The launch of the ‘Queen Mary’: ship 534

80 years ago today ship number 534, the Cunard White Star Liner built on the river Clyde by John Brown’s shipyard, was launched and given the name RMS Queen Mary.



The Queen Mary was one of the most celebrated, and largest, ships of its generation and is one of the best known liners to have sailed the seas. The contract for the building of ‘ship number 534’ was signed on 1st December 1930 and the first keel plates were laid on the 27th of that month. Work halted, however, in December 1931 due to the economic depression and did not begin again until April 1934. The structure was finished within six months and she was ready for launch on 26th September 1934.

A ticket to attend the launch (UCS1/107/116)

A ticket to attend the launch (UCS1/107/116)

Here at the University of Glasgow Archive Services we hold many records relating to the Queen Mary in our John Brown & Co., Clydebank collection. For example plans, letterbooks, brochures, and correspondence files. You can see our holdings in our source guide and selected highlights have been described here.

The records of John Brown & Co. are part of the larger Upper Clyde Shipbuilders collection. In 1973 the records of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders was acquired for the nation by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland in conjunction with the City of Glasgow, Clydebank Town Council and Dunbarton County Council. Here at Archive Services we hold 3 of the UCS collections relating to the following yards: John Brown & Co, Clydebank, Simons-Lobnitz, Renfrew and Alexander Stephen & Sons, Linthouse. The National Records of Scotland retains the collection of some 40,000 photographs which includes striking images of the Queen Mary. You can learn about how the Clyde shipbuilding records were rescued in the 1970s here.

We have a number of files about the launch ceremony, in particular, and they give a wonderful insight into the organisation of the special event. The itinerary lets us know the order of proceedings and the correspondence allows us to see who was involved.

Itinerary for the Launch event, 26th September 1934 (ucs1/107/116)

Itinerary for the launch event, 26th September 1934 (ucs1/107/116)- Click to enlarge

The letters record preparations for aspects of the ceremony from the sending out of invitations to the microphone and loudspeaker arrangements for the podium. There is also correspondence about the media and arrangements for various newspapers and broadcasters. From these records we can learn a lot about the launch ceremony.

Letter regarding special tickets for the Press (ucs1/107/115)

Letter regarding special tickets for the Press (ucs1/107/115)

On the 26th September, King George V, Queen Mary, and the Prince of Wales arrived at Glasgow Central Station at 2.10pm and were taken in a car to John Brown’s Shipbuilding works, Clydebank. They arrived here at 2.50pm and were greeted with the National Anthem as they made their way to the platform for the ceremony. The ceremony began with the presentation of the Directors of Cunard White Star Limited and John Brown and Company.

Photograph of Queen Mary from a launch programme (UCS1/115/7b)

Photograph of Queen Mary from a launch programme (UCS1/115/7b)

Around a quarter of a million onlookers braved the grey, rainy, day to watch the launch of the impressive 1019ft ship and in his speech King George V described the vessel as:

“the stateliest ship in being”.

Queen Mary launched the liner at 3.10pm with the words:

“I am happy to name this ship Queen Mary. I wish success to her and to all who sail in her.”

She then cut a string which released a bottle of Australian wine to smash on the port bow and the 35,600 ton RMS Queen Mary slid into the water to “Rule Britannia”, creating a large wave that soaked the nearest onlookers! The name of ship 534 was not announced until the launch ceremony and it was thought fitting that the vessel should be named after the first reigning monarch to name and launch a merchant vessel.

At the time of the launch, the ship was by no means finished with the ‘fitting out’ of the interiors still to be done. The ship was finally finished in 1936 and our archival holdings also record these later stages in the ship’s manufacture. Many Scottish companies were involved in the ‘fitting out’ of the Queen Mary and we hold their records in the Scottish Business Archive. James Templeton & Co. Ltd., for example, made the carpets for the liner and celebrated the ship in their June 1936 staff magazine.

The Templetonian staff magazine from June 1936 with Queen Mary on the front

The Templetonian staff magazine from June 1936 with Queen Mary on the front (STOD201/2/15/1)

Another Glasgow firm, Morris Furniture Co. Ltd., was involved in the furniture and upholstery of the Queen Mary.

