Posted in Event, Exhibition, Film, History, Maritime History, Museum, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

Celebrating Cunard’s 175th Anniversary: Memories Of Glamour On The High Seas

©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton before sailing out into Southampton Water with her sister ships, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. Queen Mary 2 has 2,000 bathrooms, 3,000 telephones, 280,000 square yards of fitted carpets and 5,000 stairs. ©Come Step Back In Time
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  • Poster produced for Southern Railways (SR) to advertise the first sailing of Queen Mary, and tickets to the event from London train stations. The Queen Mary could accommodate 776 first-class, 784 tourist and 579 third-class passengers, together with 1101 officers and crew. She also won the Blue Riband of the Atlantic in 1936 and 1938, and served as a troop ship in World War Two. Artwork by Leslie Carr, who painted marine subjects and architectural and river scenes and designed posters for the SR, London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and British Railways (BR). Dimensions: 1016 mm x 1270 mm. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

Sunday 3rd May, 2015 – Sailing of The ‘3 Queens’ From Southampton, Hampshire

In 2015, one of the most famous names in shipping, Cunard, celebrates its 175th anniversary.  On Sunday, 3rd May, I joined the crowds of onlookers at Mayflower Park and Town Quay, Southampton (yes, I did have to make a dash between both locations to get the best images!), to witness the historic spectacle of Cunard’s ‘3 Queens’ sailing out into the Solent.

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  •  A view of a restaurant aboard Queen Mary 2. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton.©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

Queen Mary 2 (2003) led her sister ships, Queen Victoria (2007) and Queen Elizabeth (2010), on a ‘thank-you’ procession down Southampton Water and into the Solent. Queen Elizabeth was heading for Hamburg, Queen Victoria to Guernsey and Queen Mary 2 to New York.

©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Elizabeth, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Elizabeth, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Victoria, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, sailing past Mayflower Park, Southampton to join Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Victoria, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, sailing past Mayflower Park, Southampton to join Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 setting sail on Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 setting sail on Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth set sail, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth set sail, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
The '3 Queens' sail off into Southampton Water on their respective voyages, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Cunard’s distinctive red funnels belonging to the ‘3 Queens’ can be seen sailing off into Southampton Water on their respective voyages, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

Cunard’s Early History

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  • Sir Samuel Cunard, founder of Cunard Line in 1839.

Cunard Line was formed in 1839 by Canadian born, Sir Samuel Cunard (1787-1865), who had answered an advertisement placed by the British Admiralty for bidders to operate a timetabled steamship service to carry the Royal Mail between Britain and the North American colonies. Sir Samuel was the son of a master carpenter and timber merchant who had fled the American Revolution (1765-1783) and settled in Halifax, Canada.

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  • PS Britannia, 1840. Model (scale 1:48). She was built for the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co, which became the Cunard Steamship Co Ltd. Her 3 sister-ships, the Acadia, the Caledonia, and the Columbia were also built on the Clyde at the same time.  There was accommodation for a 150 passengers. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) crossed on the Britannia in 1842, which he recorded in his ‘American Notes’. (Photo by Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images)

Despite the considerable risks involved in tendering for this contract (no ship, no maritime experience, huge financial risks, stiff penalties for late delivery of mail etc.), Sir Samuel uprooted his family and moved to Britain. On July 4th, 1940, steamship Britannia left Liverpool, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 12 days and 10 hours later, averaging a speed of 8.5 knots. Three more ships joined the fleet and by the end of 1840, Cunard offered a scheduled weekly service across the Atlantic.

  • ‘175 Years. Forever Cunard – A Voyage Through History’ by Cunard. Uploaded to You Tube 12.1.15.

A Celebration of 175 Years of Cunard – Exhibition Southampton City Art Gallery

From 1st May until 5th September 2015, there is an exhibition of rarely seen images from the Cunard archive on display at Southampton City Art Gallery. Also featured will be iconic a portrait of the QE2 that was presented to the city by Cunard in 2008 following the ship’s last day in Southampton, her home port.

