The Exhibition that will Float your Boat
Last month saw the start of a new exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum in London
which promises visitors the opportunity to “experience a unique journey of the design
stories of the world’s greatest ocean liners” and to “find out how these impressive vessels
helped shape the modern world”.
Anyone who has visited the Riv will know that we have a historic relationship with Cruise
Lines and, in particular, The Cunard White Star Line. The many pictures that adorn our
walls are a testament to our connection to Cruise Ships throughout our past. Our function
rooms are named after the Ships of the Cunard Line – The Mauretania, The Britannic, The
Caledonia and, of course, The Cunarder. In celebration of this connection, we would like to
pay homage to the V&A’s exhibition along with a bit of background on the ships for whom
our function spaces are named.
The Riviera Hotel has been owned and run by the same family for nearly 60 years. Prior to
opening the Riv, the head of the household had embarked upon a career aboard the
Cunard Line, making regular trips across the Atlantic and around the world aboard the
Cunard Queens and other Ocean Liners which are now shown in pictures throughout the
hotel bearing a proud reminder of the hard work that went into the foundation of the hotel as
we know it now.
Launched on the 20th September 1906 and taking her maiden voyage on the 16h of
November of the same year, the RMS Mauretania was, at the time, the world’s largest and
fastest ship acquiring the Blue Riband for both Eastbound and Westbound transatlantic
crossings and setting a record crossing time in both directions that would not be beaten for
During the First World War, The Mauretania served as a Troop Ship, carrying British
Soldiers during the Gallipoli Campaign. Her capability of reaching high speeds and the
seamanship of the onboard crew enabled her to avoid becoming the prey of German U-
Boats- a fate that had befallen her predecessor, The Lusitania. The Mauretania also served
as a hospital ship (along with The Britannic and The Aquitania), treating the wounded until
January 2016 before being requisitioned by the Canadian government to transport their
troops from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool, England. From when the US joined the war
until its end in 1918, The Mauretania carried thousands of American troops and was known
by the Admiralty as HMS Tuberose.
In 1919, The Mauretania returned to civilian service, becoming a dedicated cruise ship in
1930 before retiring in 1934 after 28 years of service.
There was, of course, a second ship named the Mauretania. After The first RMS Mauretania
was retired, the newly formed Cunard White Star Company (formed following the merger
of the Cunard and White Star Lines), commissioned their first ship and named her in the
Mauretania’s honour. The new RMS Mauretania was launched in July of 1938 with her
maiden voyage in June of the following year – sailing from Liverpool to New York.
Like her namesake, the second Mauretania was called into action when Britain went to war,
this time in World War II. She transported troops on active duty and amassed over 28,000
nautical miles in just one voyage which took the her around the world in 82 days. Her
duties did not stop at the end of the war, she continued to serve the government through
repatriating troops and even undertook the first dedicated sailing for British brides and
their children journeying to Canada to meet their husbands and fathers.
In the years following the war, the second Mauretania returned to civilian service before
finally being retired in 1965.
The White Star Line had two ships of the same name prior to the launch of the MV Britannic
in 1929 after whom we named one of our function spaces. On the 30th June 1930, the MV
Britannic set sail on her maiden voyage from Liverpool, stopping at Glasgow & Belfast on
route to New York.
In August of 1939, the MV Britannic was called to Southampton where she was equipped to
transport troops before heading to Glasgow to collect officers of the British Indian Army
and Naval Officers heading to Bombay. She was requisitioned on a number of other
occasions throughout the war including transporting 20,000 American troops during 8
transatlantic crossings in a 7 month period in late 1943 – early 1944.
After the war and having transported over 170,000 people across more than 320,000 miles,
the MV Britannic underwent a, much needed, overhaul, modernising her interior before
returning to commercial service in May of 1948. Her final cruise from New York to the
Mediterranean took place over 66 days in 1960, making 23 stops before returning to New
York where she was deemed unable to undertake anymore journeys.
The Victoria & Albert Museum’s “Ocean Liners: Speed and Style” exhibition is the most
wide-ranging ever to focus on this subject and promises to take us back to a more
glamourous era showcasing everything from iconic travel posters to the stylish attire from
a golden age.
If, like us, you have yet to have the pleasure of visiting the exhibit, you must head over to
their website to whet your appetite for rekindling an era of impossible glamour. We’ve
earmarked the parts of the exhibition that excite us most and have included them below
for your enjoyment too.
“Glamour is what I sell, it’s my stock in trade”
Practicality was not at the forefront for any lady looking to pack for a cruise. Being aboard
ship was about being seen in the newest fashions by the social elite of the day. Boarding
and disembarking were key points for any passenger as they became the central focus of
all those in port. Above we see Marlene Dietrich as she arrived in New York sporting a new
look in a suit by Christian Dior, cinched in at the waist and creating an hourglass silhouette
that was sure to be the envy of all the other passengers.
The V&A has acquired some beautiful examples of evening dresses of the day, each with
their own style and intricate detailing to give you a feel of the elegance of the era. Of
course, fashion wasn’t just for the ladies! Whether he is seated at the Captain’s table for a
fine dinner or walking his dog upon deck, a gentleman would be expected to wear the
newest styles as appropriate for each part of his day.
For a greater insight into the fashions of the day, head on over to the “socialite’s guide” on
the V&A website. You’ll find some interesting pieces about jewellery, luggage and some
rather fetching swimwear! If that’s not enough, check out their video as they recreate “the
grand descent” in the styles of a bygone era.
Another fascinating piece and one that is close to our hearts here at the Riv as, until
recently, our bar was named for this great ship.
The passenger accommodation aboard the Aquitania was more luxurious and far superior
to any ships sailing across the North Atlantic that had gone before her. With walls adorned
with prints of English ports and portraits of royalty, the public rooms truly were a sight to
behold and helped the Aquitania to become one of the best-known and highly sought after
ships of all the Cunard Liners.
Head on over to the V&A site for an interactive guide to the Aquitania from the first class
lounge to the boiler rooms and everything in between. It’s a must see for all enthusiasts!
Planning your visit
The exhibition promises to showcase the era with a selection of film clips, haute couture
dresses, surviving on ship decorations and publicity materials.
If your appetite has been thoroughly whetted, make sure you plan ahead so that you don’t
Address: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL
Museum opening hours:
Daily: 10.00 – 17.45
Friday: 10.00 – 22.00
Exhibitions close 15 minutes prior to Museum closing.
Reduced gallery openings on Fridays after 17.30.
Exhibition on now until Sunday, 17 June 2018
Adults – £18.00
Senior Citizens – £17.00
Children (11-17yrs) – £15.00
Under 11s – free
To book – click here