Seaford Museum’s ship’s figurehead is given makeover

Phoebe before restoration
Phoebe before restoration

A ship’s figurehead has been returned to Seaford Museum after receiving a makeover from a specialist restorer.

Phoebe arrived back at the museum on Friday August 2 just in time for the Museum Market and Fund Day on Sunday August 4.



The museum is still appealing for anyone who might know about the history of the figurehead to come forward.

Seaford Museum vice chairman David Swaysland said: “In December 2012, Phoebe was hoisted out of the depths of the Museum’s extensive underground exhibition area to be taken off to the workshops in Sheffield of Richard Hunter, the UK’s leading figurehead restorer.

“She has been expertly cleaned, some areas have been recarved and she’s been repainted by Richard, based on the few flecks of paint which remained embedded in the grain of her wood, and his expert knowledge.”

Little is known of her history before the 1960s when she was rescued from Seaford Urban District Council’s destructor site in Brooklyn Road by Doris Pilkington and her daughter.

The figurehead spent many years at Litlington Tea Gardens before being moved to Seaford Museum in 1974.

Even her name of Phoebe was given to her by the Pilkington family.

There is a rumour she was in the garden of a house on Seaford seafront for a time and went to the council around the 1939-45 war, along with the museum’s more famous figurehead from The Peruvian.

However research by local author Diana Crook, who has helped to finance Phoebe’s restoration, has not produced any leads about her identity.

Diana said: “Her size, she stands seven feet tall, suggests she came from a large ‘distant shores’ vessel, perhaps a three masted barque, and Richard Hunter believes she is of British rather than Scandinavian, European or American origins, but that has to remain speculation.

“Unfortunately there have been so many shipwrecks along our coast, and there was a thriving Victorian trade in redundant ships’ figureheads as garden curiosities, that she remains an enigma.

“Of course if anyone is able to shed any further light on our painted lady’s past, we’d be delighted to hear from them.”

Phoebe can be viewed by visitors to Seaford Museum, which is based at Martello Tower 74 on Seaford seafront.