The exhibition also includes popular posters from the eras which were used by travel agents to sell ocean travel in the most attractive light. A dedicated ‘wall of fame’ will take visitors back to one of the most glamorous eras as they discover which Hollywood stars graced Cunard’s decks.

Southampton City Art Gallery is open Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm and on Saturdays 10am-5pm. Admission to the Gallery and this special exhibition is free. For further information, click here.

A list of free Cunard talks taking place at the Gallery over the coming months can be found here.

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  • 4th September 1947, Southampton, actress Elizabeth Taylor is pictured on board Queen Mary with her two French Poodle dogs, ready to return to America after a short stay in London (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Notable Cunard Liners

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  • 15th April, 1912: Carpathia arrives to pick up survivors in lifeboats from the Titanic. Original Publication: The Graphic – pub. 1912 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
  • CarpathiaLaunched 1902, maiden voyage 5th May, 1903, rescued 705 survivors from doomed liner Titanic, torpedoed southeast of Ireland and west of the Isles of Scilly by German submarine U-55, 17th July, 1918;

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  • Passengers drinking in one of the bars on board the Mauretania as it draws into Fishguard, Pembroke. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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  • The Dining Saloon of the Mauretania c.1900. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
  • Mauretania – Launched 1906, maiden voyage 17th November, 1907, Blue Riband, out of service 1934 and scrapped 1935;

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  • Interior of the Grill Room aboard the Aquitania, c.1920. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
  • Aquitania – Launched 1913, maiden voyage 30th May, 1914, last surviving four-funnelled ocean liner, Blue Riband, served in both World Wars, scrapped in 1950;

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  • c.1920: A line of women waving goodbye to the vessel Laconia as she leaves Liverpool. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
  • Laconia – Launched in 1921, maiden voyage 25th May, 1922, sunk by torpedo from German U-boat U-156 on 12th September, 1942. Aboard were 2,732,  crew, British and Polish soldiers, civilian passengers and Italian POWs.  The final survivor count varies, different sources estimate that there were somewhere between 1,104 and 1,500. Captain of the German U-boat, Werner Hartenstein (1908-1943), ordered his submarine to surface and go back for survivors, this extraordinary turn of events led to what is known as ‘The Laconia Incident.’

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  • The luxurious wood-finished 1st class smoking saloon of the Laconia. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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  • The 2nd class saloon of the Laconia, with a painted ceiling and pillared colonnade. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

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  • The observation saloon of the Queen Mary serves as the sleeping quarters for American soldiers, while the vessel carries out her duties as a troopship during World War Two. Original Publication: Picture Post – 1825 – Queen Mary troopship – unpub. (Photo by Haywood Magee/Getty Images)

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  • The luxury dining room of the Queen Mary serves as a mess for American soldiers, while the vessel carries out her duties as a troopship during World War Two. Original Publication: Picture Post – 1825 – Queen Mary  troopship – unpub. (Photo by Haywood Magee/Getty Images)
  • Queen Mary – Launched 1934, maiden voyage 27th May, 1936, Blue Riband, served as a troopship in World War Two and after the war G.I. Brides were transported on her back to America, retired from service 9th December, 1967, now a hotel ship, restaurant and museum in Long Beach Harbour, California;

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  • 10th July, 1947: The Queen Mary at Southampton after her refitting at the end of World War Two during which she was used as a troopship. (Photo by J. A. Hampton/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

  • ‘Queen Mary Crew Members’, interviews with crew members who served on the Queen Mary in her heyday. Uploaded to You Tube 22.9.14.

  • ‘Queen Mary War Brides’, former war bride, June Allen, recalls the thrill of coming to America on the Queen Mary. Uploaded to You Tube 22.9.14.
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  • The cocktail bar and observation lounge of the Cunard White Star liner Queen Mary. The bar is made of Macassar ebony with a mural by Alfred R. Thomson behind. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
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  • Dining-room aboard Queen Elizabeth in 1946. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
  • Queen Elizabeth – Launched 1938, pre-war maiden voyage 3rd March, 1940, in World War Two she served as a troopship and after the war G.I. Brides were transported on her back to America, her service career as a passenger liner began officially on her post-war maiden voyage, 16th October, 1946, she was retired in 1968, destroyed by fire in 1972;

