Conservative flagship: interior design for RMS Windsor Castle, 1960

McKay, Harriet (2015) Conservative flagship: interior design for RMS Windsor Castle, 1960. In: British Design: Tradition and Modernity after 1948. Bloomsbury Academic, London, pp. 77-89. ISBN 9781472505378


This chapter examines the history of interior design for the Union-Castle passenger liner RMS Windsor Castle. Launched in 1961 the ship’s principal route was to sail from Southampton in the UK to Cape Town, South Africa. Interrogating the passenger accommodation on board it analyses the design choices taken by Union-Castle and its managing company British & Commonwealth Shipping Ltd (B&C), posits reasons for these and considers their implications for the creation of Union-Castle’s interiors.

Drawing upon established design-historical methods, I also argue throughout for an interdisciplinary approach, in particular since this enables a reading of the ‘un-designed’ and non-canonical space. I contend that it is essential to engage with the wider histories that provide the environment for Union-Castles’ operations, and argue that this is a design history that cannot meaningfully be written without also tracing the relationship between Union-Castle, B&C and the Afrikaner National Party government in the late 1950s and ‘60s. . It is this relationship that provides the underlying discussion of the thesis: the extent to which the co-constitutive themes of both the representation of politics and the politics of representation informed the interior design of the Windsor Castle. It was also this connection that created a series of mutually maintained misrepresentations and lies and the use of design of uphold the norms of the apartheid regime.

Such was the nature of the National Party’s hegemony that its political ethos can clearly be demonstrated to had had an impact not only upon the process by which, but also the interiors with which the shipping line, and hence RMS Windsor Castle, conducted business. Of critical significance to this history is the fact that nowhere on board any of the ships that provide my case studies is ever any references to black Africa. Instead a series of interiors were produced which were variously inscribed with wholly ‘white’ ideas about emigration, nationhood and colonial relations between Britain and Africa, and, in the post-colonial period, with ideas about British heritage versus modernity, power-broking vis à vis Pretoria and with discourses associated with the rise of air travel and mass tourism.

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