The IMechE Library has been providing an information service to members since at least 1877, even before the Institution moved into its current location in One Birdcage Walk. It still holds many early engineering works, most of which are now located on the galleries which surround the library room. This series of posts looks at the fascinating stories these works can tell about history of the Institution and of engineering.

At this time of year, spare a thought for engineering libraries – with very little in the way of fiction, we don’t have a copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to tweet about, and so must be more inventive in our search for festive resources.

Our offering this year is the Cunard Christmas 1931 Special, an illustrated magazine depicting the ‘construction of the new giant liner’ – which is the as-yet unnamed RMS Queen Mary. The magazine was presented to the library in March 1932 by H.L. Court, from the Cunard Steam Ship Company.

Front cover of the Cunard Christmas Special 1931 – Construction of the New Giant Liner

The magazine begins with a piece from Sir Percy E. Bates, Chairman of the Cunard Steam Ship Company, giving an overview of the new ship, from planning and designing to construction. A few more editorial pieces are scattered amongst the large fold-out photographs of the ship’s construction at Clydebank, Scotland.

These photographs give a fascinating insight into the various aspects of construction – views of workmen standing in the giant rib cage of the hull show the sheer size of the ship, while photographs of the huge propellers, the shaft bossing at the stern and an unenviable shot taken underneath the ship give a thorough tour of construction for the reader.

At the centre of the magazine is a beautiful full-colour painting by marine artist William McDowell. The bright, colourful advertisements showcase the quality products used by the Cunard Steam Ship Company, giving the ship a gloss of luxury even before its completion.

The RMS Queen Mary was completed in 1934, and her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York wasn’t until 1936. On board were two swimming pools, libraries, beauty salons, tennis courts and dog kennels. She was the first ocean liner with her own Jewish prayer room – a deliberate effort to show that the British-American company avoided the antisemitism evident in Nazi Germany at that time.

As well as the impressive photographs, the magazine is also dotted with advertisements which give a sense of the upcoming festive season and an idea of the company’s clientele. As well as marketing typical engineering products such as marine boilers and electric cables, there are also adverts for champagne, cheese biscuits, excursions to Switzerland and, of course, Cadburys chocolates. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a tin of Roses!

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