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  • Smoking room aboard the Queen Elizabeth, 1950. In this shot, some of the chairs have ropes securing them to the floor, presumably to stop them sliding about in rough seas. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

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Hollywood Glamour Aboard Cunard’s Luxury Liners

In 1997, I worked as a research assistant on Romancing Hollywood, a conference and exhibition at Millais Gallery, Southampton. The exhibition celebrated the glamour of Hollywood as it was perceived from the 1930s until the 1950s in Britain. Focussing mainly on Southampton, Romancing Hollywood, explored the ways in which glamour was not only received by local people via Hollywood but also created.

During the 1930s Southampton, as a gateway to the rest of the world, became a mecca for stars of stage and screen travelling on Cunard’s popular transatlantic route to New York. The exhibition concentrated on Cunard’s Queen Mary whose maiden voyage departed from Southampton on 27th May, 1936 and the Queen Elizabeth, launched in 1938.

I had the privilege of interviewing crew members who had worked on the original ‘Queens’, amongst other luxury transatlantic liners, during the golden-age of pre and post-war ocean travel. Here are a few extracts from those interviews that were published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition (Romancing Hollywood by A. Massey, E. Stoffer, A. Forsyth and J. Bushnell,1997, ISBN 1 874011 62 1).  All interviewees described what life was like for the ordinary Cunard employee aboard these glamourous and luxurious ‘floating hotels’.

Jack Barker was born in 1919 and worked in a London Hotel as a Page Boy before going to work for Cunard in 1937 (Andania). After World War Two, Jack worked on the Queen Elizabeth (1938) for 16 years, rising to position of Head Waiter: ‘You would start the morning at half past six. Before the restaurant opened at eight o’clock for breakfast, you would have a scrub out to do, and you had to get into your uniform, which you had to buy yourself, and then breakfast went on till ten, and then after that you had to get your station ready for lunch, and you had to be in the restaurant by  half past twelve, you didn’t get any time off. You got used to it. I must have met hundreds of stars. Alfred Hitchcock, he just took a liking to me as a waiter.’

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  • Crew members working in the engine room of the liner Queen Mary during a transatlantic crossing, 12th August, 1939. Original Publication : Picture Post – 198 – Atlantic Crossing – pub. 1939 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Ralph Clarke was born in 1929 and worked on the railway boats at Southampton Docks for 6 months prior to starting work as a Trimmer on board the Queen Mary (1936) in April 1948. He worked on board the Queen Elizabeth (1938) in the late 1940s for 3 trips after an accident on board the Queen Mary, to which he returned: ‘Everything was SO BIG, extraordinarily big for the first month I was virtually lost on the Queen Mary. It was a massive, great big, beautiful ship. Danny Kaye and his wife and two children came down and he would say ‘Hello everybody,’ and he gave a song, one or two chaps in the crew used to be able to play the piano. We had Bing Crosby, we then had Paul Robeson and Jack Dempsey the boxer and he used to come down and say, ‘If anyone feels like a spar with me you are welcome to do it? They used to mix, no matter how big a star, they used to talk to us as if we were human beings and they used to be great friends.’

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  • 1948, Bellboys from the Queen Mary  being inspected by the chief steward prior to leaving Southampton for New York (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

John Dempsey was born in 1920 and first went to sea in 1934 on the Mauretania (1907) as a Bell Boy at the age of fourteen. While working on the Berengaria (formerly the SS Imperator but after being brought by Cunard, sailed under the name Berengaria), he volunteered to assist the masseur, Arthur Mason in the Turkish Bath. When he moved to the Queen Mary (1936), Arthur Mason requested that John rejoin him, which he did until the until the outbreak of war. John joined the Queen Elizabeth (1938) for its post-war maiden voyage and worked in the Turkish Bath as a masseur until 1960: ‘The majority of first class passengers, mostly the Jewish community, loved their Turkish bath and massage. The hours of the gentlemen were 7am to 10am and from 2pm to 7.30pm. These people were running around upstairs and in the smoking lounges and the observation bars and had to behave themselves to a certain extent. What they wanted was to take their clothes off and be normal. So they came to the Turkish bath, off with their clothes and, ‘Hey John, go and get me a pint of beer’. They used to tell stories and do drinks. They were letting their hair down, for about the one and half hours that they were there. These were film stars, all lovely people, great people. I had a Christmas party in the Turkish bath with Noel Coward. It was a Christmas trip and he said to us ‘Have you got any parties?’ Well all the ship had parties, a fellow called Tommy MacDonald and the ship’s dispenser. We were drinking and telling stories, and that was our party. Coward sent me a Christmas card another year.

