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Devonport figurehead renovation

20 October 2016
Visitors to the Naval Heritage Centre in Devonport Naval Base will see a new small-scale addition to the Royal Navy ship’s figurehead gallery.

The Goddess Minerva wooden sculpture, dating from the early 1800s has been returned to the gallery after 600 hours of restoration by a skilled carpenter and others from the Royal Navy’s major industrial partner Babcock.

The wooden figure, at about 5-feet tall and dwarfed by other giant figureheads, sports a gleaming new white coat of paint and re-carved sections after falling prey to rot when sited outside below the gazebo in the naval base.

The goddess originally had accompanying models of an owl and cockerel (now missing) in South Yard, now on Princess Yacht’s estate - the search is on for them.

I used old photos to make sure it was as original as possible.

Warrant Officer Ray Crockett

Centre manager Warrant Officer Ray Crockett received the figurehead from the Babcock restoration team.

He said: “I’m really pleased to take delivery of Minerva who has been extremely well and lovingly restored to an impressive and resplendent piece of artwork.

“This is just one example of the full-scale professional care which we are taking over our naval heritage.’’

Babcock professional pattern-maker and carpenter Julian Grylls said the figure revealed several surprises during its make-over: “I’m really pleased to see Minerva back where she belongs on her plinth and open to visitors.

“This was a very interesting job and makes a change from my normal work.

“I noticed she has a different right arm which is far more chunky than the feminine slim right arms, as if there has been damaged and it was replaced.  

“Half way down she was rotten and some parts were missing - so I had to replace the wood and make it all blend in. I used old photos to make sure it was as original as possible.’’

Minerva used to be painted in several colours, but has been returned to her original white – the colour of all Royal Navy figureheads on former ships. 

Navy figureheads were coloured only once they were retired to land. However, this Minerva model was never fitted to a ship because the Navy (who commissioned her) deemed her too fragile to withstand the rigours of service in stormy seas and has been previously decorated and is now a museum attraction.

The figurehead gallery is open among a host of attractions at the final Naval Heritage Centre Open Day of the year on Sunday (Oct 23rd) with the theme ‘Bombs and Bullets’, a non-lethal exhibition of firepower. 

Further details from the centre on 01752 5523 326 and email devonportnhc.wordpress.com.  Entry, from 10am to 5pm, is free. 

A park and ride service operates: Parking is offered at Camel’s Head Gate at Devonport Naval Base, and travel to the centre by bus. 

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