Restored 19th-century ships’ figureheads to go on display at The Box

(Image: The Box)

A collection of 19th-century wooden figureheads from British naval warships has been lovingly refurbished from the ravages of years at sea and will create a prominent display at the new heritage and arts complex, The Box, in Plymouth.

The 14 figureheads have been painstakingly restored to their former glory, after years of water damaged had led to significant rot and decay. Three specialist conservation teams in London, Devon and Cornwall undertook this role, the restored figureheads are due to be suspended from the ceiling of The Box gallery and museum, which is due to open in the spring.

On loan from the National Museums of the Royal Navy, the carved figureheads, built to adorn the bows of 19th-century naval warships, will start making their way back to Plymouth on Monday, October 21.

The figureheads include a two tonne, 4 metre-high (13ft) figure of William IV carved in Devonport, Plymouth in 1833 that once stood high and striking at the prow of the ship HMS Royal William, and a depiction of a bearded river god inspired by the River Tamar, the established border between Devon and Cornwall.

The grand aerial display concept has compelled teams of conservators to produce complex but sophisticated structural mounts, with each figurehead fastened in place with only three cables to create the effect of a fleet of carvings floating in space.

Led by Plymouth City Council, the figurehead conservation project is the most notable of its kind in a generation. It not only secures the future of the Devonport figureheads but recognises The Box as a hub of excellence and innovation for the protection and display of maritime history, with one of the largest collections of figureheads in the UK. The Box will be a pioneer for the conservation of Plymouth city’s heritage and a new ‘safe home’ for Plymouth’s extensive national collections and archives.

Tudor Evans, the leader of Plymouth city council, said: “The figureheads are more than just wooden sculptures; they’re iconic symbols of the history of the city of Plymouth and the Royal Navy. They’re also fantastic representations of the craftsmanship and skill of the sculptors.”

For more information about The Box project, visit the website: or contact our Plymouth Office.