Fringe Box



When Crowds Lined the Streets to See Ship’s Rudder Pass Through

Published on: 26 Jul, 2012
Updated on: 26 Jul, 2012

By David Rose

It’s not only Olympic Flames passing through Guildford that have drawn huge crowds. In 1932 people lined the streets to witness the world’s largest lorry transporting the rudder of the Cunard liner RMS Berengaria.

The huge rudder of RMS Berengaria passes along Guildford High Street in 1932.

The Surrey Weekly Press of April 15, 1932, ran a detailed report and photo. The story stated that between 11.30am and 12.30pm on the previous Sunday people started to arrive on the streets of the town waiting to see the huge ship’s rudder that was being transported from Darlington to Southampton, by road.

The lorry did not arrive with its load until 4.30pm. The long journey was necessary as the rudder needed several new parts and the RMS Berengaria was in dry dock during its absence.

Special traffic arrangements were made by the Surrey Constabulary and the Guildford Borough Police, as the width of the rudder, at 17 feet, “seriously interfered with ordinary traffic”.

The lorry itself was 41 feet in length and travelled at 5mph.

The newspaper report stated that it arrived via Burpham: “…. and when it reached the roundabout at the by-pass it took the right-hand bend, and traffic which had been held up was allowed to pass through along the left-hand bend.”

The lorry had 14 rubber tyred wheels, was driven by an 80hp engine, and had eight forward and two reverse gears. The breaking was regulated from a cabin at the rear.

The report continued: “At the bottle-neck at the east end of the Upper High Street the lorry and its rudder took up the whole width of the road and from Ram Corner to the Portsmouth Road turning [ie the length of the High Street] it travelled on the right-hand side of the street, all traffic being stationary on the other side. It went at a snail’s pace down the High Street, and afforded the many thousands of spectators plenty of opportunity to study it.”

“Mr A. C. Parker, who was an interested spectator, told a Weekly Press reporter that he was probably the only person who remembered the last large object to pass through the town – the Duke of Wellington statue, which was taken from Hyde Park to Aldershot. He was a boy at the time, and clearly recalled the statue of the Iron Duke astride his horse being towed by 16 horses in fours. The statue remained in North Street all night, prior to continuing its journey to Aldershot.”

Back to the ship’s rudder: it finally reached Southampton the day after it passed through Guildford.

The RMS Berengaria. Once the ship was offered for scrap it had another Guildford connection. It was bought by the then MP for Guildford, Sir John Jarvis.

RMS Berengaria started life as the Hamburg America Line ‘s SS Imperator and had been launched on May 23, 1912. At the time of her completion in June 1913, she was the largest passenger ship in the world, superseding the RMS Titanic and RMS Olympic.

For the duration of the First World War the ship remained in port in Hamburg. After which, she was briefly commissioned into the United States Navy as USS Imperator (ID-4080) and employed as a transport vessel, returning American troops from Europe.

As part of war reparations, in 1919 she was was handed over to Britain’s Cunard Line and was renamed RMS Berengaria. (Queen Berengaria was the wife of Richard the Lionheart).

She was flagship of the Cunard fleet until she was replaced by her sister ship, Majestic – ex-Bismarck, in 1934 after the merger of Cunard with the White Star Line.

It’s said that in later years, Berengaria was used for discounted prohibition-dodging cruises, earning her the unfortunate nickname “Bargain-area”.

She was withdrawn in 1938 and ended her days being broken up on the River Tyne. But here is another interesting connection with Guildford. She was bought by the industrialist and philanthropist Sir John Jarvis. He did this to give work to the men of Jarrow, then in the grip of the depression. At the time Sir John was also Conservative MP for Guildford.

Click here to see a fascinating Movietone newsreel clip now on You Tube titled Berengaria’s Last Voyage. It tells the story of her purchase by Sir John Jarvis (and features him), its breaking up and the recycling of the ship’s scrap metal into such items as tin cans for cat food! The commentary to the film is a gem to listen to.

The Second World War must have intervened her breaking up as it was not completed until 1946.

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