A celebration 175 years in the making!

Cunard has released details of the celebratory voyages in 2015 to mark the 175th anniversary of its first ship, Britannia, setting sail in July 1840. Britannia inaugurated the first-ever regularly-scheduled service across the Atlantic and every year since then Cunard ships have crossed and re-crossed the Atlantic, in peace and war, without fail.

The 175th Anniversary Crossing

Cunard’s flagship Queen Mary 2 will recreate history when she sails from Liverpool on 4 July 2015, following in the wake of Britannia which left the city 175 years earlier to the day. This will also be the first time since January 1968 that a Cunard ship has departed from Liverpool for America.

The 10-night crossing from Liverpool will call at Halifax and Boston just like Britannia, and will conclude in New York on 14 July 2015.

The full voyage, number M511D, begins in Cunard’s homeport of Southampton on 2 July 2015 and the 12-night crossing from Southampton to Liverpool, Halifax (10 July), Boston (12 July) and New York has fares from £2,249 per person.

There has been intense excitement about this voyage since it was initially announced and demand is expected to be high. Whether joining in Southampton or Liverpool, passengers will be taking part in the signature celebration of the company’s 175 years and will themselves become part of Cunard’s illustrious history.

A Salute to Liverpool

Cunard was founded in the city of Liverpool and the company’s Head Office remained there for 128 years until 1967. Today the magnificent Cunard Building forms one third of the World-Heritage-listed ‘Three Graces’ on the Pier Head. It is fitting, therefore, that 175 years after the inauguration of Cunard’s transatlantic service from Liverpool, the current fleet salutes the company’s ‘spiritual’ home. From 24 to 26 May 2015, Liverpool will play host to the three largest Cunard ships ever built in an historic, news-making, head-turning three-day event.

Queen Mary 2 will arrive in Liverpool on Sunday 24 May and make her first ever overnight stay in the city, berthed in sight of the Cunard Building. The following morning, on Monday 25 May, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria will sail into the city and for a time all three ships of the Cunard fleet will line up on the Mersey in a spectacle that is expected to draw huge crowds. Over a million people saw QE2 sail into Liverpool for the first time in July 1990.

Queen Mary 2 will then take her leave and sail out of Liverpool late morning on Monday 25 May as Queen Elizabeth berths at the landing stage, where she will remain until late that night. Queen Victoria meanwhile will anchor in the Mersey.

Late in the evening of Monday 25 May, Queen Elizabeth will set sail and Queen Victoria will then take the berth and remain there overnight, and for the following day, Tuesday 26 May.

David Dingle, CEO of Cunard, says:

“Cunard history reads like no other. For so long the heartbeats of Cunard and Britain have been as one and we intend to celebrate this landmark anniversary in grand style. These special voyages have been planned over many months to commemorate key dates in the company’s history with all who wish to be part of Cunard’s special and unique heritage. We look forward to delivering this year of spectacle and celebration to the many people who share the pride we feel in Cunard’s ongoing success on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond.”

For more information about the cruises, visit www.cunard.co.uk 

The Leaving of Liverpool

Liverpool is the birthplace of Cunard. From the very beginning the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, universally called – also from the very beginning – Cunard Line, had its Headquarters in Liverpool. Although Samuel Cunard himself was based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and latterly in London, one of his two senior partners, David McIver, to whom responsibility for day-to-day management of the company would fall, was already established as a ship manager in Liverpool. The other senior partner, George Burns, whose chief task was to oversee construction, was based in Glasgow – and it was on the Clyde that the first 75 of the company’s ships were built.

Cunard’s first ship, Britannia, departed on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Boston via Halifax on 4 July 1840.

The company originally opened offices in 1839 at 14 Water Street, and as the business prospered and expanded it moved – in August 1857 – to premises at 8 Water Street, on the corner with Rumford Street.

8 Water Street soon became the hub of an enormous empire, concerned not just with shipping across the Atlantic to the Unites States and Canada, but also with 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.

By this time emigration to the US had begun in earnest, and travel arrangements of amazing complexity were engineered through Cunard’s Water Street office; it was possible, for example, for someone in central Europe to book with Cunard a whole journey from their home country through to California – not just the transatlantic journey, but all the rail and ferry connections required as well. And similarly, Americans had – even at that stage – developed a taste for crossing the Atlantic on a Cunard liner and, in Liverpool, transferring to a Mediterranean service Cunard ship and undertaking a Grand Tour for just £40.

The first recorded visit by a senior royal to a Cunard ship took place in Liverpool on 11 July 1913 when His Majesty King George V and Her Majesty Queen Mary visited the four-funnelled Mauretania. Since then every reigning monarch has visited or travelled on Cunard ships, as have a great many other senior royals.

Following a further half-century of steady but consistent growth into one of the notable companies of the world, Cunard was ready to construct its own magnificent landmark building – a shoreside version of its floating palaces at sea.

The Cunard Building, now one of the ‘Three Graces’ on Liverpool’s magnificent World Heritage Site Pierhead, was built on the site of George’s Dock. Work on George’s Dock had begun in 1767, but by 1900 it was too small for the new generation of steamships and was closed. Divided into three sites by the extension of Water Street and Brunswick Street, it was destined to become one of the most famous waterfronts in the world.

The CunardBuilding was the second to be built – the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board being the first – and it was a construction on a massive scale. Built of 180,000 cu feet of Portland Stone, with 50,000 cu feet of Italian marble inside, the building’s design was based on the Farnese Palace in Rome – the family home of Pope Paul III. Only much, much bigger!

