Tag: maritime heritage

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.

Telegraph Cruise profile: Liverpool River Pilots


They are the quiet men of shipping.

While the captain is struggling to navigate the treacherous tides of the River Mersey, one of the Liverpool River Pilots will shimmy up a rope ladder, come aboard and peel off their waterproofs to reveal a neatly pressed suit before extending a firm handshake and taking conduct of the ship.

It may sound like a scene from the new Bond film but for Chris Booker, Chairman of the Liverpool Pilots, it’s another day at the office.

Maritime history

Liverpool Pilotage Services was founded 1766 and this year celebrates its 250th anniversary.

The BBC recently broadcast the documentary series Sea City: Liverpool 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.

I met Chris at their offices on the Birkenhead side of the river, historic paintings of pilot ships at sail alongside whiteboards of calculations and twin high-tech simulators.

It was at the controls of one of the latter that Chris planned the meticulous set of manoeuvres for Cunard’s Three Queens event last May to mark the 175th anniversary of the first transatlantic crossing.

“We gave our time for free, only being paid for the piloting on the day,” says softly spoken Chris.

“The event brought 1.5m people to Liverpool but we don’t get carried away. We’ve simply got a job to do.”

Dangerous waters

As we pour over a huge chart of the approach to Liverpool [pictured above] in the Chart Room, Chris points out the natural features that make the waters some of the toughest in the world to navigate.

“Liverpool has a lot of idiosyncrasies: strong tides, westerly weather and a series of locks,” he explains.

There are also some 5,000 wrecks beneath the surface — hence ships entering the Mersey rely on the skills and knowledge of pilots to ensure their safe passage.

Unusually, captains entering UK waters must hand over conduct of their vessel to the pilot coming aboard, integrating him into the team on the bridge.

It’s an agreement only also observed in Panama. “We are not advisors,” says Chris. “We take control.”

Later, over lunch at the Woodside Ferry Terminal, sunlight glinting off the Echo Arena across the Mersey, Chris tells me about his love affair with the sea, a romance that started aged 12 on a coaster with his father, sailing from Yorkshire to Holland.

“I remember it like yesterday. It was a defining moment.”

Chris went onto study at the Hull Trinity House Academy in before serving an apprenticeship at sea.

At 16 he was flying to New York to join a ship trading down the east coast to Central America. After years as a captain and master with the Mobil oil company, he joined the Liverpool Pilots in 1995.

The pilots, already captains, undergo a further seven-and-a-half years of training to gain their full qualifications.

“Having gone round the world as a captain, I wondered, at first, if I would get bored on the Mersey but, just last night, I was piloting gas tanker into the Mersey with one engine in bad weather,” he says.

“It was properly dry-mouth, hands-shaky scary.”

Anniversary plans

Now aged 52 and with three grown-up sons at sea, Chris has had more than his fair share of sea-faring adventures — from fending off pirates in Nigeria as a teenage cadet to charting an undiscovered sea mount off the coast of the Philippines.

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

We finish our coffees and watch the unusually calm water of the Mersey ebb and flow outside.

It’s a big year for the Liverpool Pilots with more events to be announced to add to the latest chapter in Liverpool’s rich maritime heritage.

But Chris says the Liverpool Pilots will continue quietly with their valuable work. “All the other visitors to a ship want something but the pilot is different,” he says.

“The service we provide is a proper challenge but, ultimately, we’re just there to help.”

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

This story was first published in the Daily Telegraph last weekend.

Story of the week: Seafaring Britain for the Trafalgar anniversary


As a seafaring, island nation, we have traditionally looked to the sea as our defence in times of war, our trading link with the wider world and a source of natural resources.

This link provides the basis for the SeaBritain 2005 festival, a year-long programme of events and festivals based around the theme of Britain’s maritime history, culminating in the Trafalgar Weekend (21-23 October) with events throughout the UK and the Channel Islands.

“The sea touches our lives in countless ways,” says David Quarmby, Chairman, SeaBritain 2005.

“Being surrounded by sea has defined our history, our culture, our national psyche, how as a trading nation we have prospered, and the kind of recreation at which our nation excels.”

Festival city

The Battle of Trafalgar was a defining moment in British history, whereby Admiral Lord Nelson saw off the invasion threat led by Napoleon, against a combined fleet of French and Spanish ships.

He may have been fatally wounded by a sniper’s bullet on October 21, 1805 – you can still visit the spot where he fell on board Trafalgar – but his legacy lives on. Particularly, that is, in Portsmouth, the festival’s hub city.

Portsmouth is where Captain Cook arrived after circumnavigating the world, Captain Bligh of Bounty fame sailed from its harbour and Lord Nelson himself set sail in his flagship vessel, HMS Victory, in 1805 for the Battle of Trafalgar.

Today the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is home to some naval big-hitters, including the restored HMS Victory, the oldest commissioned warship in the world.

It also houses Henry VIII’s warship, the Mary Rose. This was raised to the surface in 1982 after 17 years of salvaged operations and now restored to its Tudor glory.

But the festival, and wider links to our maritime heritage are not confined solely to Portsmouth.

As the festivities get underway, we profile six of Britain’s best coastal cities for messing about on the water this spring.


Maritime heritage and Liverpool’s history are inextricably linked, a fact recognised by Unesco’s decision to award the Liverpool waterfront [pictured above] its World Heritage status.

The abundance of merchant’s houses reflects the city’s erstwhile status as a major commercial port, while amongst the warehouse conversions, the Merseyside Maritime Museum today traces the links between the city and the sea.

Liverpool has designated 2005 ‘Year of the Sea’ as part of its Capital of Culture 2008 countdown. As such, the 25th annual Mersey River Festival will be the biggest ever this summer from June 10-13.

But if culture doesn’t float your boat, don’t worry. The Albert Dock has some of the city’s best shopping, while Mersey Ferries still ply the famous ferry cross the Mersey.


The redevelopment of Bristol’s harbourside over the last ten years has re-established the city’s links with the sea.

This year also sees the completion of a conservation project to restore both Brunel’s iron-hulled ship, the SS Great Britain and the Victorian dockyard it was built in, to their original Victorian glory.

The Bristol Harbour Festival runs 31 July to 1 August this summer with a slew of family events.

Meanwhile, if you fancy something more active, the Severn Way is the longest riverside walk in England and terminates in Bristol.

If you prefer getting in the water than admiring it, the World Heritage Roman Baths in nearby Bath have reclaimed the steaming dipping pools for public use after years of restoration.


The redevelopment of Cardiff Docks has seen a run-down area transformed into a ‘little Covent Garden by the sea, especially since the opening of the Millennium Centre last November.

The Cardiff Bay Regatta (July 28-29) kicks off this summer’s Cardiff Harbour Festival along the waterfront, while Nelson Week has family activities, such as visits to the tall ship Tenacious.

Further afield, Wales plays host this year to two major maritime festivals: the Swansea Bay Summer Festival in June with the Welsh Power Boat Grand Prix; and the Cleddu Waterway Festival in Milford Haven.

Meanwhile, Wales continues to act as a magnet to adrenaline-seekers trying new sports such as kitesurfing and coast steering, especially around the Gower Peninsula and the Pembrokeshire coast.


With the Atlantic crashing in on the beaches of Cornwall and the heart of Britain’s burgeoning waterspouts industry located along the coast, the South West is natural seafaring territory.

This year, the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth hosts a major surfing exhibition from July 1 to December 1 in its Flotilla Gallery, celebrating Britain’s surf culture.

Newquay, the home of British surfing, boasts the Extreme Academy for the pick of adrenaline adventures.

Otherwise, nearby Plymouth Hoe is rich in maritime heritage as Frances Drake’s favourite bowels green and the National Maritime Aquarium Plymouth  has the deepest tank in Europe.


The Northeast’s cultural hub has transformed its waterfront in recent years with projects such as the award-winning Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the Sage Gateshead performing arts centre bringing new vibrancy to the area.

This summer the city will launch its own River Festival, the main event of which will be The Tall Ships’ Race, whereby 120 tall ships will drop anchor in the Tyne before setting sail across the North Sea to Norway.

The Northeast also features some of the best coarse and game fishing in the UK, not to mention great bracing walks, accompanied by seaside vistas, along the spectacular Cleveland Way walking trail.


From the Tall Ships on the River Clyde, to the erstwhile Royal Yacht Britannia now berthed in the port of Leith, just outside Edinburgh, Scotland is also celebrating its maritime heritage this year.

This year’s Edinburgh Military Tattoo, running August 5-27, has a strong nautical theme, while the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival, held in Portsoy Harbour, Aberdeenshire, from July 2-4, features one of the largest collections of traditional boats in the UK.

Meanwhile, the Glasgow River Festival celebrates its second year in 2005 with events along The Clyde. Special events will take place over the weekend at venues along the waterfront and on the river itself, including Glasgow Science Centre, The Tall Ship at Glasgow Harbour and the SECC.

This summer will also see further completion of the Waterfront Edinburgh project, one of Scotland’s largest urban regeneration schemes to transform derelict land around Granton.

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

This story was first published in Hotline magazine in 2005.

Liked this? Try also Exploring maritime heritage in Liverpool.

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.

Liked this? Try also Exploring the Maritime Heritage of Unesco-listed Liverpool.