HMS Arethusa (originally posted February 2012)
It was February 1st, a freezing cold day as I arrived at Maritima on a catch-up visit to see ships carver Andy Peters. Waterperry is quiet at this time of year and peering through the half-glazed door the workshop seemed empty, the lights on and not a soul in sight as I grasped and turned the handle calling out a greeting as I entered. Snow had been forecast for the weekend and stepping inside brought a welcome relief from the frosty air. Andy was in the back room standing over one of the prettiest figureheads I have ever seen, the Arethusa. He was contemplating hairstyles and with not very much left to go on, he enquired….
“know anything about Victorian coiffure” ?
Andy is currently renovating the figurehead from the HMS Arethusa a 50 gun frigate launched at Pembroke dockyard on the 20th June 1849. The fourth ship to the carry the name, the first, originally named ‘L’ Arethuse’ was captured from the French almost a century before.
The figurehead was in very poor condition and had to be to split into two pieces, the bust had rot in the core, this had to be cut away the remainder treated and new timber added.
In one piece again and with the paintwork scraped back, the old wood looked nicely weathered, in the cold winter light of the workshop it had a brownish orange patina suggesting an air reminiscent of unglazed terracotta. Andy continued to muse over the hair arrangement, the work progressing well it would soon be time to think about the lower half of the carving, this was still attached to the stem head and rails of the original ship on site at Upnor in Kent.
HMS Arethusa served in the Mediterranean and the Black sea. She was decommissioned in 1869. Reputed to be the last Royal Navy warship to go into action under sail alone, she remained in service until 1932 as a training ship for Shaftesbury Homes. Moored at Greenhithe she was eventually replaced by the 4 masted German barque ‘Peking’ and broken up at Charlton in 1933.
Shaftesbury Homes is still in existence today, the original idea to provide a refuge and give schooling to boys who had been sleeping rough on the streets of London. Throughout the years they have continued to give a start in life to disadvantaged children, most of whom left to start a maritime career.
Andy Peters, ships carver can be contacted at the link below
Some old film clips of the Arethusa held at the British Pathé archives
A brief history of T.S. Arethusa and the Shaftsbury Homes at Upnor