Sunday: finding your bearings

On the first day at sea, passengers would find their sea legs by exploring the 20th century Atlantic liners that would be their home for the next four days.

Passengers on the journey from Liverpool or Southampton to New York would have to stick to designated areas for their class of ticket. Each class of passenger had their own bars, nurseries and sports facilities. The only time all classes met officially was at Sunday service in the first class lounge.

By the 1900s the wealthiest passengers lived in private suites. The Mauretania’s Regal Suites had two bedrooms, a dining room, butler’s pantry, reception room and bathroom. Third class passengers slept in two rows of upper and lower bunks separated by a toilet seat over a bucket. By the 1950s even third class cabins were called suites. Passengers still shared bathrooms down the passage and showers had not yet been introduced.

Social life centred on the lounge or saloon. Most liners had a grand piano in the first class lounge, with upright pianos for the other classes.

On early 20th century liners, even first class passengers ate at long tables. White Star’s Olympic (1912) was the first liner to have a separate restaurant with small tables where diners paid for each meal.

A work-out in the gym was one way of keeping fit between meals. On smaller liners like the Scythia II (1922) gyms doubled up as games rooms. Ways of shedding pounds on the Queens included electronically controlled camels and horses, vibrating chairs, pulley weight machines, dumbbells and medicine balls.

Until the 1950s indoor swimming pools were separated not only by class but by sex, with women and men having different bathing times. Even children were expected to play with their own class.

Regent Street at Sea

On early 20th century liners, the barber’s shop sold souvenirs and necessities like soap and safety pins while passengers could buy their postcard in the library.

Serious shopping arrived in the 1920s with Aquitania’s fashionable ‘Atlantic Rue de la Paix’. It had a bank, a café and the first ocean branch of the London tailor Austin Reed.

With its 24 large window displays the Queen Mary’s shopping arcade was known as Regent Street. A fountain, deep sofas and baskets of fresh flowers put passengers in the mood to spend.

Mauretania Liverpool

Mauretania, Liverpool © University of Liverpool

Giants in steel

Liners were among the largest moving objects ever built. The Mauretanias of 1907 and 1939 were each twice as long as Anfield or Goodison Park football pitches. Although super-liners like the Titanic, the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth never came to Liverpool, the contracts to build and fit them were placed here because their owners' head offices were in the city.

Liners had to be extremely strong and reliable to convey several thousand people safely across the North Atlantic, one of the world’s wildest oceans. They were built to plough through waves as high as a five storey building and withstand hurricane-force winds.

Most 20th century liners used turbine engines to turn the propellers that pushed the vessel through the waves. The Mauretania II (1939) travelled at an average speed of 23 knots, about the same speed as a city bus.

Shipping lines had different ambitions. Cunard went for fast, reliable ships, its express liners crossing in under five days. White star preferred luxury, arguing that its slower liners gave passengers an extra day to enjoy their floating hotel.


Listen to Lilian Jervis-Evans as she records her first impressions of Liverpool for Cunard Magazine, 1925

Read a transcript of the audio clip