SS Aquitania


Bruce Levitt

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Jan 19, 2007
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Hi, I'm a new member in Atlanta in the USA. This seems like a good place to ask about an Aquitania-related item I have. Back in the mid-1960's my family liked to go antiquing in New England. I was just teenager, but actually liked the old stuff.

My first find was a beautiful poster of the Aquitania passing a destroyer. It was (and still is) in the original Cunard frame with the brass CUNARD LINE name plate. I had it in my room as a teenager, in my living room as a young adult, in my office for most of 30 years, and now over my desk at home. It is my single favorite piece in a house full of antiques. Framed size is 45 x 29.

Any information would be welcome. I've attached a photo. Had to take it at an angle due to reflections.
Thanks.
Bruce


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Kyle Johnstone

Guest
Hi Bruce,
I believe Aquitania's bell has been a fixture in the officers' wardroom on QE2 since the ship came into service.
There is also a telegraph from Aquitania, though I don't believe any interior fittings from Aquitania are on QE2.
 
Nov 23, 1996
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To add some more information About Aquitania's Fittings most of her teak panneling was converted into furniture and sold via export only. Much of her Oak was made into Souveniers -Not that I have ever seen any.

As for the original status of her three bells - One is on the Queen Elizabeth 2 (Hopefully, it is removed prior to her going to out of service.) A second bell was presented to All Siants Catherdal in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her bridge bell was in a private collection several years ago.

The Aquitania's Wheel was presented to the City of Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1950 were it is now I don't know. Her Blue Ensign was presented to the Liverpool Museum.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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I know that, along with the 'Berengaria' and 'Majestic', the 'Aquitania' was the most fashionable and prestigious liner of the 1920s - at least until the advent of the 'Ile de France'. But what of her career BEFORE the Great War? I know that she entered service only months before the start of hostilities in the spring or summer of 1914, and so she can have made only a mere handful of trips across the Atlantic, but I'd be interested to know what her first passengers made of her and how they felt she compared to the 'Olympic', 'Mauretania' and 'Lusitania'. Did she carry any particularly notable figures on her maiden voyage - or were passengers shy of travelling on untried liners after the 'Titanic' disaster two years previously?

Most of all, I'd like to know if any 1914 passenger took photographs aboard the ship and whether these might be available on-line or in book form.
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi Martin,

Good to hear from another fan of Aquitania.

quote:

I know that, along with the 'Berengaria' and 'Majestic', the 'Aquitania' was the most fashionable and prestigious liner of the 1920s - at least until the advent of the 'Ile de France'.

If we measure prestige in terms of popularity, then Leviathan is also in there and did better than Aquitania. I agree that Ile de France was very stylish, but when we examine her overall passenger carryings in the late 1920s then she was about level with Aquitania. (I’m aware that the two carried passengers from different ports so they are not directly comparable.)

quote:

But what of her career BEFORE the Great War?

She was very popular and carried over 11,000 passengers in the summer of 1914.

quote:

I'd be interested to know what her first passengers made of her and how they felt she compared to the 'Olympic', 'Mauretania' and 'Lusitania'.

A little bird tells me that there is another Aquitania book coming out in a few months that looks at some of these topics. Let's hope it's a good one.

Some interesting anecdotes surround the garden lounges. There was one on each side of the ship — one for smokers, one for non-smokers. The smoking side was so crowded that both had to be made available for smokers — quite the opposite of today!

There were some really major problems. The gates to the lifts (or elevators) needed to be adjusted because they worked rather noisily. To make matters worse, some hooks were missing in first class staterooms, and the beds were ‘not as comfortable as they might be.’ Another problem was that the first class dining saloon (or ‘restaurant’ as Cunard called it) did not have quite enough chairs because there were so many passengers on some of her early voyages.

Best wishes,

Mark.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Thanks for your input, Mark. Reading back on the threads, I thought you might have something to say on the matter!

Yes, I am a fan of the 'Aquitania'. If I'd been around in the Twenties, and assuming I'd had the means, I'd have picked her every time I had to cross the Atlantic (saving the 'Majestic' for my return journey!). She was a really grand ship with some very original and striking interiors that perhaps represent the apotheosis of the 'period' trend so popular in the run-up to the Great War. I'm not saying that her decorative schemes were always completely successful - in my opinion, the famous Palladian Lounge compares badly with its Louis XV equivalent aboard the 'Olympic' and 'Titanic'. Likewise, although she was a very attractive liner, I've often pondered why she, rather than the 'Olympic', earned the soubriquet 'the Ship Beautiful'...her profile, particularly towards the stern, was very cluttered when one examines it alongside her White Star rivals!
 
May 12, 2002
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Couldn't agree more about "The Ship Beautiful", Martin. I think Aquitania is second best to the Olympic class from any angle, not just the stern. I can only assume that she earned the nickname from her interiors...!

