Staying shipshape

Having secured Lottery funding, can both the Mary Rose and the Cutty Sark turn their ambitious design plans into reality? asks Sarah Woods


In a fierce battle for funding, two of the nation’s oldest ships – the Cutty Sark and the Mary Rose – have bagged a hefty injection of Lottery cash to help secure their future as viable tourist attractions.

Nearly five-times oversubscribed, the most recent tussle for grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund is understood to have seen these ships win out against other attractions such as the Tate, the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry and Historic Royal Palaces. The Mary Rose Trust scooped £21m, while the Cutty Sark Trust was awarded a £10m grant increase on top of its original £11.75m grant and the £1.2m raised by the public.

Despite the fact that both ships still have a little way to go in raising the full amount needed for their restoration, each aims to use part of the money donated to create a contemporary permanent museum space, designed by collaborative teams.

These wins were no mean feat according to comments made last week by Dame Liz Forgan, chair of the HLF. ‘This was an unusually competitive round which reflects current high levels of demand across our business, as we enter a period in which we anticipate having considerably less money to give out. Unfortunately, we had to take some tough decisions, meaning disappointment for other worthy applicants,’ she said.

Neither of the ships has enjoyed an easy sail to victory. The Cutty Sark suffered fire damage last May, and while the burned sections formed less than 2 per cent of the fabric of the ship, it subsequently suspended design plans, casting doubt over its future conservation.

Meanwhile, in Portsmouth, the Mary Rose museum will be the conclusion of a painstaking 26-year journey to preserve the remains of the warship, which began in 1982 when it was raised from the Solent. The Mary Rose Trust has faced a nail-biting wait to find out whether it could continue with its plans.

Arguably, these ships are the epitome of the word ‘heritage’, and more than worthy of funding from the HLF. The planned development of both ships will encourage visitors to take an interest in the history of the vessels.

At the Mary Rose, a design team comprising Land Design Studio, Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Pringle Brandon will reunite the ship’s preserved hull with thousands of artefacts, such as clothes, bows and arrows, plum stones and pig bones, for the first time in 500 years. The finely crafted museum building will be positioned over the dock and aims to mirror the missing hull. New galleries will run the length of the ship, allowing original artefacts to be displayed along with exhibits in context with the vessel.

‘When it sank, a lot of the artefacts were well-preserved because they landed in silt,’ says Land Design Studio’s creative director Peter Higgins. ‘We will be reinstalling some of the features in exactly the same way, building a contemporary system to tell the story of the ship. We have worked on a lot of history at the Maritime Museum, so to work on the one object that tells us more about Tudor England than anything else is fantastic.’

The design has been developed so that visitor access is as ‘extensive as possible’, balancing conservation conditions with the requirements of a world-class attraction.

At the famous tea clipper, the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, architect Youmeheshe has created the designs for the visitor centre, along with the current temporary pavilion, in collaboration with Designmap and exhibition interiors expert Barry Mazur.

Following the fire there, plans were put on hold. Fresh concepts are being drawn up, says Daniel Sutton, director at Designmap, and should start to emerge by the summer.

If the new concepts are based on the previous ambitious plans, the visitor centre and museum space will be sited underneath the ship. A glass canopy will be fixed midway up the hull to look like a wave, giving the impression that the ship is sailing.

There are plans for last year’s blaze to be included in the history of the ship, in the form of interactive installations. As with the Mary Rose, the visitor centre will tell the story of the vessel, using graphic interpretations, artefacts, lighting and interactives.

‘Without HLF help, we would have been in serious trouble looking after the ship,’ says Eric Kentley, museum and exhibition consultant for the Cutty Sark project.

‘This means the project can continue now. There is not much money around because of the Olympics and other projects, but this is what heritage is about. The Cutty Sark is an icon of the whole sailing era. The trust has decided it needs to do something dramatic to secure its future. Design is important because we are so removed from the sea these days, and people need to be reminded what ships like that can do through its visitor experience. This is a very competitive market, and the design we have now will bring the story alive and make it relevant.’

Keeping britain’s heritage afloat

The Cutty Sark is a clipper ship built in 1869. She was preserved as a museum ship and tourist attraction in dry dock in Greenwich, and was damaged by a fire last May. The design project is expected to launch a year later than planned, in 2010

The Mary Rose is an English Tudor warship – said to be Henry VIII’s favourite – that sank in the Solent in 1545. Raised in 1982, she is now on display at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The museum project is scheduled for completion in 2011 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the first voyage of the ship

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