Building history

In this section:

Construction of the building

The Cunard Building was the last of the Three Graces to be developed with construction of the building commencing in 1914 and completed by 1917. Due to the developing nature of the Cunard Steamship Company outgrowing their existing premises at the junction of Water Street and Rumford Street, the company commissioned Willink & Thicknesse in Liverpool, to design a new central headquarters which suited their developing requirements. 

Image courtesy of Liverpool University library

The offices were constructed on the site of the former George’s Dock, which was closed in 1898 by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. Part of the original dock wall still exists and is visible within the basement of the Cunard Building today.

The building was constructed 30ft wider at the inland façade than at the waterfront frontage, constructed, in this style to fit the remaining space available at Pier Head on the former St George's Dock following the construction of the Port of Liverpool and Royal Liver Buildings.

Inspired, the architects utilised marble imported from Attica, Carrara and Arni Alto in Italy to create Italianate and Greek Revival detail, in the style of an Italian palazzo, allegedly inspired by the Farnese Palace, in Rome. Externally the buildings simple square shape, rusticated Portland Stone and fine proportion impart an air of solidarity, style and elegance.

There are many fine sculptures around the entrances to the building, some representing Storm, Neptune, Peace, War and Britannia. Elsewhere there are emblems of the Zodiac and coats of arms of those countries whom were allied with Britain during the First World War, providing a level of artistic detail and craftsmanship unattainable in contemporary buildings.

Image courtesy of Liverpool University library

The West Entrance to the building led to the toplit public office (image left) with a 1st Class Passenger lounge adjoining within the area which is now occupied by Government Office North West. The 2nd and 3rd class passengers were accommodated within the Lower Ground Floor area, with the first class and economy baggage handling and storage areas situated within the basement. The upper floors of the building were utilised for passenger and shipping administration by the firms employees and its staff, with the 6th floor, which benefits from high levels of natural light, utilised for the drawing of the designs and plans for the Cunard liners. 

A stately marble-lined corridor with Doric columns links the North and South Entrances, providing access to the lifts and main stairwell, with the central lobby reception desk utilised by our building staff today.

In the forecourt of the Cunard Building is the company’s war memorial, a slender column on top of which is a bronze figure of ‘Victory’ designed by Henry Pelgram.

Basement

The Cunard Building basement is today utilised for storage purposes. However there are a number of original features still in place, which provide a fascinating insight in to both the building itself and the city’s maritime history.

The baggage handling and storage areas used for the historic Cunard liners are still largely untouched since Cunard vacated the building. The baggage stores feature the original timber baggage racking, a number of original maritime documents, ship logs and dated newspapers.

Alongside the baggage stores are nine secure vaults previously used to store valuable luggage items prior to being moved the relevant Cunard liner. These vaults are still in use today, and are partly utilised to store the original drawings and blueprints for the building itself in addition to documents and technical drawings relating to other key Merseyside buildings and Cunard liners such as the Queen Mary.

This picture shows the former basement coal store rooms. Originally a railway track ran along the centre of the corridor, providing a link from the coal stores to the boiler room in order to heat the building on a daily basis.

The Cunard Building, in addition to the Port of Liverpool Building and the Royal Liver Building were constructed on the site of the former St Georges Dock. At the eastern boundary of the building part of the original dock wall still exists and is visible within the basement area, providing an insight in to a bygone part of Liverpool’s commercial development.

Sub-basement

The sub-basement of the Cunard Building was utilised throughout the Second World War as an air raid shelter for not only the occupiers of the building, but also the staff of the adjacent office buildings.

The original shelters and artefacts have subsequently been removed since the war, however reminders of the past remain with the original signs still visible along the reinforced steel joist’s which were installed to add to the strength of the shelter.

The sub-basement in addition to providing an air raid shelter for the Three Graces was the base within the Second World War as the central ARP headquarters for the City of Liverpool.


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