The Grand Staircases

The Grand Staircases

The Olympic had two main Staircases for the use of first class passengers. The forward Grand Staircase is probably the most iconic image of the interior of Olympic and Titanic. They were in the William & Mary style and immediately told anyone boarding either ship in first class they were stepping aboard a floating palace.

Fortunately, a large portion of the Olympic's Grand Staircases survive today, thanks largely to the purchases made in 1935 that went to the paint factory in Haltwhistle and the find in the barn in Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1991 and auctioned by Anderson and Garland. The main staircase of the White Swan Hotel is still home to a section of the banisters.  I shall begin the tour of exhibits with the famous 'Honour and Glory Crowning Time' carving by Charles Wilson that graced the boat deck landing of the forward Grand Staircase.


The photo above appeared in the South Shields Gazette while the Olympic was at Jarrow awaiting her breaking up. Luckily, the carving survives now at the Southampton  Sea City Museum. An exact copy of it was made for James Cameron's Titanic movie. However, it is likely that the one Wilson made for Titanic would have been noticeably different in its appearance while conforming to the same basic design. On the right is its plainer counterpart from the aft Grand Staircase which also held a clock and was found among the Berwick purchases.
www.lastdinneronthetitanic.com

     

      

The panel below is from the uppermost landing of the Aft Grand Staircase with the ghostly outline of brass letters spelling "PROM DECK" showing the fine and ornate scroll, fruit and ribbon carving, similar that found in the King's Dining Room at Windsor Castle. This panel was discovered in Berwick-Upon-Tweed. A selection of the find at Berwick is seen on the right, showing the two large panels and a number of pillars and newell posts.


The marking on the left was on the back of a panel found at the factory, it identifies it as coming from a Promenade Deck landing. It is notable as it has the presumed name of the craftsman who produced the panel at Harland and Wolff: T Chandler. On the right is the marking on the back of a similar panel that was part of the Berwick find.



The Banisters

The banisters of the Grand Staircases were made of solid oak and had wrought iron scroll work influenced by the style of Louis XIV. A long banister that once lined the centre of the 'D' Deck flight aboard the Olympic now lines the main staircase of the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick. The post at the bottom of the banister would have originally held the spectacular 21 light electrolier you can see further down this page. The banister was identified as being  as it is the length of thirteen steps and not eleven as the flights on the decks above had. Paul Hurst and Stuart Lythgoe created this photo composite that proved this banister's origin.

The Staircase continues to the first floor with a shorter stretch of the banister.

A short section of staircase banisters leads up to the Olympic Room at the White Swan Hotel, containing the panelling from the first class Lounge (link to follow). The raised handrail was added later in Olympic's career and can be see in photographs of the forward Grand Staircase from the 1930s.

The Chandeliers

The ceiling lights that were used in the Grand Staircases became iconic when a largely intact one was filmed by Robert Ballard inside the Titanic's wreck in 1986, meaning that there are among the most sought after items by collectors. There were two types used aboard the Olympic, one with glass beads found in the landings and others with a glass bowl used in the elevator foyers. I've only seen two beaded chandeliers. The first was brought into the 2000 British Titanic Society convention and auctioned by Henry Aldridge & Son later that year. It was missing its base and was held up by chains.

        

The second beaded chandelier turned up in the auction of Charles Miller Ltd in 2009.
Charles told me it was submitted to the auction by a gentleman who had purchased it in Southampton. In the photo on the right are from the Mauretania, removed from the pub in Bristol that is home to a large section of her fittings. This chandelier sold for 3,120: demonstrating how sought after they are.


The Haltwhistle factory was home to sixteen of the cut glass bowl chandeliers from the elevator foyers. They were attached to the ceiling from the first class smoking room (link to follow) when fitted into the factory.
 
Below are some close-ups of the cut glass bowl chandeliers. Photos courtesy of Ray Cowell.


The 'B' deck landing of the Aft Grand Staircase served as the Reception Room for the a La Carte Restaurant and in First Class Stateroom corridors. The ceiling lights here were smaller in size and were unique to this area of the ship.

Three of these lights were installed (unceremoniously!) in the ladies' toilets of the factory.


The tour of the Grand Staircase lighting concludes with the stunning candelabra that capped the newell post in the first class reception room on 'D' deck. It was moved to Thomas Ward's Sheffield works after the auction and installed (fittingly!) at the bottom of a staircase. It was removed in the 1980s and its current whereabouts are unknown. Please get in touch if you know where this remarkable item is now.


The Landings

During the stripping out of the paint factory at Haltwhistle in 2004, some significant finds relating to the Grand Staircases were made. These doors are from one of the vertibules on the Boat Deck or Promenade Deck. The one on the left was used as the entrance to the managers' dining room at the factory. The similar pair of doors on the right were part of the find at Berwick-Upon-Tweed and were auctioned again on the internet in 2000.

This set of double doors would have lead off the Grand Staircase to First Class Staterooms. Opening them would have revealed a long corridor lined with cabin doors on either side.


These fragments of the carved surround for the door frames on the Grand Staircase were
found underneath the floorboards of the factory during the stripping out. They still show
traces of the Olympic's green internal paint scheme applied during the last refit in 1933. Photos courtesy of Ray Cowell.



This architrave surrounded the ceiling of each of the Grand Staircase landings.



The Paintings and Pilasters

The paintings and pillasters shown here were used to decoarate the Board Room and upstairs landing at the factory. The paintings are in oil and were located in the well of the stairs descending to the lower decks on the forward Grand Staircase. The position is shown here on the set of James Cameron's Titanic. They were likely painted by an artist in Belfast commissioned by Harland & Wolff. The pilasters at the sides of the paintings came from the lift lobbies which were behind the stairs in the forward Grand Staircase.




The stripping out of the factory revealed the 1933 green paint scheme on sections of
the pilasters that had been
covered for nearly seventy years.

The first painting depicts a ruined building on an Italian landscape and was on the
Promenade Deck landing, immediately below the 'Honour and Glory' carving. According to the
disperal auction catalogue there was another painting depicting an Italian landscape on
the Boat Deck landing.




The next painting was on the 'B' or Bridge Deck landing and portrays nymphs bathing. On the stairs
down to 'C' or Shelter Deck was a painting described as "half length male portrait" but where this
painting went is not known.





Down another flight to 'D' or Saloon Deck and this painting, "flower piece" was on the
half landing. It is the last painting you would have walked passed if you were descending the
Grand Staircase to the First Class Reception Room and Dining Saloon. Please email if you have a photo
of the writing on the back of this painting.


The last painting on the forward Grand Staircase was on the half landing between 'D' and 'E' or Upper Deck.
At this point, the staircase became a single narrow flight down to the bottom. Accordingly,
the painting is narrower than the others. It depicts peasants playing musical instruments
against a similar landscape to the first two paintings.




I would like to thank Alan and Andrew Aldridge and Charles Miller for facilitating the taking of the photographs of the bead chandeliers and to Andrew McCoull of Anderson and Garland for providing original photos of the items found in Berwick upon Tweed.



Email Stuart