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  • Swimming Pool on-board the 2nd class of the Queen Mary. March the 3rd, 1936 (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Swimming Pool der zweiten Klasse auf der ‘Queen Mary’, Southampton, England, Photographie, 3,3,1936]
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  • Passengers on the Queen Mary eating dinner in the luxurious cabin class restaurant during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, May 1936. The radiating light on the map by Macdonald Gill at the far end of the room constantly pinpoints the vessel’s location. (Photo by Hudson/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Terry Hargroves was born in 1928, after demob from the Air Force he worked on the Queen Mary. Terry started by washing dishes, working his way up over 14 years to a Bedroom Steward in first class: ‘I had a set of rooms, which usually depended on something called a section, which was a set of about 5, 6, or 10 rooms. You were responsible for keeping them clean, making of all the beds, and attending to the passengers that used them. You took the passengers on, took their luggage and sorted that out. You fetched and carried for them and you tried to look after them the best you could until they got off the other end. The passengers lived in the middle of the ship and crew lived at either end. Either end of the boat there was part of the boat tied up. On the back end of the boat there was an area where the ropes came in to tie the ship up and for the cargo. That big area was designated as the crews’ ‘Pig and Whistle’. They had a little bar, that was the crews’ pub. You found an empty beer barrel or you sat on the bollards or an empty beer crate. Every now and again Bob Hope or Tommy Cooper came down there. Quite a few people were persuaded to come down. The crew would decorate it with a few flags and couple of spotlights. I think Bob Hope said that he’d played in many theatres but he rarely played in a sewer.’

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  • 12th August 1939: Staff on the Queen Mary pass the time during a transatlantic crossing in one  the ‘Pig And Whistle’. Original Publication: Picture Post – 198 – Atlantic Crossing – pub. 1939 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images)
  • Bob Hope and Loretta Young were among a number of American film actors and actresses who arrived at Southampton on the Queen Mary for the Royal Command Film Performance in London on November, 1947. (Photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
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  • A steward unpacking a passenger’s luggage while a stewardess arranges a vase of flowers on the Queen Mary, 1948. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
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  • Cabin class passengers enjoy a tea in the middle of the Atlantic on the promenade deck of the Queen Mary c.1939. Original Publication: Picture Post – 198 – Atlantic Crossing – pub. 1939 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Getty Images)

Frank Makinson was born in 1925, he joined the Queen Mary (1936) in 1944 while serving as a troopship and stayed with her until 1967 for her last voyage to Long Beach. Frank continued to work in the pantry of both the Queen Elizabeth and QE2 until 1970: ‘We always supplied the in-between meals, sometimes we also had a night pantry which I was in for quite a while. When there was music and dancing going on, on the ships, we had to supply sandwiches and various things to these rooms where they had these sessions. I remember getting an order for cold meat from Victor Mature, and he stressed that he wanted a whole turkey sliced up. It was just about the time his Samson and Delilah [1950] picture was about, so I think he wanted to let everyone know that he was a big eater. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were on the Queen Elizabeth towards the end, that was when they had recently got back together, and she had a great big fancy ring. I didn’t see them, but I had dealings with regards to the stewardess, she used to want Stilton cheese for them. One of them liked a lot of the blue of the Stilton, and one liked a lot of the white. Just who was what, I don’t know.’

