By Mark Chirnside.
At the Titanic Research & Modelling Association, there are many studies into aspects of the Olympic class’s structure, design and layout, and how these changed over time. Ventilation is a common topic of interest, including the layout of cowls on the boat and other decks on Titanic compared to her elder sister Olympic. Researchers have learned about the number of changes that can take place on ships in a short space of time. This does not just apply to vents and their layout, but everything from cabins, fittings, dining saloons and lounges to navigating appliances. Inevitably a whole flurry of changes follow a maiden voyage, many of which are often not documented by Historians and therefore lost to time. While the Olympic class is our main focus, it is interesting to look at some of the other ships of the time and how they changed, such as the Aquitania. It will not be possible to look at the changes over her entire career, especially in this brief article, but even one month’s worth of modifications from 1914 make for reading.
Ventilation is a common area where modifications are needed. In all the large liners before the war, ventilation was inadequate in practically all of them. During a visit to Imperator’s New York pier in the summer of 1914, one observer commented that there were so many fans onboard, that ‘even German ships have problems with ventilation.’ Such a comment seems to reinforce the level of Anglo-German rivalry for the fierce Atlantic trade. On the first leg of Aquitania’s maiden round trip voyage, several complaints were noted from a few first class cabins, interchangeable second and third class areas. As a result it was proposed on July 8th 1914 that all midship rooms be fitted with portable fans in first class, with all inside second and first class rooms on C deck being fitted with flap shutters eighteen by nine inches, ‘to allow of the circulation of air.’ Although good extractor fans had been fitted in fore and aft corridors, many passengers always closed their cabin doors, and so the new flaps were intended to improve the ventilation here as well. In New York after completing the Westbound leg, alterations were made to the ventilation of the confectioner’s shop, by cutting openings in the bulkhead separating the shop from the second class pantry, and improving the airflow.
Catering is another area where changes need to be made. The crew galley was too small for the amount of baking that needed to be done, and plans were made to have it enlarged, without reducing the much needed capacity of the firemen’s dining room. Returning from New York with a good load of passengers (the ship had only been half full on the first leg of the voyage), trouble was experienced elsewhere. The main galleys suffered from a lack of ventilation and ‘terrific heat’ was experienced by the overstretched but loyal members of the ship’s catering staff; the ranges were taxed to their utmost capacity, and so it was proposed that they be relocated and the partition separating the preparation room from the main galley removed to aid ventilation. Slowly but surely as the voyage continued, preparations were made to improve the service and by the time the ship arrived most passengers were very pleased with the service that they had received. Professional carvers needed to employed, because in those days it was customary for bedroom stewards to have to deal with the meat, which interfered with their other duties and led to complaints from first class passengers. Stewards were forced to eat their food standing up due to a lack of room, and by rescheduling third class mealtimes it was recommended that they could eat their meals after the third class passengers in their main dining saloon.
Entrances to the pantries in the first class restaurant were suggested to need reconstruction; heavy doors hindered more than one hundred stewards trying to get in and out to serve food to hungry first class passengers, so it was possible to remove the doors. Screens separated the galley entrances from the main restaurant, but in second class no such screens had been fitted and so it was recommended that they were added, like they had been on the Mauretania when a similar problem had been experienced, back in 1907. Extra seating accommodation was also needed, and eventually the restaurant’s capacity was increased to 585 passengers at a single sitting. (Interestingly, on the Olympic the opposite problem had occurred: doors were closed on each side, reducing the galley entrances to make room for additional seating accommodation, after the maiden voyage. They were still like that in August 1911 and it would be interesting to see when, and if, they were later changed.)
Staterooms and suites needed changing. As always, passengers were fussy. First class travellers expected their perks. Hooks, racks and other minor inconveniences, for clothes and other storage, needed to be added. While at New York some of the first class suites had new wardrobes built for them. An interesting change was that the convex mattress springs were slated for removal, to make the mattresses flat, because some passengers had been complaining that it was hard to sleep. Generally passengers were pleased with their accommodation, especially in first class, but there were some complaints that combined dressing tables had been installed in the bedrooms.
Some discontented passengers were still complaining about minor problems, such as people sitting at ‘their’ dining tables, but one official noted that with regard to ‘discontented passengers’ (or ‘moaners’) there was always a ‘percentage of which always on board.’
Interesting to note are the changes overall to the first class public rooms. In the drawing room (similar to Olympic’s reading and writing room), a mail desk needed to be fitted, like those used on the Lusitania and Mauretania.
On the first class staircase, another handrail needed to be fitted because the stairs were quite wide; one other problem was the two first class passenger elevators, however, because the gates were very noisy and needed to be adjusted, as they annoyed passengers.
Both the small saloons had been well used, although there was a problem with the linoleum, as the joins had split apart and the floor needed to be re-laid. In the long gallery, a new feature which Cunard had added after noting the Olympic’s design, extra furniture was added and passengers were able to use it as another lounge, with good views. Additional ventilation was needed for the barber’s and typist’s shops, which adjoined the gallery.
Down in the first class lounge, several joins in the linoleum flooring had split, and so they needed to be re-laid. The ship’s swimming bath needed some alterations, including the addition of a screen opposite the entrance to shield the pool from the view of people outside. Fresh water needed to be provided to the showers, not to mention drinking water.
On each side of the ship abreast the first class lounge were garden lounges, one side being non-smoking and the other smoking. These proved popular, although the smoking side was full and the non-smoking side was almost empty, and so it was decided to open both up to smokers.
The attention to detail, especially in first class, is interesting because of the sheer number of things that needed changing after only one month in service; yet within a few more months, Aquitania would be at war.
Numerous small points also needed to be dealt with; steam heaters needed to be fitted in bathrooms; mats needed to be fitted on the bridge; the passenger lifts generally needed an overall; second class areas including promenades needed to have additional tables and chairs fitted; mahogany rails and balusters needed to be fitted to interchangeable second and third class stairways; the cowls to the Thermotank supplies needed removing, with covers being fitted; air exhausts in the first class restaurant needed to be fitted with baffles; while brass covering plates needed to be fitted over the expansion joints.
It is all to easy when researching liners’ anatomy and structure to forget the practical necessities of life aboard these large ships. Purposely or not, so many changes are lost to history, in the case of every liner; but it is good to explore them, and try to make sure that they are not.
Many thanks to the Liverpool University Library and its wonderful staff, who maintain an excellent archive.