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Life on Board: New gallery to open at Merseyside Maritime Museum on 28 March 2020

Merseyside Maritime Museum will open a new permanent gallery on 28 March 2020. Exploring the moving and fascinating stories of Liverpool’s seafarers and passengers, the Life on board gallery will highlight the lives of the merchant sailors who drove the city’s prosperity, as well as tales of the people who sailed aboard leisure liners.

Life on board, located on the second floor of the Museum, will reveal the dangers, joys, cultures and community at the heart of seafaring, from the 1700s to the present day. It will also include the fascinating Archives Centre, featuring National Museums Liverpool’s vast collection of maritime and slavery records.

Ian Murphy, Head of Merseyside Maritime Museum, said: “Life on board will provide us with the opportunity to display more than 250 fascinating objects. From ship models and figureheads, to examples of fine tableware and clothing, they help to tell new and important stories about our great seafaring past and present.”

Britain remains heavily dependent on shipping, with 95% of all goods travelling to us by sea. The gallery tells the stories of the people who make this possible. Digital projections and soundscapes feature within the gallery, bringing the stories to life, while visitors will also be able to get hands-on with interactive content.

Life on board also explores the unique environment and distinctive culture experienced by seafarers, and looks at the traditions of music, language, entertainment and art that have been shaped by global sailing throughout history.

Visitors will be able to enjoy a first look at the recently conserved Arandora Star ship model, which hasn’t been displayed since it was damaged during the Liverpool Blitz in 1940. The Museum holds one of the largest collections of ship models in the UK and the selection on show represents the many shipping companies that sailed in and out of Liverpool.

The gallery will explore the style and comfort of passenger travel, looking at the ‘floating palaces’ of the early 20th century. It will consider how competition between shipping companies created a market for distinctive maritime design. Transatlantic liners were sumptuously styled, with interiors and fittings reminiscent of stately homes.

Life on board will also present a number of outfits belonging to passenger Gertrude Walker that reflect the experience of women travelling by sea in the 20th century. Gertrude’s diary records the daily routine of First Class travel on Transatlantic ships.

By the 1930s, architects and artists were employed to remodel the liners, representing a modern and steamlined Art Deco style. The introduction of the new Tourist Third Cabin Class made sailing more affordable and, by the mid-20th century, cruise ships were enjoyed by many more people.

A number of striking Art Deco glass panels from the Mauretania II will be displayed. These would have graced the Cabin (first) Class Dining Room in the 1930s, representing the tradition of excellence that the newly merged Cunard White Star wanted to promote at the time.

The new gallery will also explore the significance of campaigning within seafaring history, which has been pivotal in addressing a range of issues from environmental concerns to conditions for seafarers. There will be a particular focus on the story of the MV Derbyshire; a bulk carrier owned by Liverpool’s Bibby Line.

When MV Derbyshire was lost in a typhoon in 1980, 42 crew members and two of their wives perished. The Derbyshire Family Association (DFA) campaigned for twenty years to discover how their loved ones were lost, with the re-opened formal investigation concluding in 2000. Their campaigning has greatly helped to improve safety procedures for bulk carriers.

Life on board has been funded thanks to a £200,000 award from DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund.