The Cutty Sark restoration raises questions about authenticity

“What an amazing job you’ve done,” said the BBC reporter to the director of the Cutty Sark Trust Richard Doughty.

Doughty, a man who sounds like he’s spent too many afternoons watching Antique Collectors’ Road Show, beamed with pride .

Despite the spiralling costs — the restoration ran up a bill of £50 million — the delay, not to mention the fire, the ship will be reopened by the Queen today.

“People can walk under the ship,” explained Doughty, which seems pretty obvious as the structure has been hiked up on steel supports allowing a new shopping and leisure area to be built underneath, “and you can touch her bottom.”

Amazing yes, but not to everybody’s taste.

On the World at One yesterday architect Julian Harrap, who worked on the restoration of Brunel’s SS Great Britain, accused the Trust of disneyfying the experience of Britain’s last remaining tea clipper

He said what is being presented  is “a false view which is more to do with a Disneyland’s presentation of cultural artifacts than their safeguarding”.

He pointed out that the decision to create a chamber beneath the ship could have been avoided by having a shop elsewhere, although presumably the bean counters worked out that this would have been less profitable.

Good on Harrap. Spending £50 million on the Cutty Sark always struck me as fairly bonkers, but to then damage her by ramming great steel supports into her side seems highly questionable. Why not have a shop somewhere else? Why does she need to be air-conditioned and was it really necessary to cover her in glass?

The Cutty Sark spokeswoman was, for a split second, lost for words and then she remembered that when in doubt mention local residents.

“The local residents have given us positive feedback and are very happy that it’s the authentic Cutty Sark,”  she said, ignoring the question.

It’s true the planks, the masts and rigging are original but her heartbeat - the thing that made her the poster girl of British global trade - has been stopped. In its place is another ‘attraction’ that will cost a family around £50 a visit when it used to be free.

The Cutty Sark was famous for many things and one of them was she never sank.  

After her re-launch today some might ask if this wouldn’t have been a nobler end.

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