by Sophia Moseley
2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic tragedy; the size of the disaster has been measured time and again by the number of deaths, over 1,500.
But what about the ship itself; just what was it that made her so spectacular?
When Titanic was first proposed in 1907 by Joseph Bruce Ismay (president of International Mercantile Marine: owner of White Star Line) and William J Pirrie (chairman of the Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff), the plan was to compete with the rival transatlantic shipping firm Cunard not in speed but by creating the ultimate in luxury travel never before seen on any ship.
Titanic was built from steel and metal rather than timber, making her heavier but also bigger, giving them the space to create magnificent splendour. She was the largest ocean going liner of her time, made from 70,000 tonnes of steel.
Built to accommodate over 3,000 passengers, there were around 1,316 travelling on the maiden voyage that left Southampton on 10 April 1912.
Ismay wanted to create an exclusive floating community that people would aspire to be a part. There was even the ship’s own newspaper, the Atlantic Daily Bulletin with news, horse racing results and society gossip!
One of the highpoints of the day for first class passengers was the dining experience.
The Café Parisien was a “..... charming sun lit veranda, tastefully decorated in French trellis-work.....” It imitated the typical Parisian sidewalk café and its landscape picture window with views across the ocean made it a popular venue.
The Dining Saloon could seat 500 people and was decorated in Jacobean style with the latest invention in floor covering, linoleum, the pattern resembling a Persian carpet; “.....This immense room has been decorated in a style peculiarly English...... The furniture of oak is designed to harmonise with its surroundings.”
The restaurants were placed mid-ship on deck D and had comfortable seating with small tables to ensure the ultimate dining experience.
The meals were also exceptional and the 14 April menu included oysters, salmon, roast duckling, sirloin of beef and peaches in Chartreuse jelly.
The first class Lounge was the main meeting area for passengers and was decorated in French Louis XV style; the men’s Smoking Room had mahogany Georgian style panelling exquisitely inlaid with mother of pearl.
The accommodation was similarly outstanding; “It is impossible to adequately describe the decorations in the passenger accommodation... they are on a scale of unprecedented magnificence....”
There were 39 private suites, each had 5 different rooms and a private bathroom; there were also state rooms decorated in Louis XVI and Louis XV along with Georgian and Queen Anne style.
The second class dining room was also on deck D and could seat 564 guests. It had mahogany furniture with crimson upholstery; “.... The panelling of this room is carried out in oak... and the floor has linoleum tiles of special design.”
A piano was played whilst the guests dined and their menu on the 14 April was a three course meal; consommé, choice of baked haddock, chicken curry, spring lamb or roast turkey followed by desert and coffee.
With social convention continuing even at sea, after their meals the men would retire to the Smoking Room and the ladies would gather in the Library.
Second class accommodation was on a par with first class on other ships and spread over seven decks. It was accessed via their own staircase or lifts that went between the decks.
Third class had two dining rooms on deck F with a total capacity for 473 diners. It was sparsely but pleasantly decorated with white walls and ceilings and more practical lighting.
Their last meal was rice soup, fresh bread, biscuits, roast beef with gravy, sweet corn and boiled potatoes followed by plum pudding with a sweet sauce and fresh fruit.
The cabins had some comforts including running water, however there were only two bath tubs provided; one for men and the other for women – there were over 700 third class passengers!
There were many maritime ‘firsts’ such as the Turkish Bath and cooling rooms as well as electric beds that heated your body using electric lamps. The gymnasium was equipped with the latest in keep-fit technology including an electric camel, cycling and rowing machines. There was also a heated swimming pool and squash courts.
Probably the most striking piece of architecture was the first class Grand Staircase. It rose over 60 ft through six decks and was crowned by a glass dome. Made from solid oak in 17th century William and Mary style panelling there was a tall ‘cherub’ light that stood at the foot of the stairs and on the first landing was an ornately carved wooden clock that is still visible to this day.
There is no doubt Titanic was the most extraordinary ship of her day and had the tragedy not occurred, I doubt her reputation would be quite so great. But for all her majesty and latest technology, it was human error that eventually led to her destruction.