In 1907 discussions between J Bruce Ismay, Managing Director of the White Star line, and Lord William Pirrie of Belfast shipbuilders Harland & Wolff, produced plans for three enormous new ships, the Olympic, Titanic and Gigantic, to be known collectively as the Olympic Class Liners. These plans were, in part, a response to Cunard, White Star’s great rival, launching the two great liners, Lusitania and Mauretania in that year.

Harland & Wolff was contracted to build the new ships as it had a long standing relationship with White Star. In charge of their design and development was Thomas Andrews, nephew of Lord Pirrie. Andrews would later die on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, refusing to leave the First Class Dining Room as the ship sank.

On 31 March 1909 work began in Belfast on the Titanic with the laying of the ships keel. Work on Olympic had started three months earlier. The progress and construction of these White Star ships was very fast. Over 15,000 shipyard workers were employed on the building of the two vessels. On 31 May 1911 Titanic’s completed hull was launched into the River Lagan in Belfast, watched by a large crowd.

No expense was spared on the interior fittings of the Titanic. Decorations and materials of the highest quality were used to create previously unprecedented, for a passenger liner, luxury for the wealthy first class passengers. In spite of all this expense, little thought was given to lifeboats and provision was made for only 1178 people, despite the fact that the liner when full to capacity could carry 3300 people. This was in accordance with Board of Trade rules of the time, but would have grave consequences and would lead to a dramatic change in regulations after the sinking.

On 2 April 1912 Titanic completed her sea trials in the Irish Sea and was quickly passed as seaworthy by the Board of Trade. She was a Liverpool registered ship, but never entered the port. She set sail for Southampton where she was docked in Berth 44.

When Titanic set sail from Southampton on 10 April 1912 bound for New York, she was said to be “practically unsinkable” and proof of the great technological advances of the Edwardian Age in Britain. She was the largest moving object ever built by man and along with her sister ship Olympic was the pride of the White Star Line. She caught the imagination of the public on both sides of the Atlantic and the start of her maiden voyage was a cause for patriotic jubilation.

Titanic pulled away from White Star Dock in Southampton at the start of her maiden voyage on 10 April 1912. Five days later in the early hours of 15 April she sank, with great loss of life, after striking an iceberg. The disaster made headlines across the world and had a devastating effect on the people of Southampton. About 724 crew members lived in the town, of whom only 175 were saved. Over 500 households lost at least one family member.


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The Titanic in Southampton Water, 1912


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Coloured postcard

see also:

Titanic Memorials

Further reading:

Titanic Voices, by Donald Hyslop (et al). (HS/pd)
Titanic: The Ship Magnificent, by Bruce Beveridge. (HS/pd)
A Night to Remember, by Walter Lord. (HS/pd)
Titanic and her Sister Ships, Olympic and Britannic, by Tom McCluskie (et al). (HS/pd)
Titanic Lives, by Richard Davenport-Hines. (HS/pd)

Other resources:

The Crew of the Titanic: all crew who signed on to the Titanic or served aboard her.
Working on the Titanic: an a-z of the jobs aboard, and the men and women who did them.
Titanic Victims and Survivors Remembered: Death Notices and In Memoriams for Titanic Victims and Survivors from Southampton local papers, 1912-2012.
Titanic's crew in Southampton: an a-z list of crew (and a few passengers) by Southampton address.

Titanic Maps of Southampton’s centre and suburbs showing locations of homes or lodgings of crew members:
Bitterne and Sholing
Bitterne Park
Lordshill and Redbridge


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