Figurehead from Royal Navy Ship HMS Windsor Castle launched in 1858

We are currently working on a new project to conserve one of fourteen Royal Navy ships’ figureheads currently on loan from the National Museum of the Royal Navy. These carvings are intended to be displayed in the foyer of The Box, a ground-breaking new visitor attraction for Plymouth set to open in 2020.


In 1858 HMS Windsor Castle was launched at Pembroke Dock. She had been laid down in 1844 as HMS Victoria and it was for that ship that Hellyer & Son of Portsmouth designed her figurehead. She saw no sea service and became part of the Cambridge gunnery training ship at Devonport. After many years of lost identity, being mistaken as HMS Royal Adelaide, she ended up at Wembury until its closure in 2001.


Our current remit is to strip paint in order to ascertain the extent of the decay to the timber, which is believed to be considerable. When restored, the intention is to have the figurehead suspended by wires from the ceiling of The Box. It will be elevated above the eyeline so that visitors will be able to view it as though on the bough of a ship. Because of the proposed display method, the structural integrity of the carving is of paramount importance. After analysis of various paint removal techniques, Liz Cheadle – a specialist in the conservation of polychromed timber – has opted for a water based paste which is applied by spatula to the painted surface, covered with paper and cling film and left for up to 24 hours. The paste is then removed, and the surface is washed down with water. This process slowly reveals the level of surface decay to the timber.


As yet, a full structural condition survey is yet to be done, and a further post will be added when completed. We will then have an opportunity to share our findings and discuss any proposed interventions.

Images below taken from Pulvertaft, David. Figureheads of the Royal Navy, Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, 2011, p. 191 and p. 45.

Left: HMS Victoria renamed Windsor Castle – Hellyer design 1849. The National Archives.
Right: HMS Windsor Castle at the shore-based gunnery range HMS Cambridge, Wembury 1996.

Figurehead from Royal Navy Ship HMS Windsor Castle