Artist's impression of the design concept for the Main Lounge of RMS Queen Mary with carpet by designer Agnes Pinder Davis, 1936 (STOD201/1/2/2)

Artist’s impression of the design concept for the Main Lounge of RMS Queen Mary with carpet by designer Agnes Pinder Davis, 1936 (STOD201/1/2/2)

The RMS Queen Mary spends her retirement in Long Beach, California, as a static hotel, restaurant and museum. Happy launch day Queen Mary!

The Scottish Screen Archive hold footage of the launch that you can see here.

If you would like to consult the records of the Queen Mary held by the University of Glasgow Archive Services then please make an appointment with our Duty Archivist at

Keep an eye out on our twitter as this afternoon, from 2.10pm, we will be tweeting along to the itinerary of the launch event! You can now see a storify version of our tweets here.

Categories: Archive Services

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14 replies

  1. My father Basil Walton aged 18 attended the launch of RMS Queen Marry at Inchinnan. He sat in a reserved seat no 423 row G at a cost of 10 shillings.I still have his ticket.

  2. The Queen Mary was launched the week before I was born 3 oct 1934 , my father Fred Hamilton was head timekeeper in John Brown’s Clydebank ,my father and my mother and me all managed on survive the Clydebank Blitz in March 1941. I visited her in Long Beach and it was lovely seeing in all her glory, sadly aIi I have left to remember her was to say good bye , It was like saying good bye to a fine old lady …what a pity she didnt come home to Clydebank as sadly John Browns has dissappeared and with Titan crane is all we have left to see of our great shipbuilding history even the Royal Yacht is in Leith Edinburgh and Clydebank and she js just a memory to me of an old lady dying slowly far from home at Longbeach

  3. Reblogged this on A'bert Originals Handmade Jewelry and commented:
    I was given the opportunity to work on board “The Queen” in the late 1980’s in the Public Relation Department. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed coming to work each day, saying hello to our departmental ghost sailor and generally enjoying the atmosphere. My office was placed where the Rolls Royce’s would have been stowed, about 15 ft. under water. What a joy! Something I will never forget.

  4. Reblogged this on ana648 and commented:

  5. We stayed on the Queen Mary for a week in August while attending the 2014 Shaklee Live Global Conference at the Long Beach Convention Center across the harbor. It was great, both the convention and the stay on the ship. When we first arrived in our King Deluxe cabin/suite we thought, “Oh, this really is old.” It was like staying at a museum. But wait, it is a museum and after we got settled in and started looking around we quickly got into it. The other people in our group stayed at local hotels near the convention center, and while they were closer, they had to walk several blocks to attend the different events. Not us, we would get up and spend our early mornings having coffee and muffins out on the sundeck watching the pelicans, sailboats and even some dolphins in the harbor. It was a great way to start the day, so beautiful and so tranquil. Then we would simply go catch the free city bus out front of the ship and take it to the front door of the convention center and the same going back. It was so cool, free door to door service. Our group at the in town hotels had great views from there rooms windows but no balcony or decks. Well, we only had portholes but oh boy did we have a deck. The whole sundeck was our balcony. The group that we attended the conference with were so envious of our great onboard suite. We were there for a week and didn’t want to leave. When next we find ourselves in Long Beach we will definitely be staying aboard the Queen Mary.

  6. Reblogged this on LUWAGGA ALLAN and commented:
    Sweet Mary

  7. I have been to Long Beach many times to visit and stay over night on the Queen Mary. When I was much younger my Mother took us there and a movie was being filmed on it.

  8. So interesting… my husband’s family were shipbuilders here in Michigan for 50 years until the shipyard closed. He would love to read this.

  9. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Nothing to do with G.L. Watson. Everything to do with the River Clyde, which made him. A worthy first ever “re-blog”, and reminder of the fabulous collections and work of University of Glasgow Archive Services (GUAS).


  1. Celebrating 80 years of the Queen Mary – University of Glasgow Library

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