Grand Staircase of the RMS Titanic
The Grand Staircase is the name sometimes given to the large ornate staircases in the first-class section of the White Star Line liner RMS Titanic, which sank following a collision with an iceberg in 1912.
Sited in the forward part of the ship, the Grand Staircase was the main communication between decks for First-Class passengers and the point of entry to numerous public rooms. It descended in seven levels between the Boat Deck and E-Deck. Just forward of the staircase a passenger could turn the corner and find the three First-Class elevators that communicated alongside the staircase between A and E-Decks.
The Boat Deck level of the stairwell functioned as an interior balcony overlooking the staircase and A-Deck below. There were two First-Class Entrances on either side of the Boat Deck that communicated with the outside. The Gymnasium entrance was right next to the Starboard Grand Staircase entrance. The Officer's Quarters and Marconi Room were also accessible via two corridors that branched forward from either side of the staircase. This level was lined with arched windows that provided ample light to the stairwell during the day.
Off of the A-Deck level a long Starboard companionway connected passengers to the Reading and Writing Room and the Lounge at the aft end. Two entry vestibules connected passengers to the Promenade Deck while two corridors forward of the stairwell accessed the A-Deck First-Class staterooms.
Just off the B-Deck level staircase were the two "Millionaire's Suites", as well as two enclosed First-Class entry foyers along each side. The bulk of B-Deck was occupied by First-Class cabins, the finest and largest offered.
On C-Deck were the Purser's and Enquiry Offices, just off the Staircase on the Starboard side. Passengers could store their valuables with the Purser and submit Marconi messages sent via pneumatic tube to the Marconi Room. They could also purchase small items like postcards, pay for tickets to the Turkish Baths and Squash Court, reserve deck chairs, check out board games, and request their seating in the dining saloon, among other services. Long companionways branched off of the Staircase forward and aft containing First-Class staterooms, much like B-Deck above.
The D-Deck staircase opened directly onto the Reception Room and adjoining Dining Saloon. Behind the staircase were two arched entry vestibules and the companionways which communicated with First-Class staterooms in the forward part of the ship.
On E-Deck the staircase narrowed and lost its' grand sweeping curve, though it was designed in the same oak and wrought iron style. There were no public rooms on this deck, only First-Class cabins. A modest single flight terminated on F-Deck, where the Turkish Baths and Swimming Pool could be reached.
Style and Decor
The forward Grand Staircase was the pièce de resistance of the Titanic's First-Class public rooms. The two-storey high A-Deck level featured a large wrought iron and opaque glass dome overhead that allowed natural light to enter the stairwell during the day. The dome was fringed with a delicately molded plaster entablature and rested on the deck housing surrounding the stairwell. It was covered by a protective box to protect the dome from the elements and which also contained the lighting to illuminate the dome from behind in the evening. In the center of the dome hung a large crystal and gilt chandelier. The small beaded crystal chandelier fixtures identified on the wreck only hung in the forward parts of the A and Boat Deck levels, the rest contained cut-glass shades.
Each staircase was built in solid English oak, with each banister containing elaborate wrought iron grilles with ormolu swags in the Louis XIV style. The surrounding spaces were appointed in the same highly-polished golden oak paneling carved in the Neoclassical William & Mary style. The panels of the newel posts were carved with high relief garlands and topped by pineapple finials. The floors were laid with glossy, ivory colored tiles interspersed with black medallions. Comfortable armchairs and sofas were provided just off the staircases and potted palms in raised holders dotted each level. On the Boat Deck level was an upright piano allowing the ship's orchestra to hold impromptu concerts in the stairwell.
On the central landing of the A-Deck staircase was a clock flanked by two carved allegorical figures symbolizing "Honour and Glory crowning Time". A bronze cherub sculpture, holding an illuminated torch, graced the central newel post at the base of this staircase. There were likely smaller replica cherubs which graced either end of the B and C-Deck levels. On the D-Deck level, as the staircase opened onto the Reception Room, the central post held a huge gilt candelabra with electric lighting.
The B, C, D and E-Deck central landings all contained landscape and still-life oil paintings instead of the Honour and Glory crowning Time clock. These were probably painted by a Belfast artist on commission to Harland and Wolff.
Aft Grand Staircase
There was a second Grand Staircase located further aft in the ship, between the third and fourth funnels. Although it was in the same style with a dome at the center, it was of much smaller proportions and only installed between A, B, and C Decks. A simple clock graced the main landing in contrast to the ornate Honour and Glory Crowning Time clock in the forward Staircase. One could access the Smoking Room and Lounge from the A-Deck landing, as well as the Lounge forward of the landing via a companionway.
A reception area for patrons of the À La Carte Restaurant and Café Parisien decorated in white-painted Georgian paneling occupied the whole of the B-Deck foyer off the aft staircase. There were comfortable carpeted seating areas with rattan-woven chairs, sofas, and tables. This was also an innovation compared to the Olympic, whose B-Deck aft foyer was much smaller because of additional cabins and storage rooms. There was no reception area on the Olympic until the 1913 refit, which expanded the restaurant and added a reception area in emulation of Titanic.
On Titanic two additional en-suite staterooms were installed off of the A-Deck aft staircase, decreasing the size of the surrounding foyer in comparison to Olympic.