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  • Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton on the QE2; c.1960; New York. (Photo by Art Zelin/Getty Images)
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  • Cabin verandah grill on the Queen Mary – postcard from 1930s. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

John Minto was born in 1927, he joined Cunard in 1949 as a cabin steward aboard the Queen Mary (1936). He worked his way up to first-class waiter and ultimately became the Captain’s Tiger (waiter). John left the Queen Mary in 1955 and became Mayor of Southampton in 1978/9: People like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Winston Churchill used to go in the Verandah Grill, they used to go incognito and the cost of going in there for a meal was ten shillings which was fifty pence. In the Veranda Grill, everything was on tap. If you wanted oysters, you got oysters, if you wanted caviar, you got caviar. Each kitchen, each galley was divided into specific areas. You had the pastry, the soup and the grills. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor never came down to the main restaurant, they always went to the Verandah Grill. The thing that always struck me about them was the amount of luggage they had.’

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  • Cabin bedroom on Queen Mary – postcard is from 1930s (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)
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  • A bootblack cleans the passengers’ shoes on the Queen Elizabeth (1938), as she makes her way from Southampton to New York, May 1964. (Photo by Bert Hardy Advertising Archive/Getty Images)
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  • 20th October 1964, American actress Carroll Baker, born 1931, on board the Queen Mary on her way to London for the premiere of her film ‘The Carpetbaggers’ (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Country House, Decorative Arts, Exhibition, Film, History, Maritime History, Museum

British Titanic Society Convention – Southampton 2012

L-R: Michael Patterson, Claire and Peter Mitchell with their collection of RMS Olympic interior fittings.

On Saturday 14th April, I attended the public Open Day of the British Titanic Society’s 2012 Annual Convention, held at the De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel, Southampton. A fascinating event for anyone interested in RMS Titanic.  I enjoyed meeting fellow historians and memorabilia collectors, all of whom were eager to share their passion for British maritime history, particularly relating to the Edwardian era.  However, there were two collectors that particularly caught my eye and I am delighted to share their stories and collections with you here.

Peter and Claire Mitchell’s Collection of RMS Olympic Artefacts

Peter and Claire Mitchell, from Buckinghamshire, are passionate collectors of furniture, fixtures and fittings from RMS Olympic, Titanic’s sister ship. The artefacts normally adorn the Mitchells’ dining-room but are dismantled and reassembled at period events.  Peter became a member of the British Titanic Society in 1992 and brought his first RMS Olympic artefact in 1994.  What drives the Mitchells’ love of collecting items from this ship? Peter told me:  ‘It is a love of history and a wish to keep the memory of RMS Olympic alive. We feel it most important to share this part of maritime history with others. The items are becoming rarer to find and auction prices have now become very high.’  Is there an artefact that they would particularly like for their collection, I ask?: ‘Yes’, Peter exclaimed, ‘a White Star Line steam engine and a deck chair from RMS Olympic.’ Claire and Peter were joined at the Society’s Annual Convention by Michael Patterson. Michael is an Apprentice Engineer and enjoys undertaking historical restoration of maritime artefacts.

Although the Mitchells’ artifacts are precious and valuable, they encourage visitors to adopt a ‘hands-on’ approach to the objects. This refreshing attitude means that visitors can sit upon chairs that once graced RMS Olympic’s sumptuous À La Carte Restaurant or open the drawers of an Italian Renaissance style dressing table from the famous Cabin B82(C82).

A little note about the history of Cabin B82. I am grateful to the website, for clarification on this point. The Mitchells’ wardrobe and dressing table are from this Cabin. The Cabin was one of two Staterooms that had a famous, British Royal connection, which I will discuss a little later in this article. In 1911, Cabin B82 was known as C76. Following the Titanic disaster, Olympic underwent a refit (1912-13) and the Cabin became C82. It was in 1924 that it had its Royal guest, hence you will often still see it referred to now as Cabin C82. In 1933, during another refit, the whole of C Deck was re-lettered B Deck and consequently the Cabin’s final numbering became B82.

Cabin B82 was a First Class Stateroom known as The Renaissance Room due to the style of its interior architecture. In 1936, The Times reported that the entire contents of B82 had been sold at auction for £48 to Colonel Harry Hutton of the Marquis of Granby Hotel in Bamford, Derbyshire. The dressing table was used in one of the bedrooms at the Marquis of Granby Hotel for sixty-two years, from 1936-1998, when it was then purchased by Peter Mitchell. Peter lovingly restored the table, replacing missing drawer handles and repairing scratches. There were two Cabins of this style aboard Olympic.

