Selected highlights of the Queen Mary records held at GUAS

George Gardner

(First published in Dunaskin News, March 2002)


The Queen Mary under construction at John Brown & Co of Clydebank, April 1934.  (GUAS Ref: UCS 1/116/42.  Copyright reserved.)Last month a French shipyard cut the first steel in preparation for the construction of the new cruise ship Queen Mary 2.  Due for completion at the end of 2003 she will be one of the largest passenger ships ever built.  However, her namesake, Queen Mary, completed in 1936 is still in existence at Long Beach, California as a static museum and hotel.

At the time of completion she was eclipsed in size only by the French liner Normandie completed in the previous year.  Had the Normandie not been destroyed by fire in 1942 it is arguable which of the two ships would have laid claim to being the best known liner to have sailed the seas.

The records of John Brown & Co

The major part of the records of John Brown & Co of Clydebank, who built the Queen Mary, were acquired by Glasgow University Archive Services from the liquidator of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.  (The story of the UCS records coming here is told by Michael Moss in Death on the Clyde).  Those records which relate to the Queen Mary comprise of hull drawings, specifications, Cunard letter books, contract documents, cost books, weight books, souvenir brochures and a limited number of photographic negatives.

The hull drawings provide a good overall picture of the ship and its construction.  The rigging plan and deck plans depict the basic layout and the lines plan provides a two dimensional image of what is very much a three dimensional object - the streamlined shape of the hull.  Other plans cover piping systems, structural arrangements, cabins and other compartments.  The specification book (which includes electrical and machinery areas as well as the hull outfit) provides a detailed insight into what the Cunard company expected to receive for their money when the vessel was eventually completed.  The fact that the letter books cover the extended period from 1930 to 1937 show how protracted construction was.  At one period work stopped completely for over two years as world economic depression began to bite.  A large number of files cover all aspects of the ship, from contract to launching and eventual completion.  Also included in these are papers on the post war conversion back to peacetime use.

The Queen Mary proceeding down river for trials, March 1936.  (GUAS Ref: DC 101/1481.  Copyright reserved.) Whilst original machinery drawings and information are not part of the collection, hand written notebooks provide much detailed technical information on the main and auxiliary machinery.  We were recently able to provide extracts from these to the Queen Mary Museum at Long Beach, however we were unable to assist them with what must be one of our most unusual requests so far.  This was for tape recorded machinery noise to enable them to recreate as much realism as possible in the former, now static, engine room.

It is interesting to speculate as to whether or not the records of the new Queen Mary 2 will also be available for public inspection in sixty five to seventy year's time - possibly in France?




Suggestions for further reading 

See also our more detailed list of holdings for the RMS Queen Mary (9 pages, 66kb small_pdf_icon). Contact the Duty Archivist if you have any questions regarding the shipbuilding records held at GUAS.

Those interested in the Queen Mary may also care to search the Archives Hub for “Queen Mary” as this will produce a list of hits for records in the care of the University of Liverpool.