Queens Of The Mersey (Book Review)


Lee Ruddin reviews Tony Storey’s ‘Queens of the Mersey’ (Trinity Mirror), a book about Cunard’s association with Liverpool over the last quarter of a century.Queens Of The Mersey JPEGA million and more people packing the promenades; a flotilla of private and pleasure welcoming craft on the Mersey; the exchanging of whistle salutes with ferries; a landmark anniversary in the venerable history of Cunard Line: readers would be forgiven for thinking that the year is 2015 and the anniversary the 175th of Cunard’s founding yet I am, in fact, referring to 1990 and the 150th.

The reason, you ask? Well, this was when Queen Elizabeth 2 first visited Liverpool. No Cunarder had sailed to their spiritual home during the 1970s or 1980s, such was the state of decay and disrepair of the port of Liverpool, but her maiden call proved catalytic in the port’s regeneration and led indirectly to last month’s “royal rendezvous” involving Queens Elizabeth, Victoria and Mary 2. The Cunard calling of 24 July 1990 paved the way, to be sure, for more callings by Cunarders and for many, many more majestic maritime moments to be savoured by Merseysiders. It is these majestic maritime moments that Tony Storey covers in his majestically-illustrated hardback Queens of the Mersey: A Special Homecoming.

A number of authors who have embarked on a voyage to chart the company’s history have found it difficult to navigate and, in the odd instance, even foundered upon the rocks. By electing to include most if not all material pertaining to Cunard in their 150- and 175-year-length histories their theses have, rather unsurprisingly, sunk under their own weight, better suited to the seabed than to a ship-lover’s shelf. Storey, in stark contrast, navigates a period of time spanning a mere seventh of the Line’s life and, it may surprise some to learn, succeeds in charting a succinct story: one of Cunard in the city during the last quarter of a century.

Three out of the 21 visits by Cunard ships in the past 25 years stand out for their ‘history- making’: the maiden calls by Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Mary 2 as well as the renaming and rededication of Caronia. As significant as these individual events incontrovertibly were, in 1990, 2009 and 1999 respectively, the significance of the other 18 cannot be understated since, collectively, they acted as midwife to the rebirth of Liverpool as a passenger terminal. Each and every visit is therefore chronicled and accompanied by a quotation or two from the respective Cunard captain or commodore.

‘Cunard calls are a showcase for the city,’ Storey rightly writes, and the rare and previously unseen images he includes illustrate – illuminate even – how hitherto undeveloped land developed along with each and every calling, particularly those pre-2007 before the opening of the new Liverpool Cruise Terminal. These photographs, together with the (albeit short) chapters covering Samuel Cunard and the Cunard building (the most graceful, in my biased opinion, of the “Three Graces”), more than make up for the rather bland, brochure-like section detailing the respective specifications of the three Queens.

The mid-river anchorage Cunarders used to perform before the ferry tender service took passengers ashore has been described as a ‘tortuous and time-consuming process’.This book is neither tortuous nor time-consuming, prospective readers will be glad to hear, but rather a pleasant and pithy read to be enjoyed by ship-spotters and enthusiasts alike. Queens of the Mersey is consequently worthy of sharing shelf space with The Story of Cunard’s 175 Years: The Triumph of a Great Tradition (2014), a title co-authored by Eric Flounders and Michael Gallagher, and one which received royal approval with its Foreword written by The Duke of Edinburgh.

I wish to dedicate this review to my selfless sister, Kirsty Ruddin, who our father calls “Queen”, but who treats me like a King – and treated me to a transatlantic crossing aboard Queen Mary 2 in 2013. 

[Click HERE to see our photos of the 2015 ‘Three Queens’ event]