Built to replace the ageing and obsolete Victoria and Albert (III) and commissioned in 1901, Britannia was ordered towards the end of George VI's reign even though her keel was not actually laid until June 1952, four months after the King's death. The contract to build the new royal yacht went to John Brown's yard on the Clyde, where she was launched by the Queen on April 16th 1953, and she was commissioned, ready for sea, in the spring of 1954. Constructed to an Admiralty design by Sir Victor Shepheard, the stell-hulled twin-screw yacht was registered at 5,769 tons gross and measured 412 feet in length with a 55 foot beam. Powered by 12,000b.h.p. geared steam turbines fed from two oil-fired waterboilers, her design speed of 21 knots was easily surpassed on her trials and the Queen was reportedly delighted with the new vessel after her first trip that May. Also intended for use as a hospital ship in time of war, Britannia's final cost was #2,098,000, a total which even included #90 for the gold-painted ornamental line around her hull which was to become one of her most distinctive features. Her smooth, sleek exterior was, in fact, a clever combination of both economy and elegance perfectly in keeping with the new Elizabethan Age which she epitomised for over forty years.
During her years in service, Britannia has sailed every ocean in the world and carried the Queen on innumberable visits, both State and private. Never failing to catch the attention whenever she makes port, her instantly recognisable profile has made her arguably the most familiar ship in the modern world. Despite the acclaim which greeted her wherever she went however, Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 after lingering political controversy over her running costs. Happily, she is to be preserved at Leith, where future visitors will still be able to marvel at what will be, presumably, the last British royal yacht in a line stretching back over three centuries.