The First Class Smoking Room

The Smoking Room, located off the Aft Grand Staircase on 'A' Deck, for first class passengers has been depicted in books and films about the Titanic as being the meeting place for the rich and powerful to socialise and relax. Indeed, it was designed to be a place for the wealthy gentlemen to congregate after dinner and to read and play cards. To get an idea of the atmosphere in Olympic's Smoking Room in her early years, I would thoroughly recommend George Behe's excellent article 'Fate Deals a Hand' in the Fall 1982 edition of the Titanic Commutator. It was the latest opening public room on Olympic or Titanic, with lights out at midnight, half an hour later than the First Class Lounge, the Second Class Smoking Room and a whole ninety minutes after third class passengers were required to turn-in to their cabins.

Therefore, on 14 April 1912 the equivalent room on Titanic was still open and being used at the time she struck the iceberg at 11.40pm and remained in use with a card game involving Major Archie Butt continuing while the lifeboats were being loaded on the deck above. The Smoking Room was also the place where Harland & Wolff director and widely acknowledged hero of the Titanic story Thomas Andrews was last seen at about 2.10am, only a few minutes before the sinking.

As has often been referred to by a number of sources, the Smoking Room was designed to emulate the feel of a Pall Mall gentleman's club and appropriately, was the only room on the ship to be heated by real open coal fire.

The elegant setting of Olympic's Smoking Room was described by the Shipbuilder as:

"...without doubt the finest apartment of its kind on the ocean. ...The style is a free adaptation of early Georgian of about 1720 A.D., and is based up on the decorations pertaining in various old English houses of that period. The walls are panelled with the finest mahogany, but the characteristic carving of the Georgian style has largely been replaced by inlaid work in mother-of-pearl... Light enters the room, tempered and softened, through large painted windows of remarkable size and beauty, upon which are depicted landscapes, ancient ships, and other subjects"

This stunningly beautiful room would have made an ideal candidate for full preservation following the decision to scrap the Olympic in 1935.

The auction catalogue described the fixtures thus:

"THE FINELY CARVED MAHOGANY PANELLING to room, with supporting pillars, and floral and scroll ornamentation and egg and tongue mouldings, inlaid mother-o’-pearl in scroll and floral designs as fixed throughout, having numerous leaded glass panels and windows, with scenic and figure panels, forming four bay windows, with leaded panels over, two side-screens with plate-glass panels, a three-sided screen, enclosing cloak room, chimney breast, with oil painting in panel over fireplace—”New York Harbour,” by NORMAN WILKINSON, 31 in. by 68 in., the whole fitted two doors with plate-glass panels to aft companionway, two panelled doors to lavatories, door-frame to starboard verandah café, folding revolving door to port verandah café with brass and glazed panels on café side, the doors having plate-glass upper panels including the ormolu and brass door fittings complete, the floor springs to doors, the ormolu bell-presses and the pierced brass pipe coverings where fitted at floor level, also the moulded and painted panelled ceilings to bays, and the main ceiling in three sections, with raised mouldings, the reeded mahogany carvings to uprights and the mahogany carvings on ceiling, size of room: 64 ft. by 62 ft. 6 overall by 11 ft. 6 high."

Sadly, however, the room did not have a single buyer and went to at least three different locations. This  page details what artefacts are known to remain of the ‘Reform Club on the high seas’.

The Panelling

A section of the Smoking Room's inlaid mother o' pearl panelling and a window is at an undisclosed location in England.
The owners of the property are elderly people and have requested the location of their house be kept private. If you are interested in making an offer for the purchase of this panelling, please get in touch and I will refer you to the relevant people.

The Mirror

In June 2010, Anderson & Garland auctioned the mirror section of an alcove divider from the smoking room. This was an extremely rare find!
There were only two items like this in the smoking room and it can be seen in the archival photo on the intact Olympic at the top of this page,
it can be seen where it was positioned on the starboard side of the smoking room.
There was an identical divider on the port side.

The photographs below are of the divider today, courtesy of Jonathan Quayle of the Purser’s Locker.
The carving of fruit and ribbon is similar to that found in the Grand Staircase.



‘Approach to the New World: New York Harbour’ by Norman Wilkinson

This oil painting by renowned maritime artist Sir Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971), made famous by its inclusion in the 1958 film adaption of A Night to Remember as Thomas Andrews looks at it ruefully above the fireplace. This was inaccurate as Wilkinson painted a different scene of Plymouth Harbour for Titanic. This painting was recreated for James Cameron's film in 1996 by Wilkinson's son Rodney using surviving sketches and notes created by his father.

The Ceiling

The ceiling of the Smoking Room was purchased separately from the panelling and was installed in the canteen of the paint factory’s canteen. The circles with star points were one of the most recognisable designs on the Olympic and hinted at the Edwardian high society that once passed below it.

Here are some photos of the ceiling in use at the paint factory in the 1990s. The first photo shows the sections of the ceiling that would have enclosed the alcove divider the mirror shown above is from.


The ornamental vents seen in the middle photo are identical to one retrieved from the Titanic's wreck site in 1987.

As the ceiling was located in a paint factory, it was sometimes used as a testing place for the company's products.
This photo from the early 1980s shows it painted in a blue colour scheme.

When the factory was stripped of its Olympic fittings in 2004, each of the star patterns was taken from the ceiling and sold individually.
Photo courtesy of Ray Cowell.

The Ceiling Light Fittings

The light fittings in the Smoking Room Ceiling were unique to the room and handsomely complemented the other furnishings. They were described in the dispersal auction as "ornamental brass scroll pattern nine, five and three-light electroliers, with cut-glass globes". According to the auction catalogue, there were eight with nine globes, eleven with five globes and twenty with three globes.

Two nine globe fittings went to a cinema in Hexham, Northumberland and were auctioned by Anderson and Garland in 1998. Two others along with two five globe fittings went to the White Swan Hotel and illuminate the First Class Lounge.



You may notice that the second nine globe fitting shown in the photos is missing one of its spars. I noticed this again on my most recent trip to the White Swan in May 2011. I checked my photo collection and I can confirm that the damage to this light took place sometime before 1999. I also noticed on the trip that the five globe fitting that hung in the north facing bay window had been removed. Another check of my photo collection showed it was removed between 2003 (photo on the left below) and 2008 (photo on the right), presumably during the hotel's refurbishment in 2004/5. I would be interested to know why it was removed and what became of it.


The Floor Tiles

The Floor Tiles used in Olympic's Smoking Room were of the same design that were used in Harland & Wolff's main office block in Belfast. Since that area of the shipyard closed for business in the 1980s, the tiles have been uplifted and sold one by one as being an example of Titanic's Smoking Room tiles with a photo of Olympic's Smoking Room to illustrate.  I photographed the remnants of those tiles during a visit to Belfast in 2002 in which renowned local historian Stephen Cameron gave us a fascinating tour of the old shipyard.


Thanks to Michael McCaughan of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum for giving permission in 2002 to use photos from the Harland & Wolff archive.

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