RMS AQUITANIA: THE ‘SHIP BEAUTIFUL’ PREVIEW PAGE

rms aquitania book cover

‘The Aquitania is not a “floating hotel,” any more than a good yacht is a “floating flat”. Hotels and flats are full of noise and restlessness and are generally overcrowded. The wonder ship is a glorious country house with just the right number of people in it and plenty of room for them all. I have only one complaint to offer her owners. She averages over 22 knots and I can only spend a week at a time aboard her...’ – Lord Northcliffe, 1921.


These pages are intended to provide a short preview of the Aquitania book - from photographs, to a contents listing, comments on the book’s history, and some page shots.

rms aquitania (Clyde George)

Left: Aquitania cuts an impressive profile. (Courtesy Clyde George collection)

Below: Aquitania recorded some impressive speeds in the late 1930s, as this log covering an eastbound crossing from the summer of 1937 shows. (Author’s Collection.)

rms aquitania log 1937

Aquitania Colour Photo Halifax 1949

Aquitania at Southampton, Colour Photograph  (Richard I. Weiss)

Above: An unusual view of Aquitania, docked at Halifax around 1949. (John Blake photograph, courtesy Richard I. Weiss collection)

Above: Docked at Southampton in the late 1940s, Aquitania’s funnels gleamed in the sunlight. The propeller is reportedly one of the spares for Queen Mary. (John Blake photograph, courtesy Richard I. Weiss collection)

Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Into The Twentieth Century
  • Building The Future
  • In His Majesty’s Service
  • ‘The Ship Beautiful’
  • The Sprightly Lady
  • A Return To His Majesty’s Service
  • A Career’s Close

Appendices:

  • One: British Registry Details Of RMS Aquitania
  • Two: Leonard Peskett’s Recommendations
  • Three: Facts And Figures Of Thirty-Six Years
  • Four: Express Service Profits, 1926-30
  • Five: RMS Aquitania Passenger Statistics
  • Six: Cunard And White Star’s Express Service Passenger Carryings
  • Seven: RMS Aquitania Voyages 329-374
  • Eight: RMS Aquitania’s Captains

There are no less than 222 photographs and illustrations in the completed book, subject to the publisher’s approval. No fewer than 103 images – almost half of the total – are in colour, including some exceptional photographs which portray Aquitania ’s magnificence. Thanks are due to the extreme kindness of so many generous contributors, as their illustrations have made the book as good as it is. In terms of the text, at an unedited 27,951 words it is slightly longer than RMS Majestic: The ‘Magic Stick’, yet it nevertheless provides an extensive and informative account of Aquitania ’s long and successful career.

A sneak peak inside, showing a couple of pages at random (top row: two individual pages, bottom row: showing a double page spread).

Aquitania Book PageShot1

Aquitania Book PageShot2

Aquitania Book PageShot3

 

‘The time may arrive in the passing of the centuries when the art of shipbuilding will have become forgotten. Our descendents may wonder, as we today marvel at the pyramids, how men could possibly launch – let alone build – such a mammoth vessel as the Aquitania. Perhaps somewhere in a library or museum, there may hereafter be preserved a picture of this ship with some details as to her size. And they will ask themselves how mere human beings of flesh and blood could create such a wonder of engineering...’ – E. Keble Chatterton, 1913.


Aquitania Majestic Baggage Tag 1935

Above: Aquitania and Majestic were running mates for a short period, just over eighteen months, from the summer of 1934 to early 1936. The two ships were used in this charming baggage tag illustration, which was probably issued in 1935 - perhaps they were chosen to symbolise the Cunard and White Star heritage of the new Cunard White Star company. (Author’s collection.)

Three menu covers - one from each class - on a crossing in August 1937 help to illustrate the differences between the classes.


Dossier: Aquitania ‘The Grand Old Lady’ (August 2008)

Additional information regarding Aquitania’s service and upkeep that did not make the final version of the Aquitania book.

Mark comments on the book’s history:

The origins of the Aquitania book go back almost seven years before it was published, to the spring and summer of 2001. As my interest in Olympic grew, my research into the broader context of the express service prior to World War I developed into a more detailed examination of Aquitania. Olympic was my focus, yet I began to research Aquitania ‘on the side’ as I had the opportunity to do so. In fact, I contemplated that my Olympic history (which I began writing in September 2001) would be an Aquitania history. At that time, I chose to concentrate on Olympic – my personal favourite – but now, with the Aquitania book a reality my early research efforts were not wasted.

As I explained in the book’s introduction:

‘This concise history of the Aquitania is intended to complement previous histories, by focusing on rare and previously unpublished information drawn from a variety of sources. It is in the photographs and illustrations that this book’s greatest strength lies, and I would like to thank everyone who shared material. It is such a gorgeous collection of rare, and visually stunning, images that have made this book what it is.’

There have already been fine studies of the ship’s life – including Neil McCart’s, Les Streater’s, and the wonderfully informative Engineering reprints which were issued with new material by Mark Warren. There would have been little point in merely replicating their efforts. Instead, the focus has been different. The photographs and other illustrations have been chosen specifically for their rarity, while the narrative of Aquitania’s career takes in a number of hitherto-unpublished sources and anecdotes. Certainly, there will be some familiar images within the book’s pages, but a large number of them are rare and have hardly been seen before.

From war diaries, which depict life onboard, to passenger accounts and other material, there is a substantial quantity of new information. The appendices are crammed with data, so that the information is made available but does not detract from the flow of the main text: Aquitania’s technical specifications; passenger numbers; profits made on the express service in comparison with her running mates; her wartime voyages in chronological order; and an extensive list of the men who commanded her.

We see, as Aquitania’s interiors began to take shape after she was launched, that Cunard were concerned that the design for a particular first class public room appeared too similar to one onboard Olympic. It is an interesting detail that highlights their desire to be different, even as they sought to model aspects of their new ship based on their competitors. After the maiden voyage, in the summer of 1914, we also see how Cunard kept an extremely close eye on the new liner and sought to make many improvements based on in-service experience. Again, original material has been used.

Following the war, we follow the success Aquitania experienced as passenger numbers soared; she carried more passengers in 1921 than any of her rivals would in a single year. The intensifying competition, and the fall in passenger numbers in the early 1930s, dealt a harsh setback to the older liners. Yet Aquitania retained her own enthusiastic following, as improvements were made and the times improved in the late 1930s. The changes made over the years have not always received much attention, but they are important and are a product of the changing passenger market. They are outlined in detail, and period deck plans are used to show the ship as she was at various stages of her service.

Even twenty-five years after she entered service, Aquitania was recording speeds on a single day’s run of up to 26 knots, and World War II intervened to extend her life another decade. Anecdotes from her war service enrich the text, and new information and images from the post-war years bring her life to a close.

It is hoped that the final product does justice to Aquitania, complementing previous works and contributing new material to our understanding of her life and times. If you buy the book, I do hope you enjoy it.

aquitania at port said

Above: Aquitania is seen here at Port Said, in an interesting postcard showing ‘a general view of the harbour.’ Although it is undated, it may have been taken when she called there in 1932. By the 1940s, her four funnels were unique and she remained the only four funneled liner in the world. Thanks are due to Eric Longo and Timothy Trower for their assistance in dating this image, although any error is entirely my own. (Author’s Collection.)

 


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