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Questions to a ship and historic models conservator

conservator examining a model of a building

What is the oldest thing you have worked on?

The oldest ship model we have worked on is the 90 gun sailing warship 'Neptune' which was made in 1683. It is made from wood and has gilded decoration. Despite its great age we did not need to do very much except clean it with water dampened swabs.

detailed model of an old wooden ship


What is the biggest thing you have worked on?

The model of Sir Edwin Lutyens' 1930s design for the Catholic cathedral in Liverpool is the largest model we have worked on. It measures 6.4 x 5.2 metres and is 4.5 metres high when on display. It is tall enough for someone to stand up in. The conservation of the Lutyens' model was our longest running project, 1992 -2006.

huge wooden model of a cathedral

The Lutyens cathedral model

Our largest ship models are the ocean liners Titanic and Berengaria both of which are 6 metres long. The Berengaria is entirely made from metal whereas the Titanic model is made from wood and metal.

What are the smallest models?

Among our smallest models are a series of six miniature models known as the 'Ivy' collection. They are all cargo ships made to a scale of 1:1200. In other words they are one thousand two hundred times smaller than the real ship. Each is set in a painted sea that reflects a different port in the world. My favourite is the 'SS Cavina', a ship that brought bananas from the Caribbean to Britain. She is at anchor with a visiting launch alongside, if you look at the bow you will see the water flowing away as she is about to 'swing' on the anchor as the tides flow changes direction. This tiny model can be seen in the Global City gallery at the Museum of Liverpool.

ship model

'SS Cavina'

Do you have a favourite model?

It is always difficult to choose a favourite among so many we have over 2000 models! My favourite is not the biggest or the most elaborate model but a simple Mersey 'flat', a local cargo barge. Named 'Charity', maybe after the owners daughter, it is an object full of character.

Heavily laden its decks are almost awash; she is being pushed along by a strong breeze. She has two crew members carved from wood one steering and one coiling rope. The wooden carved sea and billowing sail give a sense of movement. It was modelled by someone who had seen and understood the scene many times.

detail of Charity ship model, displayed on a base modelled to resemble a rough sea

Mersey Flat 'Charity'

Why do people make models of ships?

Ship models are made for many reasons. Some were made for exhibition by ship builders to try and sell ships to ship owners, others so shipping companies could show off their latest ship to passengers and as a status symbol. Model makers sometimes make models of ships they sailed on, or to show ships and boats that have long gone. Some of the oldest ship models were found in the tombs of the pharaohs so making models is a very old pastime.

conservator staniding next to a large model of a liner with 3 funnels

Ship model 'Berengaria'

Are the models decorated only on the outside, or is there detail on the inside as well?

We have many ship models with interiors but they are usually quite small boats rather than large complex ocean liners. These are usually made by hobbyists with a special interest in recording the past.

The large model of the Lutyens' design for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral has a full interior showing the many vaults, arches and the many statues that would have been if the cathedral was built.

view of detailed interior of wooden cathedral model

View of the altar in the Lutyens cathedral model