The Titanic was constructed over a period of three years in Belfast by Harland & Wolf and made its ill-fated maiden voyage in April 1912. White Star Lines built the ship intending it to be the last word in size, safety, modern technology and luxury. The ship was indeed the largest passenger vessel to have been built but sadly did not live up to the theory that it was unsinkable as the ship famously went down after a collision with an iceberg with the tragic loss of 1502 passengers and crew. The vessel was certainly, however, the most refined and luxurious ship to have graced the oceans and probably the most enduring symbol of this opulence is the Grand Staircase.
There were actually two grand staircases constructed on the ship but it is the forward staircase immortalised in James Cameron’s film Titanic which has become the iconic symbol of the vessel. The staircase was for the use of the first class passengers and descended 5 decks from the first class entrance to the lower accommodation decks, lounges and dining room. It was constructed of polished oak and featured gilded balustrades and beautiful wrought iron railings. The 60ft high, 16ft wide staircase featured a mix of architectural influences with the oak panelling being of English William and Mary style and the ironwork reminiscent of the French Louis XIV period. There was a clock at the top of the staircase representing “Honour and glory crowning time” and the whole construction was lit by a huge glass dome overhead which allowed natural light to flood in. At the foot of the Grand Staircase there was a statue of a cherub which was later rescued from the wreck and now resides in a private collection.
Sadly the opulent Titanic resided on the ocean floor for 73 years before its discovery in 1985. The ship was found to have split in half with the stern having almost completely disintegrated. The forward portion of the vessel was surprisingly intact but the Giant Staircase had completely disappeared. No one will ever know its fate as it could have become detached from the structure and floated away to be destroyed or it could have simply been eaten away. All that remains is a large hole which is now used to access the lower decks by exploratory submarine vehicles.
Visiting the Staircase
If you wish to see the Grand Staircase today then the only option is to visit one of two impressive replicas which have been built. The first can be found in the “Titanic The Artefact” exhibition in the Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas. The exhibition tells the story of the ship using over 300 genuine Titanic artefacts recovered from the wreck and has the reconstructed staircase as its stunning centrepiece. It has received over 20 million visitors to date and will be open until 2018. You can also see the Grand Staircase at the Titanic Belfast building in the re-developed Titanic Quarter of the city. The building houses a museum and elegant conference facilities with the staircase being constructed in the Astor Suite, a 750 seat banqueting hall. The siting of the staircase has caused controversy as it is not part of the museum tour and can thus only be seen whilst attending an event in the conference centre.
Sadly the Grand Staircase is gone forever and lives on only in photographs from the time and the ghostly images of the wreck which show a gaping hole where the staircase once stood. Even the replicas cannot recreate the opulence of the original setting and the spirit of the Titanic.
This article was written by Stacey in cooperation with National Furniture UK, who bring the nation high quality wooden furniture at truly excellent prices.