Tag: Cunard

A preview of Life on Board at the Merseyside Maritime Museum


[Photo: National Museums Liverpool]

  • National Museums Liverpool opened its new gallery Life on Board today, an opening delayed from March by Covid-19, as part of a wider re-opening of its museums, including the new Linda McCartney Retrospective exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery. My preview ran today in Telegraph Travel and the below is my original copy filed before lockdown. 

I’m standing in front of a little piece of maritime history.

With its miniature sun loungers, palm trees and umbrellas, plus mini-me figurines taking a dip in the pool, the 3.5m replica model of the Arandora Star, the ship torpedoed in 1940 while carrying prisoners of war to Canada, had been in storage for years after wartime bomb damage.

But the 1936 exhibition model of this Blue Star passenger liner has been lovingly conserved over 400 hours of restoration work and now takes centre stage in a new maritime gallery opening in Liverpool later this month.

Life on board, the new permanent gallery at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool’s Albert Dock [pictured above], explores the history of travel by sea from the 18th century, via the interwar heyday of the ocean liners as floating palaces, to the current day.

Liverpool was a hub for Transatlantic crossings at the turn of the 20th century with the numerous shipping companies operating out of port city, including White Star Line (later merged with Cunard Line).

The Museum also hosts galleries devoted to the stories of the Lusitania and Liverpool connections to the Titanic story.

The gallery has been over a year in the planning and takes a case-study-led approach to exploring Liverpool’s seafaring heritage, putting human stories at the forefront of the exhibits with text and audio testimonies to illustrate.

Of the 250-odd exhibits, some have been brought out of storage, while a small number are new acquisitions for the opening.

“Our cruise story as a city is rooted in heritage but it also remains an integral part of our living history,” explains Michelle Walsh, the museum’s curator of maritime history and technology.

“We look at the modern revival of interest in cruising by setting it in the heritage context of Liverpool as a cruise port.”


The exhibition is arranged thematically, as opposed to in chronological order, starting with stories of the Merchant Navy before moving onto the Lines and Leisure section, which shines a spotlight on the golden age of cruise of leisure travel.

It was during the 1920s that the introduction of Tourist Third Cabin Class opened up cruise travel to a wider audience, making the voyage on board an integral part of the overall journey.

The era also saw architects and artists employed by shipping companies to remodel the liners with fashionable Art Deco stylings.

Interspersed amongst the exhibits are some hands-on interpretation for families with younger children, such as learning how to tie a reef knot, and getting your own temporary tattoo as a means to explain the superstitions behind the artwork favoured by sailors.

The gallery also incorporates the museum’s Archives Centre, featuring National Museums Liverpool’s vast collection of maritime and slavery records.

“Liverpool has always been a very outward-looking city, gazing out to the horizon,” says Michelle, who spent her own honeymoon on an Alaska cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).

“I believe this outward mentality is a reflection of our rich maritime heritage as a city.”

Key exhibits in the gallery include a series of on-board outfits worn by passenger Gertrude Walker, left to the museum by surviving family on Merseyside, to reflect the experience of women travelling by sea in the early 20th century.

Gertrude’s diary recorded the daily routine of first-class travel on the transatlantic ships. Meanwhile, a set of decorative glass panels from the Cabin (first) Class Dining Room of the Mauretania II, marked with signs of the zodiac, highlight the Art Deco influence on design rom the era.

One of Michelle’s favourite exhibits, however, is an architectural design model of the lime-green mid-ship lobby, or the ‘rotunda’, aboard the QE2, which illustrates how ship design evolved with the swinging Sixties.

Built on the Clyde, the QE2 made her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on May 2, 1969.

“With so many items in storage, including over 2,000 ship models, it has been very hard to make the final selection,” explains Michelle as we admire an 1917 events programme from the RMS Orduna, which lists on-board activities, such as a potato race for ladies and cock fighting for men.

“Once you start delving, there are so many important stories to tell.”


Today Liverpool’s cruise industry is again booming with plans for a new Liverpool Cruise Terminal scheduled to open in 2022/3, handling up to 3,600 passengers per ship visit.

With the gallery open, those passengers will be able to disembark near Liverpool’s Three Graces, incorporating the landmark Liver Building, and stroll along the waterfront to the museum to visit the new gallery.”

“As a teenager in Eighties Liverpool, the dock was all silted up and the cruise traffic had long since drifted away to Southampton,” says Michelle.

“But the return of the big ships has rekindled a huge sense of pride in our cruise history.”

Large numbers of people now flock to the quayside to welcome visiting ships in port.”

“As curators, we’re always there, too,” she laughs. “Basically, we’re all just massive ship geeks.”

More info here.

On patrol with the Liverpool River Pilots on the River Mersey for Telegraph Cruise

CSC_8627* Image credit: www.liverpoolpilots.com

I reported from the deck of Queen Mary 2 on the Cunard Three Queens event [pictured above] earlier this year.

Now it’s time for the follow up with the man who masterminded the manoeuvres on the day: Chris Booker, Chairman of the Mersey River Pilots.

It’s a big year for the Liverpool Pilotage Services, which celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2016.

The BBC will broadcast the documentary series Sea City: Liverpool in February while the Merseyside Maritime Museum hosts the exhibition Liverpool Pilots from July to celebrate the landmark.

Both explore the vital role of the service in navigating ships in and out of the Port of Liverpool for more than two centuries.

The story will be published in Telegraph Cruise next spring but, meanwhile, here’s a flavour of the interview:

“I remember sailing from Japan to Canada and we could smell the pines before they even appeared on the radar. I loved the adventure and I’d do it all again.”


Liverpool Pilots

Merseyside Maritime Museum

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Memories of Cunard from Liverpool’s golden age of cruise travel


The crowds will gather on May 7 on Liverpool’s waterfront.

They will congregate around a rusty old ship’s propeller on the quayside outside the Merseyside Maritime Museum and bow their heads in silent contemplation in what has become an annual commemoration for families connected to one of Britain’s most tragic maritime disasters.

HMS Lusitania made her maiden trans-Atlantic voyage out of Liverpool in 1907 and became a casualty of WWI in May 1915, when she was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland by a German submarine.

Some 1,192 people, many innocent women and children, perished in the Lusitania disaster and the sinking became a turning point in the First World War.

To mark the centenary, the Merseyside Maritime Museum opened its new permanent Lusitania exhibition, a new space devoted to the ill-fated Cunard liner, in March this year.

The exhibition tells the story of the disaster through the eyes of the people of Liverpool. It’s the latest chapter of a story that started in 1982 when the ship’s propeller was returned to its Liverpool home.

“I want the items in the gallery to speak for themselves,” says Eleanor Moffat, the Museum’s Curator of Maritime Collections.

“These personal items are not necessarily worth much money but, when you learn the stories behind them, they connect us first hand to our maritime heritage.”

Prodigal return

The cruise liner company Cunard was founded in Liverpool in 1839 and its head office remained in the city until 1967.

Today the Cunard Building, where the company relocated its headquarters in 1916, is one of the World-Heritage-listed Three Graces on the Pier Head (along with The Royal Liver Building and the Port of Liverpool Building).

There are plans to open up the building this summer to visitors, running tours of the interior with its Italian marble columns and arches, fifth floor Boardroom and ground floor pillared ticket hall, plus the lounge for First Class passengers.

Cunard rapidly expanded its business to not just shipping across the Atlantic to the Unites States and Canada, but also routes to ports in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

By 1877 the company had 46 vessels: 19 on the Atlantic run, 12 in the Mediterranean and Black Sea services, and a further 13 serving Glasgow, Northern Ireland and Bermuda.

Cunard ships will return to Liverpool this summer to mark a historic anniversary.

The three largest Cunard ships ever built, the Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria will sail back into the city from May 24 to 26 to celebrate 175 years of the inauguration of Cunard’s transatlantic service from Liverpool in July 1840.

The Queen Mary 2 then sails on July 4 from Liverpool to New York, emulating the journey of Britannia some 175 years earlier to the day.

This will be the first time a Cunard ship has departed from Liverpool for America since January 1968. The departure will be preceded that day by a special commemorative concert at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral while projections onto waterfront buildings over three nights will recount the story of Liverpool at sea.

“Liverpool still feels a very strong link as Cunard’s spiritual home,” adds Eleanor Moffat.

“Liverpool’s wealth stems from the golden era of the shipping lines in the 18th and 19th centuries. This period established the city as a centre for world trade and commerce.”

Visitor attractions

The return of the Cunard vessels is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of spectators to the city and showcase the ongoing urban regeneration of Liverpool’s historic waterfront.

