The UK's oldest surviving yacht prepares to emerge from its subterranean home

By Richard Moss | 22 January 2015

A precious yacht which had lain undiscovered for over a century is about to be restored by Manx National Heritage

a photo of the back of the yacht with scroll decoration
Peggy, the earliest example of a British yacht, and the only surviving example of a 'shallop', in her cellar within the Nautical Museum in Castletown. © Manx National Heritage
Curators and conservators at the Nautical Museum in Castletown on the Isle of Man are about to embark on a vital nautical rescue mission as they prepare to remove the UK’s earliest example of a British yacht from her cellar for essential restoration.  

The Peggy was discovered in the 1930s, entombed in her original boat cellar, where she had lain for over a century since the death of her owner George Quayle. Built in 1791 the boat was fitted with sliding keels, making it one of only a few with the unusual eighteenth century innovation.

But as well as being the UK's oldest yacht, the boat is the oldest survivor of a kind known in nautical circles as a 'shallop', which is light boat used for rowing or sailing in shallow water, and is typical of the 17th and 18th century.

Now the precious vessel is about to be transported to a climate-controlled conservation facility in Douglas recently purchased by the Manx Museum and National Trust, where it will be stabilised, examined and conserved.

Christopher Weeks, Objects Conservator at Manx National Heritage said the Peggy needed “urgent conservation work”.

“The humidity of the new surroundings has to be lowered carefully in order to retard the corrosion of her iron fittings without damaging her timbers,” he explained. “At the same time preservation work on her painted surfaces will also commence.”

“However, this complex conservation project is in its earliest stages. We can’t be specific about exactly what we need to do, or a timescale, until we can properly assess the boat’s condition in a secure environment.
"The ‘Peggy’ is one of the most important historic artefacts in the British Isles and we are looking to conserve her, create a suitable environment in which to house her and to tell her story for future generations.”

Plans are also afoot for a partial redevelopment at the Nautical Museum to improve the entrance and shop area and to provide a new ‘Quayle Gallery’, which will tell the story of George Quayle and his family as well as the Peggy.

Recent archaeological investigation and archival research around the site where she was discovered has unearthed evidence of what might be the earliest slipway in the British Isles. Archaeologists believe Quayle subsequently replaced this with a unique private dock, which acted as a sea lock.

Exhibits will include a number of recent finds from the 2014 excavations including a leather pistol holster, a flintlock pistol mechanism, some coconut shell drinking cups and what is believed to be an eighteenth century microscope.

The newly refurbished museum with its new gallery is due to open to the public in May 2015.

A crane is due to lift the Peggy from her cellar on January 28. Manx National Heritage will post updates of the project’s progress on its official Facebook page  throughout the day.

a photo of people looking through an unopened doorway towards a boat in a cellar.
Peggy being shown to visitors during a museum tour© Manx National Heritage
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