Condition in the Wreck
When Robert Ballard discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, he found only a gaping well in the place that the Staircase had once occupied. The deck house that once formed the Boat Deck level of the stairway is collapsed and the huge void left by where the dome had once been sited offers a convenient entry for ROVs. A pile of wreckage and twisted metal framework lies at the bottom of D-Deck, obscuring access to the lower decks.
Because each staircase was constructed individually and entirely from wood, it is assumed that the staircase either broke apart and floated out of the stairwell during the sinking or disintegrated in the 73 years before the Titanic's rediscovery. Another option is that whatever remained of the staircase was destroyed by the force of the bow hitting the sea floor and the huge hydraulic blast which resulted. Survivors described a large wave that swept the Boat Deck as the Titanic took her final plunge - this, or the wave produced by the collapse of the forward funnel, is often blamed for smashing through the dome and destroying the Grand Staircase. The surrounding foyers, with their oak pillars, plaster ceilings with oak beams, and chandelier ceiling fixtures all survive in recognizable condition.
During filming of sinking scenes for the 1997 film Titanic, the staircase set was wrenched from its steel-reinforced foundation by the force of the flooding. Director James Cameron commented, "Our staircase broke free and floated to the surface. It's likely that this is exactly what happened during the actual sinking, which would explain why there isn't much of the staircase left in the wreck ... The matching physiques serve as a form of 'proof of concept' in terms of our accuracy ..."-[Page 141 "James Cameron's Titanic" by Ed W. Marsh and James Cameron]
The aft grand staircase was torn apart as the Titanic broke up, being at or just aft of the point of rupture. Much of the wood and other debris found floating after the sinking is thought to have come from the aft staircase.
Artifacts from the Titanic & Olympic's Staircases
There are no known photographs of the Titanic's staircase, but many survive of the Olympic's, which is presumed to have been similar. In 1990 a huge trove of woodwork from the Olympic was found in a barn in the North of England, much of it belonging to the Grand Staircase. These pieces retained the Avocado green color they had been painted in the 1932 refit, and included large amounts of wall paneling, carved newel posts, window frames, cornice-work, and doors. Portions of the oak banisters from the Aft Grand Staircase grace the staircase of the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, England. The chandeliers which once hung from the ceilings of the Staircase occasionally come up for auction - 16 were auctioned from the Haltwhistle Paint Factory in 2004. This auction also included the Olympic's four landscape oil paintings from the B,C,D and E-Deck landings, along with the communicating doors from the two Boat-Deck entry vestibules.
The carved clock of the Olympic, believed to be identical to the one on Titanic, is displayed at the SeaCity Museum in Southampton. This clock was used as the model for the one in James Cameron's film.
Wreckage from the Titanic's aft and forward Grand Staircases, recovered in the weeks after the sinking, can be seen at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax. This includes an elaborately carved section of newel post from the aft staircase and pieces of oak handrail. Two bronze cherubs and the base of the forward A-Deck cherub have been recovered from the debris floor over the years. Fragments of the wrought-iron dome from the Aft Grand Staircase have also been identified in the debris field.
In Popular Culture
Of the many films which have been made about the sinking of Titanic, almost all have depicted the Grand Staircase in one form or another. The staircase has come to symbolize the overall opulence and grandeur of the Titanic.
In the 1943 film, the Grand Staircase landing is shown as a metaphor for the avarice of the British and American upper classes.
In the 1979 docudrama S.O.S. Titanic actress Renee Harris, wife of producer Henry B. Harris, is shown stumbling on the steps and breaking her arm. This event took place in real life on the Titanic. Harris is seen later at dinner being congratulated by her fellow travelers for soldiering on with the broken arm.
The 1996 CBS miniseries Titanic features a recreation of the Grand Staircase, though it wrongly portrays the "Honour and Glory" clock being on the D-Deck landing and the staircase opening directly onto the Dining Saloon, which was not the case in real life.
The staircase was a major focal point in James Cameron's 1997 film as well. The forward Grand Staircase was accurately built, although the model that was used was 30% larger than the actual staircase and was reinforced with a steel frame. In the movie, Cal rushes down the stairs with a gun and tries to shoot Jack, instead damaging parts of the opulent staircase. This staircase also serves as the afterlife scene wherein Jack and Rose reunite at the end of the movie, happily applauded by all those who perished with the ship. It is also depicted as the location where Benjamin Guggenheim is presumably killed and also John Jacob Astor IV when the glass dome implodes from the pressure.The main body of the original grand staircase possessed twelve steps including the step landing below the clock. The film's replica had thirteen steps.
The staircases are also depicted in the video game Titanic: Adventure Out of Time. The fore grand staircase is depicted correctly for the most part, aside from some inaccuracies in the D and E deck landings, but in the aft grand staircase there is no clock present on the A-Deck landing.
There are also several Titanic museums that have detailed replicas of the grand staircase. The ones featured at the Titanic museums in Branson, Missouri and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee were built using the ship's original deck plans but each differs from the original by featuring brass hand rails below the original handrails (for guest safety). The one at Titanic Belfast was again forced to make subtle changes to accommodate current regulations.
- Titanic deckplans from the Encyclopedia Titanica. Accessed 22 April 2007.
- Lynch, Don & Marschall, Ken,Ghosts of the Abyss. 2001; 66-9.
- Olympic's Fittings at White Swan Hotel, Alnwick, England Accessed 15 February 2008.