Our Grace is 100!

Our Grace is 100!

Liverpool’s Three Graces effortlessly exemplify the virtues of their mythological counterparts – beauty, charm and joy.

The Cunard Building perhaps even more so. It has witnessed first-hand the rise, fall and rise again of Liverpool and, to this day, plays an important role in our city’s journey.

It’s a fine looking building, but it can be overshadowed by its more resplendent neighbours. It doesn’t have Liver birds, chimes, clocks or cupolas, but it does have perhaps the most exciting story and an equally influential role.

As the city celebrates 100 years of The Cunard this year, we take a look back at some of the building’s most illustrious and memorable moments, leading up to its centennial.

National Museums Liverpool (Merseyside Maritime Museum)
National Museums Liverpool (Merseyside Maritime Museum)


In the 1900s Cunard transatlantic travel was all the rage and Cunard steered the way, rapidly expanding to meet demand. This expansion caused them to outgrow their previous Liverpool offices and they were in the mood for something grand, something classical and just a bit special.

National Museums Liverpool (Merseyside Maritime Museum) Foundations of Cunard building, July 28 1913
National Museums Liverpool (Merseyside Maritime Museum) Foundations of Cunard building, July 28 1913


Choosing the waterfront was a no-brainer for a global shipping company based in Liverpool. But where? A perfect spot was selected on, what was then the former George’s Dock, mainly because Cunard really liked the look of its new neighbours.

Three Graces, Liverpool 1920
Three Graces, Liverpool 1920


Since its birth in 1914, The Cunard Building has kept great company, built between two monumental Liverpool landmarks, the pre-existing Port of Liverpool Building (1907) and Liver Building (1908). This union of architectural heavyweights gave birth to our ‘Three Graces’ and forever transformed our city’s memorable skyline.


Palazzo Farnese
Palazzo Farnese


On their travels, Cunard fell in love with the palaces of the Italian renaissance, particularly ‘The most imposing Italian palace of the 16th century’ the Palazzo Farnese.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and leading architects of the day, William Edward Willink and Philip Colwell Thicknesse were selected to collaborate on the design, which also drew heavily on the detailed work of Italian architect Baldassare Peruzzi.

Cunard Building cornice detail
Cunard Building cornice detail


But The Cunard Building was much bigger than its Italian counterpart, so it required more design flourishes. For this aspect of the architecture, Willink and Thicknesse went Greek, adorning the building in neo-classical inspired sculptures, fittingly including Neptune (the Roman God of the sea) and Britannia (the personification of Great Britain’s power).


'Faces of the world' adorn The Cunard Building's exterior
‘Faces of the world’ adorn The Cunard Building’s exterior


The ornate artwork on the exterior and interior of the Cunard is more than decoration. Sculptured figures from the Zodiac symbolise the role astronomy plays in navigating vessels and various coat of arms commemorate the bravery and union of the United Kingdom’s allies during the First World War.


The Cunard War Memorial
The Cunard War Memorial


The Cunard’s War Memorial also marks our nation’s sacrifices and ultimate victory of WW1, honouring the Cunard employees who lost their lives. In keeping with the overall design of The Cunard Building, the memorial features a large bronze statue of a man atop a doric style column.

The man represents ‘victory’ and stands above the prow of a Roman ship. The figure is surrounded by naval references including ropes, anchors and shells, with an inscription that reads “pro patria” Latin for “for one’s country”.

Ornate original features remain throughout Liverpool's Cunard Building
Ornate original features remain throughout Liverpool’s Cunard Building


The original purpose of the building has made for some interesting design features and focal points throughout the years.

Standing six stories tall, with two sub-basement levels, part of the original dock wall can still be seen in the eastern boundary of the first level basement and vaults which once held first-class passenger’s jewels and finery have now been ‘repurposed’ to hold paperwork and documents.


Cunard's Queen Elizabeth returns to Liverpool for The Cunard Building's Centenery
Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth returns to Liverpool for The Cunard Building’s Centenery


From 1914 to the 1960s The Cunard Building was Cunard’s home, but following a decision to relocate their global headquarters to New York, the building was sold to Prudential PLC in 1969 and then Liverpool City Council in 2013. But The Cunard Building still plays an important role in welcoming people to our city.

Culture Liverpool – the team that brought us Capital of Culture 2008, ‘The Giants’ and just about every other major cultural event the city has seen in the past eight years – are now based in the building and they put on another ‘party on the pier’ to celebrate its Centenary on Saturday 2nd July. You can read more about it here.

Liverpool’s Cunard Building embodies our city’s maritime heritage and a significant part of our role in the world. But today it also represents our welcoming nature and diverse cultural spirit, continuing to bring us beauty, charm and joy to this day. Here’s to another 100 years!

Published: 30/06/2016