Saturday 28 July 2018 marks the 80th anniversary of the launch of Mauretania, the second Cunard liner to bear the name – the first having enjoyed a long and successful career. She was built at Cammell Laird’s in Birkenhead, and was the largest transatlantic liner built on the Mersey.
On Monday Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth was here in Liverpool, and I was fortunate enough to attend a service at St Nick’s to celebrate this anniversary, organised by Liverpool Parish Church in partnership with Cunard and Cammell Laird.
On 28 July 1938, more than 50,000 people crowded around slipway No. 6 at Cammell Laird to watch the launch. Many others paid two shillings to stand on the decks of the Mersey ferries in order to watch the spectacle from the river.
She made her way down the slipway and in to the river just after noon that day, before being berthed in Cammell Laird’s wet basin where 5,000 skilled workers took on the enormous task of fitting her out.
Mauretania embarked on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York on 17 June 1939. She had only completed a couple of Atlantic crossings when the Second World War broke out, and was requisitioned for war service by the British Government. In early 1940 she sailed from New York to Sydney to be converted in to a troopship. During her war service she carried more than 350,000 troops, and repatriated thousands more after the war ended.
In September 1946 she returned to Liverpool to be given a complete refurbishment and a fresh start. Liverpool ceased to be her home port soon afterwards, and Southampton became her new base.
She had a fantastic reputation but due to the increasing competition of more modern shipping and also the arrival of regular and cheap air travel, Cunard found themselves losing money.
Towards the end of her service, she was mainly used for cruising between New York and the West Indies. She was withdrawn from service in 1965, sold, and sent to the shipbreaker’s yard in Inverkeithing on the Firth of Forth.
Here in Merseyside Maritime Museum we have a number of items on display from Mauretania, but the most impressive are the 6 decorative glass panels that were originally fitted in the Cabin Class Dining Room on board. Each featured a design based on a constellation, to represent either the history of the first Mauretania, or important dates relating to the second Mauretania. You can view them in our Life at Sea gallery on the First Floor of the museum. A rather magnificent series of mirrored glass panels are also on display in the Craft and Design gallery at the Walker Art Gallery, where 13 panels are mounted together to form a clock face. This clock face was also displayed in the Cabin Class Dining Room, and the design features the sun surrounded by planets of our solar system. This impressive was originally sat at the end of the Cabin Class Dining Room.
The Waterfront will be a hive of activity this weekend, with the Clipper Race due to finish here in Liverpool. If you are standing by the river, take a moment to imagine the sight 80 years ago when Mauretania announced its arrival, and a new chapter in the history of Cunard and Liverpool, as the company’s spiritual home.
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