Tree company to the rescue

Thinking outside the box is exactly what conservation specialists Orbis did when commissioned to oversee the restoration of twelve nineteenth century sailing ship figureheads. First stop, Gristwood and Toms, Britain’s leading tree management contractors.

Not the obvious choice, you might think, but Gristwood and Toms use the very latest non-invasive sonic technology to determine decay and structural weaknesses in trees and have been able to apply the same technique to the figureheads to provide an accurate picture of their internal condition. “Sadly with some, the condition is quite poor and the figureheads will require extensive restoration,” says Jim Mead, Head of Decay Investigation at Gristwood and Toms.

Previous restorations have used a variety of non-wood fillers and impermeable lacquers which have gradually weakened the structural integrity of the figureheads. According to Kirsten Walsh of Orbis Conservators, “These beautiful figureheads are of national maritime importance and deserve to be preserved. They sailed the seven seas when Britain ruled the waves and each has a fascinating story to tell. The technology we’re using today will also allow us to research how they were originally painted and in what colours so when fully restored we’ll be able to show how they would have looked centuries ago.”

When the restoration is complete the twelve figureheads will take pride of place in a permanent display in the new £37m Museum and History Centre, which is scheduled to open in Plymouth in 2020.