The old dock walls were re-enforced with 700,000 cu feet of concrete to prevent the Mersey from seeping in, and the floor of the original dock became the floor of the lower level of two basements. Built on a huge scale – the 11 floors could accommodate 250,000 people standing – the buildings huge public rooms, corridors and stairways were lavishly decorated with marble columns and arches. It was clearly the headquarters of a company that mattered.

The Cunard Empire was ruled from the fifth floor, with its Boardroom and the pivotal naval architects’ department. Over 1,000 Cunard staff worked in the building, from hydrographers mapping the world’s tides to the experimental chef who tried out new recipes on employees before they were unleashed on the passengers.

On the ground floor was the enormous and magnificent pillared ticket hall and lounge for First Class passengers. Second and third class passengers were dealt with in the first basement – including, for emigrants, compulsory medical examinations.

Shields on the riverside elevation acknowledge the period when the building was constructed, being the arms of countries allied in the Great War – Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Japan, Belgium, Serbia and Montenegro. At each corner is the shield of the Cunard company, supported by an eagle – each weighing 43 tons. And above each third floor window are the arms of the principal passenger ports in the United Kingdom – Liverpool, Bristol, Southampton, Plymouth, Falmouth, Hull, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Glasgow, Leith, Aberdeen, Dundee and Queenstown.

Cunard moved into its prestigious new building, its third and last in Liverpool, in June 1916 and it remained there for over fifty years.

While the Cunard Building was perfect in every way, not just for the reassurance it gave to passengers with its air of permanence, stability and grandeur, and not just from the efficiency of having the staff on one site, but because the directors could look out from the Boardroom window and see the divisions of their empire – the ships – coming and going from the Mersey, the centre of Cunard operations.

But a significant change took place when in 1919 Cunard moved its express liner passenger-mail service from Liverpool to Southampton. Mauretania began the new Southampton to New York via Cherbourg service on 18 November 1919 and by the early 1920s Cunard’s big three – Mauretania, Aquitania and Berengaria – were operating the weekly service from Southampton.

Since then Southampton has been the main UK departure point for the service to New York and the most famous ships ever built have been based in Southampton including the fabled Queens: Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. But while Cunard ships may have been based in Southampton all of them (until QE2 in 1969) had Liverpool on their sterns as their port-of-registry.

CunardBuilding’s walls could speak of many momentous decisions and the debates that led to them; there would have been the decision to build first the Queen Mary, and then Queen Elizabeth. Their detailed planning would have taken place within the Cunard Building as would the agonising decision to suspend construction of Queen Mary as the company’s revenues collapsed in the Depression. Here Queen Elizabeth’s secret dash to the USA would have been planned, and other war services coordinated.

Another major event though, was the agonising over the replacement for Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, and the eventual decision to build the truly revolutionary and epoch-making Queen Elizabeth 2.

And after that decision was taken, following nerve-wracking false starts and near disasters, the Cunard Building became – along with the shipyard itself – the powerhouse of design and decision-making that led to Cunard’s most successful ship ever.

But by 1967, the focus of Cunard activity had shifted away from Liverpool; it remained Cunard’s administrative centre, but everything administered was elsewhere. The biggest supplier of company revenue was the USA and the homeport for the Cunard fleet had been moving inexorably, and by now completely, to Southampton. And so, after 128 years in the city, Cunard’s Head Office moved to New York in 1967 while its operational base moved to Southampton.

Sylvania’s departure for New York on 30 November 1967 would be the last sailing from Liverpool direct to New York but the final sailing from Liverpool would be made by Franconia on 30 January 1968 to Bermuda and then New York. Interestingly Cunard announced that sailings had been “suspended” from Liverpool and not formally stopped!

All that remained of Cunard, housed in humbler quarters, was the cargo division. To all intents and purposes, Cunard had left home.

However, the histories of Liverpool and Cunard are interwoven and the love of the company felt by the city was never as evident as when, on Tuesday 24 July 1990, over a million lined the banks of the Mersey to welcome the first Cunard Queen, QE2, to visit the river.

Since that date day in July 1990 seven Cunard ships (QE2, Crown Dynasty, Royal Viking Sun, Caronia, Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth) have made a total of 20 calls to Liverpool and the city remains a highlight of the company’s yearly Round Britain voyage further strengthening ties between company and city.

Queen Victoria will make the first overnight call by a Cunard passenger ship on 30 / 31 May 2014 and her call will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the departure on 30 May 1914 of Aquitania on her maiden voyage.

Liverpool will play a key role in the celebrations to mark the 175th anniversary of Cunard in 2015.

The Cunard flagship Queen Mary 2 will recreate history when she leaves Liverpool on 4 July and follows in the wake of Britannia which left the city exactly 175 years earlier. This will also be the first time since January 1968 that a Cunard ship has left Liverpool for the New World. The 10-night crossing from Liverpool will call and Halifax (10 July) and Boston (12 July) just as Britannia did before ending in New York on 14 July.

From 24 to 26 May 2015 Liverpool will play host to the three largest Cunard ships ever built in a once-in-a-lifetime, history-making and crowd-drawing three-day period!

Queen Mary 2 will arrive in Liverpool on Sunday 24 May and make her first overnight in the city berthed alongside and in sight of the Cunard Building. The following morning Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria will arrive and for a time three Queens will be united on the Mersey in a spectacle that is expected to draw huge crowds. Queen Mary 2 will take her leave as Queen Elizabeth berths and will remain there with a mid-river Queen Victoria until later that night. After Queen Elizabeth leaves Queen Victoria will berth and remain there until 26 May.