Dressing table – from Cabin B82 (C82) in the Italian Renaissance Style.  Mahogany veneered with fine, silky, satinwood. There are eleven drawers in total. The finial handles and filigree rail are made of brass which has been silver-plated. The mirror is flanked by two pairs of pilasters, inlaid with guilloche decoration and Ionic capitals above the two drawers on either side. There is one frieze drawer. Each drawer has a roller ball fitting.  This ensured that when the seas were rough, the drawers did not fly open and expel their contents.

Dressing table RMS Olympic.

Wardrobe –  from Cabin B82(C82).  The wardrobe is mahogany veneered with a fine silky satinwood. The handles are brass then silver-plated. The inner doors would have been fitted with mirrors that had a 1″ beveling around them.  There was also once door retainers, which have long since been removed. Cabin B82(C82) together with Stateroom B80(C80), The Empire Room, were purportedly occupied by the Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor) on a homebound voyage in 1924. I found this short, silent, black and white British Pathé film of the Prince on board the Olympic at the end of his ten week tour of America in October 1924 (not 1925 as stated on top of video clip).  It shows the Prince shaking hands with Captain Howarth on the main deck.  To view film CLICK HERE.

Inside of wardrobe showing Cabin number markings from the 1912-13 refit.

Wardrobe light switches – located on the side of the wardrobe. These operated the light over the washstand, originally positioned next to the wardrobe. The original washstand suite was in satinwood and stood 3 feet 6″ tall, with a marble top and plated fittings.  Its frameless mirror was 3 feet tall.  The top switch operated the fixed lighting in the cabin, the lower switch operated the electrical socket. The bottom gap, that you see here, would have been where the bedside light was plugged in.

Bedside cabinet – from a First Class Cabin.  The brown cloth was added during one of the ship’s several refits. The glass was added after the item had left the ship in 1935.

Light fitting – this style of fitting could be found in the main cabin and public areas.  It is brass with an ormolu finish and cut glass bowl.  The leaf pattern found on the base could also be found on many wooden mouldings throughout the First Class areas of the ship.

Chair – from the À La Carte Restaurant in First Class.  It has at some point been re-upholstered since its life aboard Olympic.  At the base of the chair is a gap were large bolts were fitted which secured the legs to the floor during a rough crossing.

The picture panel – from the Intermediate Decks of the Grand Staircase.  Originally, the wood would have been plain and not painted as you see it here.  The carved oak may originally have been gilded.  The oil painting is by an unknown artist and the dark green paint was applied during the 1933 re-fit, where this colour scheme was implemented throughout many of the public areas of the ship.

The ‘Angel’ paneling – located in the First Class Parlour Suite, Sitting Room 3 of the Shelter deck, aft end of the stair side.  Designed in Louis XIV style, the oak diamond in the centre marks the location where once was fitted an ornate double armed light fitting.

Wood mouldings used in the First Class areas of RMS Olympic.
A Cabin door from the First Class Parlour Suite Sitting-Room
Wood detail from the top of cabin door to the First Class Parlour Suite Sitting-Room.
  • Peter and Claire will be displaying some of their RMS Olympic collection at the Edwardian Weekend taking place at Crich Tramway Village, nr. Matlock, Derbyshire on the weekend of 14th and 15th July.  For further information on this event, please CLICK HERE.
  • For further information on The British Titanic Society, CLICK HERE.

    Claire and Peter Mitchell.

