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Unicorn's £1.1 million Grant

HMS Unicorn receives biggest ever grant from the NMHF to undertake urgent repairs

The Unicorn Preservation Society, the charitable trust behind national treasure, HMS Unicorn, has received is biggest single donation to date. Its first seven-figure sum of £1,110,930 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) will fund the necessary and urgent work required for the continued preservation of Scotland’s oldest ship and much-loved Dundee Museum and visitor attraction.

The generous grant from NHMF, which provides financial assistance towards the acquisition, preservation, and maintenance of some of the UK’s most important objects and landscapes, has provided 95.69% of the total financial investment needed for immediate conservation repairs to HMS Unicorn.

Following consultation with engineers Fenton Holloway and shipwrights T. Neilsen and Company, the works will secure the future of the vessel in-line with National Historic Ship’s advice on historic ship preservation. Fenton Holloway has extensive experience in the stabilisation and repair of large historic ships, most notably HMS Victory and SS Great Britain. Neilsen are traditional shipwrights, well-known for their work in maintaining large historic timber vessels like RRS Discovery, HMS Victory and HMS Trincomalee.

The preservation work will look to restore strength and robustness to HMS Unicorn’s hull and thereby improve her resilience at her current berth and ready her for her projected move to the nearby East Graving Dock. The work will range from the targeted enhancement of key parts of the structure through to replacement of rotten modern timbers in the hull of the ship. As the most original old ship in the world, the focus is to retain as much of the 1824 fabric as possible. The project looks to improve the long-term durability of the ship in a robust way, one that does not carry a complicated or expensive future maintenance burden. This work follows recently completed repairs to the ship’s unusual original roof to the value of £100,000 to help prevent rainwater causing further internal damage.

Ray Macfarlane, Deputy Chair and Scotland trustee of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said:

"HMS Unicorn is a spectacular surviving relic of our maritime heritage. Holding nearly 200 years of history within its hull, it is not only the oldest ship in Scotland but one of the oldest in the world, and incredibly one of the last remaining warships from the age of sail, still afloat. The National Heritage Memorial Fund is proud to support the Unicorn Preservation Trust with a grant of over £1 million to sustain this great ship for public display.”


Museum Director, Matthew Bellhouse Moran, said:

“We are absolutely delighted with this £1.1 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, by far our largest to date. This is an absolute game changer for us as a charity as it allows us to press on with the critical preservation work which desperately needs to take place and is long overdue. This work is essential to preserve the historic fabric of this much-loved ship, replacing rotten and missing timbers which is causing rapidly accelerating structural damage and strain on the ship.  

“We have employed leading experts in their field who have worked on some of the UK’s most historic ships to ensure the ship remains safe and floating for the immediate future. We are delighted to be able to draw on their unrivalled experience in this sort of project, which will be carried out to the highest conservation principles of compatibility, sensitivity, reversibility, and legibility, all underpinned by a detailed understanding of the existing fabric.

“We anticipate this work will be completed over the next eighteen months, and it brings us a step closer to ensuring a safe move for the ship to dry dock to continue with the much-needed conservation efforts; and ultimately to achieve our vision of HMS Unicorn becoming the central exhibit of a new maritime heritage attraction in Dundee city centre, as part of Project Safe Haven.”

A £20,000 donation by American entrepreneur and self-made billionaire, John Paul DeJoria, in November 2022 and a £100,000 grant received from The Headley Trust in February provides the remaining funds required to carry out the immediate conversation work. HMS Unicorn will remain open to the public during this time, with minimal impact expected on visitor experience. The work will be completed in advance of the ship being moved to dry dock at East Graving Dock in Dundee for further major conservation works, as part of Project Safe Haven.

First launched in 1824, HMS Unicorn is the third oldest ship in the world and has been under the care of the Unicorn Preservation Society since 1968. Scotland’s only preserved warship, the Unicorn Preservation Society is working to protect and preserve HMS Unicorn for future generations to enjoy.

To support the preservation of HMS Unicorn, please visit: https://www.hmsunicorn.org.uk/hms-unicorn/supporting-us

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