Many thanks to Orbis Conservation for the information and images featured in today’s post

Welcome to the first of two new posts covering developments with our ambitious figureheads conservation project. It looks at the Tamar figurehead. You may remember one of our previous posts about him leaving Plymouth to go to London.

Initial analysis revealed that Tamar was in a similar state to our Topaze figurehead which had lots of filled areas and water damage. An additional challenge is that he’s also 2-3 times her size!

The Tamar Royal Naval figurehead

First, he was removed from its original mount – a large metal base with a connecting metal beam running up the back – which had been constructed out of a ton and a half of steel.

On the down side, it was found that:

  • During a previous treatment, plywood sheet and a mixture of wood chips and animal glue had been applied to the back of the figurehead. When these were removed it showed that the timber was severely degraded with little or no structural integrity.
  • The condition of the top of Tamar’s head was very poor and needed to be consolidated to stabilise the timber before any of the resin coating could be removed.
  • The condition of the left side is also very poor. There are large losses to the surface of the chest and shoulder. Although the surface is generally in fair condition, the material behind it has no stability and the carved surface has a spongy texture.
  • Much of the right upper side has been replaced and built-up with filler.

The upper right hand side of the Tamar figurehead

  • Tamar’s resin coating was very firmly bonded to the surface and hard to remove in some areas.
  • Although much of the outer surface has survived, the front and lower half of Tamar has little viable material left. When removing the resin in these areas, the moisture escapes as liquid water.
  • In some places the fungal damage is so advanced that the texture of the wood resembles potting compost. Some of the newer timber elements have degraded to a stringy surface with a spongy texture.

Images showing the condition of the wood inside the Tamar figurehead

On a more positive note, where Tamar had been embedded in the base there was a build-up of fill material. Once this was removed, 6-7 inches of beautifully preserved original carvings were revealed.

Beautifully conserved carvings on the base of the Tamar figurehead

The figurehead’s face, hair and beard are in a reasonable condition (below left) and the removal of the resin has revealed some very crisp and delicate carving. The resin was also obscuring some fine carving in the leaves and flowers at the front of Tamar’s robe (below right).

The Tamar figurehead's beard

There’s plenty of work still to do on this figurehead including the removal of all remaining resin, active rot and non-viable material. We’ll keep you posted!