History of Innovation: Cunard Lines to Hovertravel

30 September 2018

Barclays’ history of innovation: From luxury liners to next-generation hovercraft.

From one of the world’s largest ship-building projects at the turn of the last century, to the construction of the latest ‘first in class’ wheelchair-accessible hovercraft, Barclays has a long history of supporting clients on the high seas.

In the early 1900s, one of the UK’s leading passenger liner companies, Cunard Lines, were in the midst of a travel and migration boom, with several companies vying for supremacy on transatlantic routes1

Just as today, these routes from Europe to the US were economically important and lucrative.2  

Lee Powell, Cunard Brand Director, explains how the glamour of the transatlantic crossing persists across generations: “Crossing the Atlantic on Queen Mary 2 is just as exciting today as it was in 1847 when Sir Samuel established the world's first regular crossing, and it remains one of travel's most truly iconic experiences.”

Back in the early 20th century, Cunard Lines approached Barclays to help finance the largest passenger ship building project in the world, and we were able to help.

The construction of RMS Carmania and Caronia – then the largest ships in Cunard’s fleet – was completed between 1904 and 1905 and was a precursor to subsequent construction of RMS Lusitania and Mauretania – both for a time the world’s largest passenger ships outright.3

These projects were in part supported by HM Government, who were keen to ensure that such a prestige route should not be solely operated by American companies. So it was that the government agreed to pay an annual operating subsidy to Cunard, a move that would have helped secure the financing for the liners.4

Carmania and Caronia, like many liners of the day, went on to repay this government assistance by serving as armed cruisers in the Great War, helping to repatriate Canadian soldiers among other missions.

From ocean liners, to ocean flyers

In peacetime, the ships and vessels around the UK are more likely to be carrying holiday-goers and commuters than soldiers.

Hovertravel operate across the Solent, carrying over a million passengers a year between the Isle of Wight and the mainland. Their hovercraft have been flying over the water for over 50 years, and the company has recently invested in two brand new state-of-the-art vessels, with support from Barclays.

Barclays were able to support Hovertravel – not just financially – by introducing them to industry experts at Barclays who could offer help in the area of accessibility of their hovercraft.

Relationship Director, Greg Gilbert, explains: “We introduced our head of accessibility to Hovertravel to discuss the work that we’ve done within our branch network about customers that have reduced mobility and who are visually impaired. That best practice was taken to Hovertravel and delivered within their business for those customers that they engage with on a daily basis.”

Hovertravel run the world’s longest running commercial hovercraft service, and provides a key role in providing critical infrastructure for people on both sides of the crossing.

Gilbert continues: “When we made the lending decision to support Hovertravel one of the key elements that we considered was the societal impact that the provision of our facility was having. This is a key infrastructure link for Isle of Wight residents in terms of opportunities for employment on the mainland but also in supporting the Isle of Wight’s tourism.”

The relationship, which Hovertravel Managing Director, Neil Chapman, says he’s “very proud of”, has enabled the two businesses to form a strong partnership. Chapman says, “It’s about learning from each other – with a common objective of making this work.

“When we went to market our requirement was for investment into two new hovercraft. What we’ve got from Barclays is an awful lot more than that in our partnership going forward.” 

Whether it’s helping people sail across the Atlantic to find new opportunities, or helping them hover over the Solent to get to the office, Barclays’ #industryexperts have been on hand for over 325 years.

1 p11, Maxtone-Graham, J. (1972). The Only Way to Cross. 1st ed. New York: The Macmillan Company.
2 p1 (Maxtone-Graham, 1972)
3 https://www.britannica.com/topic/Lusitania-British-ship 
4 p11 (Maxtone-Graham, 1972)


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