Thursday 19 September 2019

Inside the Lusitania: A liner built for speed and luxury

The Lusitania was the biggest and fastest liner on the Atlantic, writes Fergus Cassidy, but its passengers also enjoyed the finest food and drink on a ship that set new standards for on-board comfort and quality

The magnificent lounge of the Cunard steamship Lusitania
The magnificent lounge of the Cunard steamship Lusitania
The dining car of the Lusitania's boat train
Saloon passengers enjoy a game of shuffleboard on the deck of the Cunard liner Lusitania
Children playing with a skipping rope on the 2nd saloon deck of the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania
The Lusitania's dining room.
A Cunard poster for the Lusitania.

Speed was at the forefront of the design of RMS Lusitania. Its turbine engines were the largest ever built at that time, and provided the ship with a service speed of 25 knots (around 47km/h or 29mph). Both Cunard, the ship's owners, and the British government were determined to challenge German dominance of the transatlantic trade and passenger routes. What was known as the Blue Riband, an accolade given to a passenger liner with the record highest speed across the Atlantic, had been secured by the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse in 1899, the first time Britain lost the record.

Threatened by loss of prestige, and the possibility that the Cunard company might be taken over by US interests, the British government provided the company with an annual subsidy and a low interest loan of £2.6million for the construction of the Lusitania in Clydebank, Scotland, and the Mauretania in Liverpool. The British Admiralty attached conditions that the ships be made available if needed by the Navy. This included reinforced decks to facilitate gun placement, speed, and high volumes of passenger space necessary for troop transport in the event of war.

As the Lusitania set out on its maiden voyage to New York, The Times reported that: "Never did a ship sail with such mighty and inspiring cheers as those from the vast multitudes which lined the Liverpool landing stage last night as the Lusitania slowly moved from her moorings and started on her maiden voyage. The Liverpool crowd … sang with great spirit 'Britons never, never shall say die'… It was an inspiring scene, and the Cunard Line must realise more than ever before how much their enterprise is appreciated, and how strongly both Liverpool and British sentiment is supporting their endeavours to recover for British ships the Atlantic fastest record speed now held by Germany."

On its second outward voyage, the Lusitania won back the Blue Riband in a journey time of four days, 19 hours and 52 minutes.

It was the world's largest passenger ship until the Mauretania went into service two months later. Launched in 1906, the Lusitania had a passenger capacity of 2,198, 50 per cent more space than any other ship. Saloon class held 552 passengers, 460 in cabin class and 1,186 in third class. Accommodation was spread across six decks and there was strict segregation. Crew numbers were up to 850 - 60 on deck, 369 in engine and boiler rooms and 389 attending to passengers. At 787ft, the ship was roughly the same length as four Liberty Halls laid end-to-end.

Aside from its speed capabilities, the Lusitania was heralded for the design of its interior, with an emphasis on hotel standards of service and comfort. Electric lighting and heating was available, as well as lifts and en-suite facilities. In the First Class section the dining room was constructed over two decks, with a circular well in the centre and crowned by a dome decorated with frescos depicting the four seasons.

Passengers on the second class deck of the RMS Lusitania
Passengers on the second class deck of the RMS Lusitania

Corinthian columns supported the floor above and the walls were finished with white and gilt-carved mahogany panels. The lounge was decorated in Georgian style, with a vaulted skylight made up of 12 stained glass windows, representing each month of the year. A 14ft-high green marble fireplace was surrounded with decorative plasterwork. The library was fitted out in the 18th century neo-classical style of the Adam brothers. Passengers could also avail of reading, writing and smoking rooms, decorated in Queen Anne style, with Italian walnut panelling and furnishings.

First Class cabins ranged from one shared room to various en-suite choices, with bathroom fixtures in silver plate. The most expensive tickets were reserved for two regal suites, again decorated in Adam style, panelled with East India satinwood and fireplaces built with marble. Each suite had two bedrooms, a dining room, parlour and bathroom. The suite on the port side was based on the Petit Trianon in the Palace of Versailles.

The Second Class accommodation was located at the stern, with the lounge containing a small dome and balcony. Third Class passengers had more comfort than that available on previous transatlantic liners. The dining room was finished in polished pine, and there was also a smoking and ladies' room and a piano. Cabins were shared, with a mixture of two, four, six and eight berths available. Ticket prices on the trip from the US to Liverpool in 1915 ranged from $380 and up to $142.50, the latter being about seven times the then average US wage.

Food on board ship was also indicative of the ticket price, as can be seen in the First Class menu for Sunday 13 September 1914 (left).

Passengers on the promenade deck of the RMS Lusitania in June 1912.
Passengers on the promenade deck of the RMS Lusitania in June 1912.

Second Class food menus consisted of: Celery or rice soup; Skate, a la Maitre d'Hotel; Sauté of Rabbit; Roast Lamb with Mint Sauce and Corned Brisket of Beef with Vegetables. Side dishes on offer were: boiled rice; cauliflower; mashed turnips and boiled potatoes. Desserts included apple tart, fancy pastry, roll currant pudding, sweet sauce and ice cream.

Meal times were: Breakfast 8am; Dinner 12.30pm and Tea 5.30pm. In Third Class, breakfast typically consisted of oatmeal porridge and milk, and for dinner roast beef or pork, fish or steak with vegetables, rice and bread.

A wide choice of drinks was on offer, including champagnes, clarets and sherries. Very old brandy was served at 9d per liqueur glass, with Scotch, American Rye and Irish whiskeys costing 6d per glass. Other drinks on offer included liqueurs, ale and porter, lager, ginger ale and lemonade. Manila and Havana cigars were for sale, along with Three Castles cigarettes.

'First Class' Menu

Tortue Verte

Creme Chatrillion

Supreme de Sole

Mousse de Jambon

Sirloin and Ribs of Beef

Green Peas, Rice, Cauliflower a la Creme, Boiled, Mashed and Chateau Potatoes

Chapon - Chipolata, Salade de Saison

Pouding Saxone, Gateau Mexicaine, Petits Fours

Bavarois au Chocalat

Ices, Dessert, Café

Irish Independent

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