The White Star Line’s RMS Olympic

The Olympic, Titanic and Gigantic (later renamed HMHS Britannic following her launch) were a trio of Olympic-class ships commissioned by The White Star Line in 1907.  Only one of these ships enjoyed a relatively long sea career, the RMS Olympic. We all know the fate of Titanic and Britannic also had its life cut short after only a few years. The Britannic was the largest of the three ships, launched on the 26th February 1914. While serving as a hospital ship in World War One, Britannic struck a mine off the Greek Island of Kea, in the Kea Channel, with a loss of thirty lives.  However, the Olympic, was a luckier lady, her sea career lasted twenty-four years.  She was built at Harland & Wolff’s shipyard in Belfast and launched on 20th October 1910.  Her maiden voyage took place on 14th June 1911. In 1934 The White Star Line merged with Cunard Line and the ship was finally withdrawn from service in 1935.  The liner was subsequently sold, a short while after, to Sir John Jarvis for £100,000. The ship was partially demolished and the contents divided into lots, to be sold-off at a dispersal auction in Jarrow.

Olympic’s interior decorations were undertaken by Aldam Heaton & Co, the same firm that created interiors for the home of White Star Line’s J. Bruce Ismay. The firm’s founder, John Aldam Heaton (1828-97) was as a Victorian interior designer.  He was a member of the William Morris Circle and very knowledgeable on the history of furniture and decoration. In 1889, J. Bumpus published Heaton’s multi-volume, Furniture and Decoration in England During The Eighteenth Century. Heaton worked very closely with the respected architect Richard Norman Shaw. 

The Urrbrae House, Adelaide, Australia (now part of the University of Adelaide’s Campus) was one of Heaton’s only domestic commissions in Australia. This two-storey bluestone mansion was completed in 1891 as the home of Peter and Matilda Waite. The mansion contains a rare surviving example of Heaton’s later decorative designs, ceiling papers for the Main Hall. Heaton’s superb knowledge of furniture styles is a legacy that can be seen in work undertaken by his firm following his death. In particular, this can be seen in Aldam Heaton & Co’s commissions for the interiors of Olympic and Titanic.

The Olympic interiors feature a staggering range of decorative styles including: Louis Seize, Empire, Adams, Italian Renaissance, Louis Quinze, Louis Quatorze, Georgian, Regency, Queen Anne, Modern Dutch and Old Dutch.  All social classes of passengers and all tastes, surroundings and furniture were catered for aboard Olympic. A. Heaton & Co had offices and workshops at Harland & Wolff’s Belfast site in addition to premises in London and Liverpool. A. Heaton & Co were renamed Heaton Tabb & Company Ltd in the 1930’s. The Dutch firm Mutters & Co were brought in to decorate twelve of Olympic and Titanic‘s cabins.  Considerable pressure was placed upon contractors to complete their fit-outs in record time.  Some press photographs of Titanic‘s interiors, circulating at the time, actually show Olympic‘s interiors. The publicity demands to promote Titanic’s maiden voyage far enough in advance, meant that it made good PR sense to photograph Olympic and try to pass it off as Titanic. Titanic had not yet had its fit-out completed and interiors on both ships were supposed to be almost identical anyway, so one can see why the photographic faux-pas occurred.

The Olympic’s principal architect was Arthur Henry Durand F.R.I.B.A. (1875-1958). Durand studied architecture in Brussels between 1891 and 1893.  He came to London in 1897 and in 1903 he set-up his architectural practice. His Louis XV interiors were inspired by The Palace of Versailles. Durand designed most of Olympic’s woodwork details and there were approximately one hundred and eighty six wood-carvers working on his designs. The White Swan Hotel, Alnwick, Northumberland is a good place to see some of the splendid woodwork from Olympic.

The Dining-Saloon aboard Olympic measured 114 feet long by 92 feet wide and could accommodate five hundred and thirty two diners on C Deck. Naval Architect Leonard Peskett sailed on Olympic, from New York to Liverpool, in August 1911, producing a 6,000 word, detailed report on his experience. He complained that the Dining-Saloon was prone to overheating due to the myriad of electric ceiling lights. He also noted that the Jacobean style interior decoration of the Dining-Saloon had been inspired by a close study of Hatfield and Haddon Hall. Incidentally, Haddon Hall, Bakewell, Derbyshire was recently used as a location for Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre (2011) – CLICK HERE for an on location video of this splendid historic property. The Saloon was painted white, which was not authentic early seventeenth century style, but the colour did give it an air of spaciousness, a favourite trick of interior designers both then and now. The First-Class Smoking Room was Georgian style with mahogany carved panelling which was inlaid with mother-of-pearl and interspersed with large mirrors. There was a white fireplace above which hung Sir Norman Wilkinson’s (1878-1971) oil painting, The Approach of the New World. This painting can now be seen at Southampton’s SeaCity Museum.

