Cutty sark's figurehead is a young witch named ‘Nannie’ who was a character in the poem "Tam O'Shanter", by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. This poem, penned in 1790, recalls the ancient legend of Tam, a farmer who, after an evening drinking with friends, was riding home on his horse called Meg. On his way home, he saw that the churchyard of Kirk Alloway was occupied by a collection of warlocks and witches, with the Devil himself playing the bagpipes.
The astonished Tam saw that among the ugly group of witches, there was one which was young and beautiful. Her name was Nannie, and she wore only a 'cutty sark', a short shift. Tam was bewitched and, as her dancing became wilder, in his excitement, he cried out "Weel done cutty sark!" The witches then pursued Tam who fled for his life to the bridge over the river Doon, for he knew that witches could not cross running water. Nannie was faster than the others and, as the mare galloped over the bridge, she seized it by the tail, which came off in her hand. Hence, the figurehead is always shown holding a horse's tail in her left hand.
A replica figurehead currently adorns the ship's bow and the original figurehead is in the Trust's collection of museum objects. Cutty Sark's figurehead was designed by Hercules Linton (who also designed the ship), and carved by F. Hellyer of Blackwall. When Cutty Sark still sailed, the apprentices on board the ship would make a horse's tail from old rope and place it in Nannie’s outstretched arm.