The magnificent vessel you see before you, afloat in a river artificially widened to accommodate its vast bulk, is the delicately named “Hull Number 534.” Within two years, Number 534 had set a new speed record for crossing the Atlantic.
It held that record almost unchallenged until 1952. By then, of course, the Hull had been renamed the Queen Mary. Between 1936 and 1967, the liner powered across the Atlantic from Southampton to New York once a week. But when the majority of these pictures were taken, the ship was still a hull under construction.
Work had commenced in December 1930 on the River Clyde, in Scotland and — so big was the vessel —the river was not only artificially widened, but deepened too. The ship’s building process took three and a half years, and cost £3.5million.
And what exactly did Cunard White Star, the owners, get for their money? Two indoor swimming pools, three beauty salons, three libraries, and three children’s nurseries (one for each class), plus a music studio, a lecture hall, tennis courts (outside) — and a Jewish prayer room, the first on any liner.
The Queen Mary goes to war
Come the Second World War, the Queen Mary was requisitioned as a troopship, transporting huge numbers of Australian and New Zealand soldiers across the globe to England.
For the entire duration of the war, the ship’s exquisite fittings were removed to warehouses for safe-keeping, including the ship’s six miles of carpets.
But Post-War, Queen Mary’s days, and those of the great cruise liner era in general, were numbered. The 1950s were the age of the jet, and it was not unknown that, during winter time, the Queen Mary would arrive in New York with crew outnumbering passengers.
In 1967, the ship was sold and became a floating museum in Long Beach, California. Yet, sustaining its life has proved problematic — this year a report claimed that the ship is decaying to such a degree as to be dangerously close to unsalvageable.