That said, I'll still be buying your book Mark. I've just finished the Magic Stick and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Cheers
Paul
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Thanks for your kind comments on my work, Paul. Hope you enjoy the next one.
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I think Aquitania did earn the nickname from her interiors, as her exterior profile was no match for Olympic. In fact, in 1910 one person at Cunard proposed that she should have five funnels as she would look so much larger! Saner heads prevailed, not least because of the need for space!

I tend to agree with you Martin, as far as the first class lounge is concerned. I would have liked a 1914 adaption of what Harold Peto did with Mauretania's first class lounge. That was gorgeous. (As an aside, I know several people at Cunard really did not like Olympic's lounge, so I can see why they did something different.)

Best wishes,

Mark.
 
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Kyle Johnstone

Guest
For some good Aquitania reading,
Reminiscences of Transatlantic Travellers
by Charles T. Spedding
Purser of Aquitania
 

Grant Carman

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Jun 19, 2006
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I've often wondered what happened to the interiors of Aquitania when she was scrapped. Did the ceilings of the Palladian lounge survive, or was it ripped out when she was converted to a troopship. If they survived, I wonder who bought them, or parts of them.

My mother came to Canada in 1944 on the Aquitania, and because of that, she's my favorite liner, and of course I never asked her about it..

What makes me think they might have survived the troopship refit is pictures i've seen of the Majestic after conversion to a cadet ship. In the pictures I've seen, a lot of the walls and ceilings of the public rooms survived, and were reused. One that comes to mind is a picture of a boxing ring, in a room with a fantastic coffered lit ceiling. Could the same thing have happened on the Ship Beautiful?
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Grant,

As I recall, some panelling from the grill room (removed in 1936) wound up in a hotel on the Isle of Wight. I forget the name...I wrote to the hotel for information but did not hear back. Perhaps I should have booked a room.

Satchell's book notes that his stateroom on A-deck forward retained it's luxurious pre-war appearance, so at least some of the staterooms were not gutted.

Aquitania was not brought back to her pre-war standard in the late 1940s, but first class furniture was brought back onboard. As I recall, the first class smoke room still looked gorgeous, and I think I am right in saying the lounge and its furniture were fairly intact. Steve would know more offhand. Many of my files are stored away.

Some rooms were changed. The pre-war cinema (in the middle of the old original second class dining saloon, renamed tourist after 1932-33) had served as a sergeant's mess during the war, IIRC, and then became a children's room.

Interesting that you should mention the Caledonia pictures. It's a shame that her original fittings, such as the first class saloon ceiling, were destroyed in the fire. I have also found some new, rare images of her interiors which will be published later this year.

Best wishes,

Mark.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Idly Googling during my lunch hour, I've hit upon a set of photographs taken aboard the 'Aquitania' in 1914 which illustrate every stage of her construction, launch and outfitting, as well as her completed interiors, in far greater depth and detail than I've ever seen before. She really WAS a beautiful ship - the skill and craftsmanship lavished upon her was breath-taking and still impresses from a distance of over ninety years.

I've often thought that the great pre-WWI Cunarders, the 'Mauretania', 'Lusitania' and 'Aquitania', had interiors which were somehow more 'liner like' than those of the 'Olympic' and 'Titanic'. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing - I actually think that they were, for the most part, very charming and that their designers were extremely inventive with the restricted spaces at their disposal. The Palladian Lounge leaves me, if not cold, then distinctly luke-warm, but this is more a question of stylistic preference, and it was certainly different from anything else on the Atlantic. On the other hand, her airy first-class staircase and Louis XVI dining saloon were exquisite. If the interiors of the 'Aquitania' were relatively sober (which I attribute to the fact that, for the most part, her decorators were drawing their inspiration from very British sources - the Carolean smoking room would be a case in point) they were at least a whole lot better than the horrors prevailing aboard the 'France' and 'Imperator'.

I do think, though, that if I'd wanted to convince myself that I wasn't at sea at all, I'd have taken the 'Olympic'. Whilst grand and spacious, her public rooms had an intimacy lacking from her Cunard rivals, with their multi-tiered dining saloons and vaulted ceilings. And she could do 'spectacular' too - the legendary Grand Staircase was, in my opinion, pure theatre. Her first class suites and staterooms were far superior to those of the 'Aquitania' - although, moving down into second class, the 'Aquitania' blows all the competition out of the water with some stunningly elegant ensembles.
 
Feb 4, 2007
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Hi Martin, could you please describe what, for you, constitutes "liner like" from your post above? Sure, there are obvious decor differences between the pre-WWI 4 stackers of Cunard and the 4 stackers of the WSL, but what do you feel makes one style more "liner like" than the other? Do you find the same differences in the smaller ships as well? I'm curious.

