Culture Heritage Learning

RMS Aquitania – luxury on the high seas

Four men standing at the bottom on an empty hull, with 12 cranes appearing in the background

The construction of the Aquitania’s hull

Let us take you back to the heydays of shipbuilding at Clydebank, when the engineers and designers at John Brown’s yard built magnificent passenger liners that had the power, speed and comfort to serve the popular transatlantic market.

The talk of the town in the early 1910s was the construction of new luxury liner – the Aquitania.


A black and white photo of a four-funnel cruise ship on the Clyde river

The Aquitania on trial

The SS (steam ship) Aquitania, affectionately known as the ‘Ship Beautiful’, was the longest serving Cunard liner in the 20th century. She took three years to build and was launched on 21 April 1913 with accommodation for over 3,000 passengers. This photograph shows the Aquitania on trials in the Clyde.

A souvenir poster of the launch of the Aquitania


The launch was a major event, with a number of saloon steamers selling excursions to view the Aquitania. We love this souvenir poster created to mark the occasion. It was collected by James Wotherspoon, who created a pictorial record of shipbuilding and shipping on the Clyde, the West Coast and the Channel. Over 4000 of his meticulously captioned illustrations, photos, plans and newspaper and magazine cuttings are archived at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow.


A photo of a four funnel cruise liner on the Clyde with some saloon steamers

The Aquitania sailing down the Clyde

‘SS Aquitania, sailing down the Clyde, Sunday 10 May 1914’. This postcard was sent to Fergus Boyter-St Adrain in Cellardyke, Fife, from Scotstoun, Glasgow 8 days later. On 30 May 2014 the Aquitania set off on its maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York, arriving on 5 June. She went on to become the longest-serving ship this century, retiring after 35 years of service.


Long bench-like tables with rows of chairs either side. Very austere ceiling, floor and table settings

The Aquitania’s 3rd class dining room

There were marked differences in accommodation and facilities for first, second and third class. During World War I and World War II she was used for transporting troops. She also served as a hospital ship and, briefly, as a merchant vessel. These possibilities had been considered at the design stage, and the Admiralty had checked over the plans.


Two men in suits standing on deck

HG Wells and John Logie Baird on board the Aquitania

Between the wars the Aquitania was refitted as a cruise ship with improved facilities, including a theatre. During his 1931 trip to America John Logie Baird (the first person to demonstrate the television) was fortunate to find himself on board the Aquitania with author H.G.Wells. Baird was inspired by Mr Wells’ science fiction books as a child.


Copper bell inscribed with RMS Aquitania and the dates of service

Aquitania’s ship’s bell

At the end of World War II the Aquitania transported war brides to Canada. She was returned to Cunard in 1948 and chartered by the Canadian government to take emigrants from Southampton to Halifax, Nova Scotia, before being withdrawn from service on 9 January 1950.

She was the last liner in service with four funnels and the only major liner to serve in both World Wars. The Aquitania’s ship’s bell, inscribed with its dates of service, is in the care of National Museums Scotland.



A photo of a large mansion house

Boswall House, Edinburgh

Following her retirement the Aquitania was dismantled for scrap at Faslane in the 1950s, however it seems her story didn’t end there. Boswall House and Wardiebank House in Edinburgh are linked by extraordinary ironwork. The unusual and elaborate wrought-iron railings, which incorporate the letter ‘A’ in several places as well as crossed anchors and a trident, are thought to have come from the Aquitania. (If you take a look at the first class restaurant photo below you’ll see the likely provenance).


An ornate restaurant with tables featuring tablecloths, napkins, lamps and table settings

The Aquitania’s First Class restaurant

We’re proud that Scran can help piece together stories from the past by reaching into the digital records of so many contributing collections. The images in this blog are © National Records of Scotland, Glasgow City Council, the University of Strathclyde, Historic Environment Scotland, and National Museums Scotland.

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