The world’s press were enchanted by Olympic. The Penny Illustrated Paper described a selection of interiors as follows:

‘The reception room [Dining Saloon] is luxurious in the extreme but dignity and simplicity are its characteristics and vulgar display is entirely absent.  Some magnificent tapestry faces the staircase, specially woven on the looms at Aubusson, and will appeal to the aesthetic taste of our friends across the Herring Pond.  Capacious Chesterfield conches, luxuries armchairs, and cosy corners give the room a homely and comfortable air conducive to friendliness and ease. The reading and writing room are the finest which have hitherto contrived on any ship.  Perfect quiet is ensured by thick velvet carpets and noiseless doors.  A charming room, panelled with mahogany and carved in Georgian style, is reserved for smokers.  The restaurant is designed in the Louis XVI style, and panelled from floor to ceiling in French walnut. The room is spacious and well lighted, every appearance of crowding being carefully avoided.  The ship also contains a magnificent gymnasium, fitted with the latest appliances for physical culture, Turkish and electric baths, a large swimming bath, and a squash racket courtThe kitchens rival those of the best modern hotels.  They are in charge of an eminent chef who has a large staff under him.  The menus are varied and carefully chosen, and the cooking faultless.  In fact there is every excuse for dining not wisely but too well.  In fact, nothing that the human ingenuity can conceive is left undone to ensure the passengers’ comfort.’ (Saturday 24th June 1911)

I found a video which shows the superb amenities aboard Olympic. It is newsreel footage, approximately fourteen minutes in length, set to music evocative of the era when the film was made, the 1920’s. CLICK HERE and enjoy!

John Siggins, Cunard historian and Researcher.

John Siggins – Cunard Historian, Researcher and Collector

Derbyshire based John Siggins is a delightful gentleman and collector of Cunard memorabilia. He is an Engineer by trade. John began collecting twenty years ago.  His collection includes a wide range of items from Cunard, White Star Line and the New Zealand Shipping Company, particularly china and silverware.  John does not offer any of the items in his collection for sale.

At the Convention John displayed a fascinating array of Marconi wireless memorabilia, including the original, last commercial Marconigram sent from Titanic to passengers aboard Carpathia. The message was sent from two young ladies who were on Titanic to their aunt and uncle, Mr and Mrs Marshall, travelling on Carpathia. Fortunately, the two girls were reunited with their aunt and uncle, much to the couple’s shock and surprise, later on the next day (15th April 1912).

Last commercial Marconigram sent from Titanic on 14th April 1912. This is an original and is part of John's large collection of wireless memorabilia.

John said of Marconi: ‘Marconi wireless was a major contributor to the saving of lives on the night of the Titanic disaster.’

Marconi wireless set in John's collection.

John also has a private museum of Cunard memorabilia including a large collection of mahogany panelling that hung in the First Class areas of Olympic, in particular the Foyer. Wooden panelling was used in the First Class Gangways to cover the unsightly steel structure of the ship. On the Companionways aboard Olympic, rows of panelling would have had concealed Cabin doors.  There was no panelling in the Steerage areas of the ship.

  • John’s Museum is open to visitors but strictly by appointment only.  If you would like to make an appointment then please get in touch with myself, via the ‘Comments’ button at the very top of this article and I will forward your request on to John for follow-up.
  • For more information on Marconi then visit the Marconigraph website. CLICK HERE.
  • There is a good website about the wireless aspects of Titanic The RMS Titanic Radio Page. The site has a lot of fascinating images, including interior views of both Titanic and Olympic‘s Marconi Room. CLICK HERE for website.
  • An exhibition at Godalming Museum, Surrey, on Titanic’s Senior Wireless Operator, Jack Phillips (1887-1912) runs until 12th May 2012.  The exhibition is called: Jack Phillips and the Titanic’.  For further information, CLICK HERE.