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c. 1930s

Constructing the Queen Mary

During construction the vessel was so big, the river had to be artificially widened and deepened.

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.

Farmers gather their crops under the shadow of the great Cunard White Star liner Queen Mary, under construction at John Brown’s shipyard on Clydebank.
Hudson/Getty Images

The turbine steamer Queen Mary had accommodation on a luxurious scale for 776 first-class, 784 tourist and 579 third-class passengers, with 1101 officers and crew
SSPL/Getty Images
This view from the midships to the bow shows first-class, officers’ and crew accommodation, bridge, sports deck, car deck, and the ship’s boilers and holds.
SSPL/Getty Images
Cunard White Star liner ‘534’ during its construction
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Farmers tilling the soil with horse drawn ploughs and hand sowing their seeds beside the British passenger liner RMS Queen Mary
Fox Photos/HultonArchive/Getty Images
RMS Queen Mary being built at the John Brown & Company shipyard
Fox Photos/HultonArchive/Getty Images
Riveters at work on the top deck of the Queen Mary
Lock/Getty Images
The Cunard White Star liner Queen Mary splashes into the water at her launching ceremony
Topical Press/Getty Images
The ‘RMS Queen Mary’ as seen through the legs of two horses from a farmstead at Clydebank, as the giant liner left the River Clyde on her first voyage
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Passengers on board the Queen Mary view the New York skyline as the ship docks in Manhattan at dawn
Kurt Hutton/Getty Images

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