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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another Glasgow firm, Morris Furniture Co. Ltd., was involved in the furniture and upholstery of the Queen Mary.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Categories: Archive Services