I, too, somehow feel that the Olympic seems to have had more intimate ~dare I say 'more tasteful' (first class)~ interiors than her rivals.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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A legitimate question, Jason, but one that is hard for me to answer because, ultimately, it is so subjective.

I suppose it could be something to do with the fact that the interiors of the great Cunarders were so representative of what was going on in Edwardian architecture and decoration ashore. Social life in the early twentieth century was increasingly played out in the public arena, in restaurants, hotels, department stores, rather than behind closed doors in the mansions and palaces of the nobility. It therefore follows that the tastes of the newly rich were best summarised in public or commercial spaces, where they wanted the maximum amount of gold leaf and marble for their money. By the Edwardian Era, decorating firms like Mewes and Davies, who worked on the Ritz hotels, the 'Aquitania' and various HAPAG liners, had refined this appetite and the overall effect wasn't so much overloaded, vulgar and gaudy (just look how things had moved on since the 'Lucania' and 'Campania') as opulent, impressive...and faintly spurious. I believe the term 'Louis Quelque Chose' (which loosely translates as 'Louis Whatever' or 'Louis Something') was coined to describe the Mewes and Davies style - less attention paid to historically 'correct' detail and more to the creation of a grand setting in which the Astors, Vanderbilts et al could fancy themselves a latter-day aristocracy.

The irony is that the great ocean liners of the period, whilst striving to disguise the fact that they were ocean liners at all, actually succeeded in achieving a distinctive style all of their own. The Cunarders are the best examples I can think of - in my view, it wasn't so much that THEY were floating hotels, as the hotels they sought to emulate were effectively landlocked ships! And not just hotels, either. Just before the Great War, a fashionable decorating firm was called into Buckingham Palace to overhaul the Picture Gallery, which had last been fitted out at the start of Victoria's reign, and was now looking a bit shabby. When it was completed, the new gallery resembled nothing so much as the first-class lounge of the 'Mauretania'...the kind of 'Ritzonian' architecture which academic architects despised and which was deemed totally unsuitable for a royal palace.

Then again, if, to my eye, the Cunarders look more 'liner like' than their White Star counterparts, it might be because their decorators continued to embrace many of the decorative devices which, on board ship, had their origin in practical necessity. Such as the multi-tiered dining saloons and glass-vaunted ceilings...didn't these derive from the nineteenth-century need to provide light and air deep inside the the ill-ventilated hull? By the Edwardian Era, ships had grown large enough, and technology had developed sufficiently far, to remove this need entirely. Yet they still found their place aboard the 'Aquitania' as late as 1914.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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(...thinking a little bit more about the above...)

I suppose that what I'm REALLY trying to get at in response to Jason's question, is that the interiors of the great Cunarders - and maybe the HAPAG trio too - summed up even more effectively than the grand hotels of the era the appetite of the Edwardian rich for high-octave glitz and glamour. Indeed, they could perhaps be viewed as the very epitome of the decorative trend of the first decade of the twentieth century and of the socio-economic forces behind it. I know of at least ONE board member who detests 'period' architecture, full-stop...but, had the 'Titanic' put to sea with interiors designed by, say, the Vienna Secession, then her death toll would have been so much lower...for the simple reason that nobody would have sailed upon her in the first place!

If the interiors of the 'Olympic' class strike me as being LESS characteristic of the ocean liner 'look' that those of the Cunarders of the same period, then that can be accounted for by their less flamboyant, more intimate use of space - which in turn would have made them much more 'liveable' for the duration of the five day voyage.
 
Feb 4, 2007
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And isn't it interesting that Cunard's Aquitania was built sort-of as answer to, and rival for WSL's Olympic ~ to the extent that Cunard actually modeled it somewhat after the Olympic ~ yet still the Aquitania's decor was quite different and was, as you describe Martin, "high-octave glitz and glamor" whereas the Olympic, while glamorous, was much more subdued? I think the Aquitania more closely resembles the German liners than those of White Star. Again, somewhat subjective musings of course.

Some of the Dutch liners and also those of the Red Star Line more closely follow the style of WSL ships, but this is easily explainable since some of them were built, decorated, and outfitted by the same firms.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Again, somewhat subjective musings of course.<<

But not that far off target in my opinion. Where rival lines went for as much glitz and glamour as possible, what White Star offered was what I would call restrained good taste. The furnishings and decor were grand, but not excessively so.
 

Grant Carman

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Jun 19, 2006
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I'm reviving an old thread to respond to Jason.

Just so that you know, the Aquitania wasn't Cunards response to Olympic. In fact, Cunard launched the first of her 4 stackers in 1907, the Mauretania, and the Lusitania in 1908. There were always to be 3, and the Aquitania was the third. White Star, in order to be more competative, didn't lay the keel for the Olympic until 1910, a full 3 years after Cunard.

So it might be said that White Star copied Cunard, not the other way around.

The style of interiors on the 3 Cunard 4 stackers were all very similar, using a high Edwardian style.
 

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