Today's post was written by our Curator of Ship History, John Graves. He looks at one of the finest and most intriguing models in our collection - this magnificent model of the Mauretania.

Model of the Mauretania Model of the Mauretania Ref: SLR1375


It is easy to take for granted old favourites in the national collection and the National Maritime Museum’s model of the Cunard liner Mauretania is a case in point.  When it was acquired in 1966 it was assumed that this large, highly detailed and impressive model had been made by the shipbuilder that constructed the actual ship, Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson – how wrong we were! We were wrong, too, in thinking that it had been made to the standard scale of 1:48 (1/4 inch = 1 foot). This isn’t the case; it has been made to the slightly smaller and eccentric scale of 7:384, or 7/32 inch = 1 foot. Unless there was a very good reason for using it, this scale would surely have been unnecessarily complicated for even the most proficient modeller, particularly as it produces a model not very much shorter than one at the conventional 1:48 scale.

However we recently learned that our Mauretania model was made by Mr Robert Smith, who was one of the leading model-makers in the country. He had a thriving ship model-making business not far from Swan Hunter’s shipyard on the Tyne. Smith was commissioned to make the model for display in the window of Cunard’s shipping office in London. A 1:48 scale model would have been longer than the available display space by 18 inches, hence the reason it was made to a smaller scale.

Working alongside Robert Smith were his associate, W. Bartram, and his apprentice, F. Clark. Much of the work that could be executed off-site, such as the myriad fittings and equipment, was carried out in the model-makers’ homes. Their work benches must have been mini-production lines as 280 miniature skylights, 200 door knobs, 1,818 surface-silvered glass windows, 30 gold-plated ventilators, and countless other components, were manufactured to very fine tolerances. No expense was spared. The model took 38 weeks to make and cost £725.0.0.

Robert Smith also made a model of Mauretania’s sister ship, Lusitania, for Cunard to the same odd scale and presumably for display in the same shipping office window. John will be discussing the history of the Mauretania itself in our next Maritime Lecture. Launched in 1906 as the world's largest and fastest ship, it was later absorbed by the war effort and played a key role in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign.