Maritime tales - winning and dining afloat

Article Featured Image
Illustration of long tables laid out for food, with people in period costume seated on both sides.

Illustration of long tables laid out for food, with people in period costume seated on both sides.

On ship or on shore there is nothing like sea air to stimulate the appetite for me, Stephen Guy, and the traditional pleasures of food and drink come to mind during this festive season.

It was the development of the steam ship that led to dramatic improvements in passenger facilities. From the mid-19th century sea travellers of all classes began to enjoy comforts that had previously been available only on land. Then, as now, eating and drinking were close to most passengers' hearts. Many steamship owners were glad to meet the wishes of the prosperous to dine in style.

Displays in the Lifelines gallery at Merseyside Maritime Museum feature the paraphernalia of food and drink on passenger ships. There are items used on two great ships designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. An 1860s dessert plate from the Great Eastern shows a lady in a Britannia-like pose waving to the great ship in the distance, sails unfurled. A meat dish, silver cream jug and kettle along with a glass condiment set were all used on the Great Britain. A colour print (shown) shows the main saloon on the famous ship in 1852. A huge tureen from a Royal Mail Steam Packet evokes images of hot steaming soup served below decks.

After a good meal, the male passengers would retire to the smoking room to relax and let their food digest. A passenger wrote in the 1890s: "The refectory is usually the rendezvous of those passengers who have fairy tales to relate over the fragrant weed etc and the extreme comfort of the installation is certainly conducive to good fellowship."

On display is White Star Line crockery from the 1900-14 Edwardian era when its ships were the last word in sea-going luxury.

Distinctive tableware was used on the legendary Queen Mary, in service between 1936 and 1967 and one of the largest and fastest ships in the world. The Queen Mary was the first British liner to embrace the art deco style and this was reflected on the dining tables. Most of the tableware was supplied to Cunard by Stoniers, the well-known Liverpool store which supplied fine china and related items to the major British shipping companies for more than a century. A feature of passenger liners was the cube-shaped teapot developed to create a pot which would not overturn on a rough crossing. Several examples are on display.

A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.