Last weekend marked a very special weekend for Cutty Sark; the world’s most famous clipper ship. It turned 150 years old! Not wanting to miss out on the celebrations, I headed over to Greenwich, to learn all about what made this ship so special.
The Story of Cutty Sark
Build in 1869, on the River Leven in Dumbarton, Scotland, the Cutty Sark was primarily used to carry tea back from China (that was worth around £1.3m!). Aside from tea, the ship also transported other goods such as coal, cocoa beans, and wool.
The Cutty Sark was one of the fastest ships in the world, travelling 17.5 knots or 20mph, meaning it took only 73 days to travel between London and Sydney (which seems crazy slow today!)
The Cutty Sark earned its name from a poem by Robert Burns called ‘Tam o Shanter’. The poem describes a witch who danced around a fire, wearing a linen sark that was far too short or “cutty” for her (she’d fit in well where I’m from). She became the figurehead of the ship, and the interior included pictures of scantily clad witches.
The Cutty Sark has survived it all – from oil spills, storms, and faults at sea, to the famous fire in 2007, which cost around £10 million in renovations. As time progressed, the rise of the steam age saw an end to Cutty Sark, and it eventually became redundant and sold off.
It now sits in Greenwich harbour as a potent reminder of the trials, hardships, and adventures of those who joined the merchant navy. It also serves as a memorial for those responsible for the transportation of goods in and out of the UK, specifically during war time, when the navy was prone to attack.
The Museum is split across all three decks of the ship, and includes videos, artefacts, and lots of interactive elements for both kids and adults to enjoy. I particularly enjoyed walking around the holding deck, where the boxes of tea and goods were stored. The Cutty Sark usually loaded over 600,000 kg (1.3 million lbs) of tea, packed in over 10,000 tea chests – enough to make more than 200 million cups of tea!
The Cutty Sark does an amazing job at providing educational entertainment for kids, so I would highly recommend it as a place to take children. There are short performances, where children can meet historical characters such as Captain Woodget; Cutty Sark’s longest serving master, to learn about life on board the fastest tea clipper, James Robson; Cutty Sark‘s cook, where they find out what was for dinner on-board, and Jock Willis; the man who built Cutty Sark.
There are films to watch, buttons to press, items to feel, even benches simulating the ship’s movement. They really have thought of everything. There are original artefacts, objects, fabrics, and ornaments, each with an information card explaining their history. You can even view the bunk beds that the crew slept in, and observe the conditions that the captain lived and worked in.
The top deck is particularly fun to walk around on and showcases just how big the ship actually is. You begin to get a feel of what life at sea may have been like. The highlight has to be the Captain’s wheel, located at the front (bow) of the ship, as well as the stunning view of Canary Wharf from the rear.
Once you have finished exploring, you can help yourself to a delicious afternoon tea from the café below. Not only is this a great place to relax and grab a coffee, but it is situated underneath the original hull of this spectacular ship, offering an incredible view from below.
The Cutty Sark is open daily from 10am to 5pm, including bank holidays. Adult prices are £13.50 and children £6.75. There are audio guides available in different languages, to help make the most out of your visit, as well as maps and information cards. It’s a great day to explore, have fun, and learn more about the world’s famous clipper ship.
This is a paid partnership with Royal Museums Greenwich. Views are my own.