by Val Grant, Collections Assistant
with thanks to Steve Conway, Decant Officer

On a sunny day in April the figurehead of HMS Tamar emerged from the Engine House building it has shared along with the amazing figurehead collection at the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre to begin its journey to Greenwich in South London for conservation treatment.

Tamar figurehead being moved out of the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre

The carved wooden figurehead of HMS Tamar which depicts a bearded bare chested river God is an impressive sight and is to become one of the star attractions in The Box.

The figurehead is going to have conservation treatment which is based on the research and pilot treatments that have been carried out on Topaze and Royal William thanks to funding support from Interreg.

The origins of the figurehead and other forms of ship decoration go back thousands of years. The decoration and carving was common among seafaring civilisations of the ancient world, with evidence of Egyptian figureheads dating back to 3,000 years ago. The figureheads are an enduring symbol of our exciting maritime heritage.

The morning began with Mtec, a specialist company who handle the moving of large sculptures, positioning their heavy lifting gear and attaching it to the front end of the base of the figurehead. A fork lift gently tilted the rear end of the base to start the tricky process of getting the head under the steel door lintel.

This manoeuvre was slowly and successfully carried out until HMS Tamar emerged into the morning sunshine for the first time since entering the building.

Tamar figurehead being moved out of the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre

It was great to see him gazing at his namesake, the River Tamar, as he was suspended in mid air. Mtec let him do a twirl for us to capture some great pictures before his safe positioning onto the truck.

Tamar figurehead being moved onto a truck

Tamar figurehead being moved onto a truck

Tamar figurehead being moved onto a truck

Tamar figurehead being moved onto a truck

Decant Officer and figureheads project manager Steve Conway was on hand to oversee everything. This image of him next to HMS Tamar gives you an idea of just how huge the figureheads are and the scale of the operation required to move them!

HMS Tamar figurehead and Steve Conway, Decant Officer

We are all looking forward to the return of a newly conserved HMS Tamar and seeing him take his place in The Box alongside the other figureheads we are taking on loan from the National Museum of the Royal Navy.


The remaining figureheads that we are taking on loan have also left Plymouth now to undergo conservation work. Here are some additional images of Defiance and Victoria being moved to wrap up this post.

Defiance figurehead being moved out of the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre

Defiance figurehead being moved out of the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre

Victoria figurehead being moved out of the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre

Victoria figurehead being moved out of the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre

Victoria and Defiance figureheads loaded onto a truck ready to leave Plymouth for conservation work