Cunard connections! Exploring Cruise Liverpool’s history with Cunard Line

Cunard Connections – Exploring Cunard’s past within Cruise Liverpool

Liverpool’s relationship with Cunard Cruise Line stems back to 1840, when their ship, Britannia set off on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Boston, USA. Cunard opened offices in Liverpool in 1839 on Water Street, before completing its landmark headquarters, the Cunard Building on the Pier Head in 1916. Today it forms part of the iconic ‘Three Graces’, located between the Royal Liver Building and the Port of Liverpool Building.

Cunard remained in the iconic building for 50 years. After 128 years in Liverpool, Cunard relocated their head office to New York. Their operations centre was relocated to Southampton, where it remains today.

In 2015, Cunard celebrated 175 years of Transatlantic crossings, with a spectacular display on the Mersey featuring the ‘Three Queens.’

Many families in Liverpool have links and memories of family members and friends who worked on Cunard ships during their years operating 46 vessels from Liverpool. Cunard were shipping not only to the US and Canada but across to the Mediterranean and Middle East too.

On 3 October 2008, the QE2 made her final ever visit to Cunard’s spiritual home of Liverpool. We spoke with some of our volunteers and operations team about their connections to the Cunard Shipping Line.

Debbie and Richard with a model of Queen Elizabeth II inside the Cruise Liverpool terminal

Richard and Debbie stand with the model of Queen Elizabeth 2, which they have gifted to Cruise Liverpool

Meet Richard and Debbie Loundes
Richard and Debbie are the children of Cunard Captain Robin Woodall. Captain Robin Woodall was renowned for sailing QE2 up the Mersey in 1990 for the first time, where he was greeted by thousands watching from Liverpool Waterfront.

Richard now works at Cruise Liverpool driving passengers from the quayside to the terminal building and has been in the role for 3 seasons now!

They have recently gifted the model in the image above of QE2 to Cruise Liverpool which has now gone on display in our terminal. The model was presented to their father, who then gifted it to Debbie’s son, who has agreed to gift the model to us!

We spoke to them about their family’s connection to Cunard.

Debbie, tell us about your father’s career at Cunard

“Dad worked for Cunard from the age of 16 where he joined as a deckhand and worked his way up the ranks to become Captain of QE2. He was there for 45 years before retiring at the age of 61. I believe Dad was the only officer to have done this with Cunard.”

Queen Elizabeth 2 arriving into Liverpool, captained by Robin Woodall on 24 July 1990

Richard, tell us about some of the stories your Dad told you about his time with Cunard

“As part of being Captain, one of my dads duties was to host cocktail parties for previous Cunard passengers.

He would greet them, standing at the door, shaking their hand and would ask them what ship they had previously sailed on. On this occasion a lady came up to Dad and shook his hand, and as normal Dad asked this lady “What ship did you sail on?” she replied, “I sailed on the Titanic.” I’m sure you can understand it came as a bit of a surprise to my Dad, the woman was a baby when she was on Titanic.

As Cunard bought the White Star Line that Titanic belonged to, this lady qualified as an ex Cunard passenger!”

Captain Robin Woodall on-board QE2

Captain Robin Woodall

Next we spoke to Sue. Sue is a Cruise Liverpool Ambassador and volunteers her time at the Liverpool Cruise Terminal! We spoke to Sue about her Cunard Connection.

Sue, tell us about your Cunard connection. You used to work for Cunard?

“From the early 1980’s, I worked for Cunard Line in their London & Southampton offices. I also looked after groups, press and special guests on board QE2 and occasionally on Cunard Countess in the Caribbean…it was a hard life!”

“Cunard used to have special voyages – passengers could sail to/from Southampton to/from New York and stay up to a week at Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan! They would fly on a specially chartered British Airways Concorde. I was lucky enough to accompany passengers on these holidays.”
“I moved on to work for cruise and long haul specialists plus a local newspaper until Capital of Culture year 2008, which is when I moved back home to Liverpool.”

Sue standing in front of the Cunard ship docked at Liverpool

Sue standing in front of the Cunard ship docked at Liverpool.

It sounds like you’re well travelled Sue! Tell us about your favourite Cruise Destination?

“Picking a favourite cruise destination is so hard, I can’t really choose between New York or Cunard’s spiritual home, Liverpool! No matter how many times you sail by the Statue of Liberty, see the Staten Island Ferry and sail under Verrazano Narrows Bridge, it is still amazing. But nothing beats sailing home up the River Mersey and seeing our beautiful waterfront and Three Graces. I recently did the Coronation Special cruise to Liverpool as a passenger on QM2.”

“My one regret was never sailing through the Panama Canal, it was the one thing my dad said I must do. My dad & his brothers all worked for Cunard in the 1960s.”

Queen Elizabeth 2 arriving into Liverpool in 1990.

Tell us about some of your most interesting stories about your time working on-board Cunard?

“I was lucky enough to be onboard when the first ever baby was born on QE2. The baby was a little girl called Scarlet Elizabeth who arrived whilst we were sailing mid Atlantic, so we weren’t sure what nationality she was! We had Keith Richards and his pregnant wife onboard and we originally thought it was their baby that was born!”

“In 1985, QE2 arrived in Southampton from New York and the stevedores were on strike. This meant we were unable to disembark for quite a while and it happened to be the day Everton were playing Manchester United in the FA cup final. I watched the match in the wardroom along with Mr. Stewart, sadly Everton got beat!”

“Then, there was a time when a famous actress was travelling to New York with her children and her parents who were also famous actors.

She had left her son’s passport at home in London and they were late boarding the ship. We didn’t have time to get the passport sent by courier to the ship. After a lot of frantic phone calls, we arranged for the passport to be sent to our New York office and then brought to the ship immediately as the ship docked in Manhattan. U.S. immigration who travelled on-board with us were able to clear them all before they disembarked!”

“Last but by no means the least, the late John Duffy who was Hotel Manager on board QE2 was from the same area of Liverpool as me and a fellow Evertonian. When I was onboard, he used to call me to his office for the full time football scores on a Saturday afternoon.

He always made a fuss of fellow Scousers travelling on QE2, he left flowers and wine in cabins and often asked them to cocktail parties in his quarters. He was such a lovely man and is still missed by many.”
Sue was volunteering at Liverpool Cruise Terminal when Queen Elizabeth was in Liverpool on the day John Duffy died, the ship marked the occasion by sounding the ship’s horn for 43 seconds as John had worked for Cunard for 43 years.”

We really enjoyed hearing from Sue, Debbie and Richard about their Cunard connections, particularly to QE2 as we remember her last sailing out of Liverpool on October 3rd 2008.

Cunard will sail from Cruise Liverpool again next season. Share your Cunard connections with us by getting in touch on socials! Find us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram! 


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