by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Some of you may have seen the press release that went out earlier this week about the two Royal Navy figureheads that have left Plymouth for analysis and conservation work.

‘King Billy’ and ‘Topaze’ are the first of 14 figureheads that will be coming on loan to The Box when it opens in 2020. We are borrowing them as part of our ambition to better tell the story of the city’s naval heritage as well as create a visual focal point in our new entrance space. Taking them on loan is also enabling us to work and develop partnerships with the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre (well worth a visit if you haven’t yet been there), the wider Museums of the Royal Navy, a range of specialist conservation and art handling experts, and more.

You can read the full press release here.

Now ‘King Billy and ‘Topaze’ have been moved out of the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre they will undergo some really interesting analysis work before being conserved.

‘King Billy’ will go to London for some sonic tomography. This is a process normally used to conduct risk assessments on trees. The figureheads are made from wood so it should hopefully yield some interesting results for us too – enabling us to identify any areas of old filler, rotten timber or other anomalies inside.

‘Topaze’ will go to Oxford to undergo some tests in a particle accelerator. This is a machine that uses electromagnetic fields to accelerate charged particles to extremely high energies. This produces beams that can be used for a variety of research purposes. In our case it will essentially produce a 3D x-ray that will show us what’s inside the figurehead.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to a really helpful graphic about how a particle accelerator works.

So, two very different approaches to analysing the interior of the figureheads. Our aim is to compare the results of both. This will then enable us to make a decision about how to analyse and subsequently restore the remaining 12.

We’re expecting conservation work on ‘King Billy’ and ‘Topaze’ to be completed by early next summer. This wouldn’t be possible without funding support from Interreg. The work on the rest of the figureheads will be carried out throughout 2018 and part of 2019.

We’ll have lots of updates and information to share with you as this project progresses in the coming months.  I will leave you with a few images taken by our Decant Officer on the day ‘King Billy’ and ‘Topaze’ were moved.

'Topaze' on the move, November 2017

‘Topaze’ on the move #1

'Topaze' on the move, November 2017

‘Topaze’ on the move #2

'Topaze' figurehead wrapped and ready for loading

‘Topaze’ wrapped and ready for loading

'King Billy' figurehead being moved, November 2017

‘King Billy’ on the move #1

'King Billy' figurehead being moved, November 2017

‘King Billy’ on the move #2 – this image gives you a really good idea of just how huge this figurehead is

'King Billy' being loaded onto the lorry

‘King Billy’ wrapped and loaded

You can also see a few short video clips of the figureheads being moved on our YouTube channel.