Beautifully Embroidered Royal Mail Lines Single Bedspread

Beautifully Embroidered Royal Mail Lines Single Bedspread



Pure White heavy single bedspread from the Royal Mail Lines

Beautifully embroidered and in excellent condition.

Measures: 54″ X 81″

Provenance of a Table Cloth.

By Ann Brooker

What a daft title I hear you cry. What on earth can she find to write about that!

When I first saw the table cloth or rather twenty-two of them that we had bought second hand for a big afternoon tea function, I was doubtful that was what they really were and I am still rather inclined to hold that first opinion. I think they were identical single bed spreads made of heavily embossed pure cotton Jacquard, so stiff they appeared to be starched (and still the same even after they had been washed). The quality was excellent. Something you do not see today. The pattern appeared to be some sort of coat of arms so I resorted to the internet to see what I could find out.

All we had known about them was that a hundred or more of them were found in a cupboard of a large Scottish house that had been bought (contents and all) by an acquaintance’s son two years ago and two local floral arrangement clubs were offered the chance to buy twenty-two of them at an extremely reasonable price for our forthcoming joint Diamond celebrations. The plan was to re-sell them afterwards, so I bought ten of them to give as presents

The whole design of the coat of arms is excellent. There are two sea-horses facing each other and supported by their tails is a banner with the Latin words ‘Per Mare Ubique’ (‘Everywhere by sea’ – although I would translate as ‘By the sea surrounded’). Between their stomachs is a rendition of a diagonal cross with a crown in the centre – this is known as the house flag. There is a galleon above and below. It is surrounded by a border of trailing flowers with an anchor in each corner and tridents and scallops alternating round the quarters surrounded by a motive.

TG for Google! ‘Per Mare Ubique’ was the coat of arms and motto for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company which was founded in September 1839 by James MacQueen, a Scot and Queen Victoria granted a Royal Charter to the new company on the 26th of that month. The house flag of the company, who was one of only three British shipping lines to be permitted to use a Royal crown on its house flag, is a red diagonal cross or saltaire with a crown in the middle. By the following year in conjunction with the Admiralty, the new company was contracted to have at least 14 ships to provide a regular service particularly to the West Indies, carrying the mail to Barbados and it’s first ship, the paddle steamer PS Thames sailed from Falmouth on 1st January 1841.

The company went from strength to strength opening more routes to the other side of the Atlantic as well as buying up various competitors. When in 1927 it bought the ailing White Star Line (of Titanic fame) it had become the largest shipping group in the world. But there began to be financial problems at the beginning of the 1930s and in fact there was a ‘scandal’ and the company chairman spent 10 months in Wormwood Scrubs for the misrepresentation of the state of the company’s finances to the shareholders. The company went into liquidation; the White Star Line was sold to Cunard but a new company Royal Mail Lines was started up taking over the Packet Company’s routes which it continued to do until it too was taken over in 1965. From what little I can gather the coat of arms continued in the possession of Royal Mail Lines until that time, when the name ceased.

What about the table cloths (or bed spreads) and how do they fit in with the picture? These lovely thick quality articles were made by several companies. The cloths that I have, were manufactured either by Osman who were very well known for their lovely thick towels but I cannot find out anything about Osman’s history. The other manufacturer is Vantona who has been a manufacturer of quality bed linen since 1929. I rather feel that these articles were manufactured before the war because of the quality although I could be wrong.  

It seems to me that people today have a different idea about cruise ships and holidays and assume it was always this way. But it wasn’t. All these shipping companies, large and small were transporting passengers as well as the mail and cargos all over the world. The ships sailed set routes to set ports at set times. Would be passengers could, if they so wished, leave the ship at one port of call and then get another boat somewhere else (or back home). It wasn’t a cruise as we know it today. When the ship docked at its port of call passengers were at liberty to go ashore for a set period of time to see the sights whilst the ship was unloading cargo, passengers who were terminating their journey, passengers who were joining to go further en route, taking on cargo and perhaps refuelling. But the death knoll was sounded with the coming of the long-haul passenger air flights and the container ships in the late 1960s and 70s. So, the holiday cruise business was started in its place.

So where does this leave these humble table cloths or bedspreads? Some were so pristine they didn’t appear to have ever been used. But some did have the odd mark (which came out with modern technology). They all needed a good wash and after ironing came up as good as new. They had obviously been sold off at some point with a view to using them in Bed and Breakfast Accommodation either on tables or single beds; had been left in the cupboard and probably forgotten.

What am I going to do with 10 of them? Well, my three children are having two each and I am not sure about the rest.

With credit and thanks to the author, Ann Brooker.