As the Queen opens the Disneyfied Cutty Sark today, there will no doubt be much recycling of press releases about what an iconic triumph it all is. So please do read my own detailed article from Saturday’s paper about how the restoration – which has seen the ship’s lines obliterated by a glass greenhouse and a new lift tower and the vessel hoisted eleven feet in the air – is actually destroying the Cutty Sark’s aesthetics and putting her very physical survival at risk. Those aren’t my views, by the way – they’re the views of almost everyone who knows anything about historic ships.
I quoted Martyn Heighton, director of the Government agency National Historic Ships (the maritime equivalent of English Heritage) briefly in my piece. Here’s some more of what he said in an email to another historic ship person earlier this week:
“I agree with almost everything that Andrew Gilligan says about the Cutty Sark (she is not the only air-conditioned ship – ss Great Britain is too, but much more subtly) and indeed you will note there is a short quote from me on the fact that we opposed the lifting of the ship, and much else besides.
“I freely admit that our strong and detailed advice on this project, from its inception in 2006, through the fire, to the official opening has been ignored, and in some quarters ridiculed.
“However, were you to look at the several advice documents I submitted on behalf of National Historic Ships to the Heritage Lottery Fund, Department for Culture, Media and Sport and directly to the Cutty Sark Trust you would see that what we said has indeed come to pass.
“We warned that the glass screen (unlike ss GB’s) would be ugly and intrusive and would look nothing like the illustrations. We opposed lifting the ship for conservation and presentational reasons, including the fact that it would create enormous problems in getting on board, hence the tower… National Historic Ships gave spot-on advice which was ignored.”
Amanda Baillieu, the editor-in-chief of the influential architectural journal Building Design, has today asked (registration required): “Would it have been better if the Cutty Sark had sunk?”
Gavin Stamp, the architectural historian (and Private Eye’s Piloti), says the Cutty Sark has ceased to resemble a proper ship. “It is no longer a ship if holed by poles and hoisted into the air,” he said.
The sailor and architect Julian Harrap, who restored the SS Great Britain, said he was “desperately sad” about what had been done. “A ship is a floating thing,” he said. But the Cutty Sark was now “airborne.”
“Why on earth hoick it up into the air?” he asked. “Why do you have to put these bloody great beams right through the middle of it, to damage the fabric of it?”
The ship does look striking if you pony up your £12 and venture under the hull – the picture that tends to be used – but most people won’t experience it that way. In almost every other way people experience it, it has been spoiled.
More reactions to follow. Don’t believe the spin!