Though the ship herself has been homeported for more than a century in the dark, silent murk at the bottom of the Atlantic, there are still tangible links between the Titanic and the country and people that gave birth to her. Whether you’re talking in terms of the numerous memorials to the disaster, or the actual hardware used to build her in the first place, a surprising amount remains scattered around the fringes of the United Kingdom to this day. The trick is to know where to look, and also to know what you’re looking for.
Starting at the very beginning, in Belfast there is a huge amount to see. Titanic and her identical earlier twin sister, Olympic, took shape here over four years, from 1908 to 1912. You can still see the vast sloping concrete ramp that the two ships were built on, side by side. Today, their outlines are etched into the slip on the exact spot where each ship grew up and was launched from.
In fact, most of the former Harland and Wolff shipyard has mutated into a kind of theme park (Titanicland?) devoted to the story of the ship’s construction. Even more monolithic is the vast, new Titanic Belfast museum, a five story, interactive masterpiece that tells the story of the Titanic from the unique standpoint of her birthplace.
Here is where you’ll also find the petrified, preserved, pretty little Nomadic, the tender originally built for ferrying first class passengers out to the Olympic and Titanic at Cherbourg. Nomadic is worth the journey to Belfast on her own; an evocative little time capsule. Stand on the same spot where the Astors and the Strausses stood, as they stared at the floodlit bulk of the Titanic, waiting for them in the bay of Cherbourg, and feel the hairs on your neck stand on end. Very highly recommended.
If Belfast was the birthplace of Titanic, then Southampton was very much her home port. The famous Ocean Dock was originally known as the White Star Dock, and was especially built for Olympic and Titanic. The bollards that Titanic was tied to are still there to this day, and very easy to visit.
More than two thirds of the crew were Southampton men and women, and the disaster hit home here like a hydrogen bomb. On one street alone, thirty families lost a male relative on the Titanic. The massive Engineer’s Memorial, dedicated in East Park in 1914, is one of the most poignant and evocative Titanic memorials anywhere, and it’s right in the heart of the city.
Newly opened is the Southampton Sea City maritime museum, a two story complex given over to the city’s heyday as Europe’s main ocean liner port. Inevitably, the story of the Titanic occupies a full floor. It’s told in a very personal style from the point of view of the locals who crewed, survived or died in the disaster, and the reminiscences of the relatives that were left behind. Hugely evocative, it is very much Titanic central. You can’t get any closer or more intimate to their story than here.
Over in Southern Ireland, the town of Cobh was the last port of call for the westbound Titanic. She anchored here for a couple of hours just before noon on Thursday, Aprll 11th 1912, to embark just over a hundred Irish emigrants, bound for America. The wooden pier where they boarded the tenders that took them out to the Titanic is still there to this day. There’s also a town centre memorial to the victims, and also another to those lost on the Lusitania, the famous Cunarder torpedoed just outside the harbour during the Great War.
In 1935, the Olympic arrived on Tyneside for scrapping, and many of her original, elegant first class features found their way into the local White Swan Hotel, in Alnwick. These included a portion of the famous Grand Staircase. as well as the panelling from the smoking room, a ceiling, some mirrors, and a number of leaded glass windows. These have been installed into a so called ‘Olympic Suite’ and, taken as a whole, they offer a unique insight into just how ornate the identical Titanic was internally.
The hotel is around half an hour’s drive from Newcastle and, if you happen to be in the region, it is definitely well worth a visit.