Army Cadet, a BigFeckOff One-Of-Those by the main gate into the Chilterns house of the Liberty family (as in Liberty's Of London) - a village called The Lee, IIRC. It was still there when Mrs Stonker was employed by said family to nurse Stuart Liberty, the ailing and elderly head of the fambly a few years later.

It was somewhat disconcerting to unsuspectingly negotiate a bend by night, on the way back home from the excellent (but sadly now-defunct) Free House/Cider House nearby (The Gate, again, from memory) and suddenly have it looming over you in your headlight main beam.

Happy daze.


HowePipers.jpg


 
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I'm kinda glad someone put a roof over the old boy :thumleft:

The village War Memorial from 1914-18 Is pure heartbreak. The Liberty family, and a goodly chunk of the staff from their estate were killed at Fromelles, a pointless sideshow to the Somme battle. If memory serves, the village population had the highest dead-soldiers-per-capita rate in England, from that one attack.

If you've never heard of the attack, look it up. Australia has yet to forgive us for it.

And if you want the model for General Melchett, look no further than its progenitor, "Butcher" Haking.

Now - back on thread :-D
 
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