Unesco granted six areas of Liverpool, including a couple along the waterfront, World Heritage status as a maritime mercantile city in 2004 and projects continue to this day, the latest of which is to expend the new Liverpool Cruise Terminal to accommodate ships with up to 3,500 passengers.

Visitors to the city for the Cunard anniversary will find, handily, that all the main maritime sights are contained within a one-mile sweep alongside the River Mersey.

This runs from the Cruise Terminal (Princes Dock) to the Echo Arena (Kings Dock) via the Albert Dock museum quarter and the Pier Head, home to the Three Graces.

Heading left from the Cruise Terminal, past the Titanic Memorial, the first major attraction is the Museum of Liverpool.

Opened in 2011, the angular, glass-fronted building tells the story of the city and its people. The Great Port gallery explores the development of the docks and the tidal River Mersey while the Global City gallery examines Liverpool’s pivotal role in the expansion of the British Empire.

The waterside walkway leads towards to the Albert Dock, where Tate Liverpool has been bringing world-class exhibitions, including the Turner Prize, to the Liverpool waterfront since the regeneration of the docklands in the late 1980s.

The gallery hosts the major exhibition of works by the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington during May. While you’re browsing the minimalist gallery space, stop by the floor-to-ceiling windows to catch glimpses of the cityscape at different angles along the waterfront.

Located just across from Tate Liverpool is the Merseyside Maritime Museum, incorporating the International Slavery Museum on its upper floors.

The latter explores Liverpool’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, opening the visit with powerful quotes, such as Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 speech, “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free.”

Archive material

For a deeper understanding of Liverpool’s deep-rooted relationship with Liverpool, and an opportunity to browse rare items of maritime heritage, however, take a short stroll across the city centre to the University of Liverpool Library.

It’s here, amid the hushed reverence of a reading room in the department of Special Collections and Archives that members of the public can access the Cunard archive – by prior appointment.

Liverpool University acquired the Cunard Steamship Company Archive in the 1960’s and it has remained there on long-term deposit ever since.

It comprises over 400 linear metres of material and covers primarily the period from 1840 to 1990. The collection is arranged into 13 sections, such as Chairmen’s Papers, Accounts Department and Public Relations records.

The archive is a treasure trove of material, including daily bulletin on-board newsletters and menu cards.

A January 1842 passenger list from the Britannia shows a certain Charles Dickens, his wife and her servant sailing from Liverpool to Boston – Dickens paid 40 pounds and 19 shillings for a cabin room. A collection of black-and-white photos from May 1928 of life on board HMS Aquitania, meanwhile, looks like scenes straight out of the popular TV series Downton Abbey.

Cunard archivist Sian Wilks is busily collating a digital database of items from the archive for the company’s 175th anniversary.

Taking the Cunard archive online aims to widen access to both the local community and the increasing number of international enquiries, including those from Canada and United States for ancestry research.

She is also sourcing items to feature in an exhibition of Cunard cruise posters at the University of Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery and Museum in October this year. She says:

“There’s a lot of excitement about Cunard using Liverpool as a port again. It reflects the pride the city feels about the regeneration of its historic waterfront.”

Sian handled some 600 item retrievals for visitors last year and regularly assists members of the public searching for family ancestry links through the archive material.

“It’s rare for someone to find a family member through the archive but, when it does happen, it’s a great feeling,” she smiles.

The bunting will be out for the anniversary events this summer and fireworks will accompany the historic sailings. While the mood may be more sombre for the Lusitania commemoration, a sense of celebration and revelling in maritime heritage will be blowing in off the River Mersey this month. 

Cunard is coming home.

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This article was due to be first published in Discover Britain magazine earlier this year.

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Cunard Three Queens: The view from the deck of Queen Mary 2


This weekend Liverpool celebrated a historic event with the gathering of the Three Queens on the River Mersey.

It was a spectacle full of history, pomp and emotion.

And I was lucky enough to have been part of it from Queen Mary 2, joining the ship in Greenock last Thursday to sail into Liverpool on Sunday morning.

I was on assignment for Telegraph Cruise and you can read my two reports here:

Queen Mary 2 arrives in Liverpool

Cunard 175 anniversary – cruise ships dance on the Mersey

Plus watch a Vimeo of our approach into Liverpool here:

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