The final treasures from the RMS "Olympic", from the former Haltwhistle paint factory, Northumberland.
A brief history.
Located in the small market town & civil parish of Haltwhistle in Northumberland, a factory originally producing varnish for the building industry was established on the site in the 1860’s. That factory would eventually evolve into the Crown Paint Works, finally closing in 2002, when the site was sold off to be redeveloped.
By the 1930’s, The site was known as the ‘Hadrian Paint works’ , taking its name from the nearby ancient roman monument, Hadrian’s Wall, its owner, Douglas Smith, forming the company “Smith & Walton Ltd”. Under Smith’s stewardship, the company saw massive expansion. In the mid 1930’s, as part of that expansion, it was decided to build a new administrative complex to house a boardroom, cafeteria, company offices and reception area. Mr Douglas Smith and his wife, Hilda, became aware that the famous ocean liner, the RMS “Olympic”, having been purchased by the shipbreaker Thomas W. Ward Ltd, was to be broken up and scrapped, her fine fixtures and fittings to be sold at auction by Knight, Frank & Rutley, at Jarrow, a mere 40 miles away form the factory site.
The couple ended up purchasing a vast amount of material at the auction in 1935 to furnish the new complex at Haltwhilstle and furnish their own home nearby. Mr Smith attended the sale and purchased everything from the finest ormolu & crystal light fixtures from the First Class accommodations, carvings from the famous grand staircase complex, through to the most mundane of articles, such as rubberoid flooring and water closets, Mr Smith would have been one of the biggest single purchasers at the sale.
The articles purchased were incorporated within a purpose built building at the front of the site, the building didn’t simply contain those articles from the liner, it was physically built from them. The flooring throughout the building was repurposed pitch pine from the ships very own decks, the roof structure also being constructed entirely from the ships decking. The iconic arch Georgian style teak windows installed throughout the factory. The interior totally furnished from paneling from all three classes from the liner.
The factory at Haltwhistle, with the exception of the White Swan in Alnwick, was the finest survivor of Olympic interiors to survive into recent times. Unfortunately with the factory closing down in the early 2000’s, and finally being sold off to be redeveloped, the site saw a steady decline, where little by little this rich treasure trove of Olympic fixtures were lost.
Thankfully in September 2004, auctioneers, Ocean Liner Auctions, were tasked with selling of the vast majority of fixtures and fittings that remained at the site. Comprising of almost 700 lots, this Olympic sale saw some stellar items from the mighty ship return to auction. The highlights of the sale undoubtedly being the ormolu & crystal light fixtures from the ships 1st Class lift foyers and entrances, carvings from the 1st Class staircase and complete paneling from the ships gymnasium.
Although the 2004 auction saved the vast majority of fixtures from the ship, dispersing it to collectors throughout the world, given that the very fabric of the building was built from the liner, a huge amount of material remained. Large amounts of paneling that remained unsold in the initial auction could still be found, the ceiling and coving, originally from the ships 1st Class Smoking room, was still in situ in the factory’s canteen, and the buildings floors throughout still built form her pitch pine decking.
In 2020, with the vast site being redeveloped from its former use, the building housing the remaining Olympic’s fixtures was slated for demolition. Thankfully the demolition firm tasked with clearing the site had some inclination of the value of those remaining relics. The Pursers Locker were contacted and offered the exclusive remnants, over the next year we worked with that firm to save as much remaining material as possible. Highlights salvaged included five of the original teak arched windows, several of which originated from the 1st Class staircase complex, quantities of paneling from the 1st Class corridors, architrave from those corridors, paneling from a complete cabin, vast amounts of pitch pine decking and other fascinating articles.
The Pursers Locker are proud to be able to offer those last remaining relics.
As of early 2022, the site of the original building was cleared, and the final traces of the mighty RMS “Olympic” disappeared from the Northumberland town of Haltwhistle.
The exterior end wall of the factory building C- February 2021, clearly showing two of the remaining windows installed at the site. The outlines beyond are the bricked up voids of two windows that were sold in the 2004 Ocean Liner Auction. Behind those windows were company offices that featured a large quantity of paneling, originally from the ships gymnasium, the paneling and windows were sold as a whole, as lot # 281. Although the two windows were included within that lot, they are unlikely to have originated from the gymnasium itself, those particular windows, whilst onboard, had obscured glass, with the majority having some form of opening mechanism, those sold did not. Its more likely those windows came from the Grand Staircase, just like the two remaining windows did, both those windows still sported the 'Adam' green late refit paint, detailed later.
A closer view of the two remaining windows, as seen in February, 2021.
Its a great shame that in the 80+ years the windows had remained onsite, it wasn't until the last few years and the near abandonment of the site, lack of constant security and a general disregard that the site fell victim to vandalism. The window on the left had all three top sections within the arch broken by stones being thrown through by local youths. The window panes were, for the most part, still original to the ship, being a heavy thick plate glass with a slight green hue. These two particular windows were, without question, from the Grand Staircase complex. Under many layers of magnolia paint, dating from the late 30's onwards, beneath, the green clearly visible. Although these window panes could not be repaired, I couldn't bare to discard them, so managed to do something creative with them, see later in the article.
One of the windows as shown from within the factory. The teak window itself had been built into the wall of the new building, to disguise the depth of the brick wall, cheap plywood had been used. However the internal frame within, was an original solid oak frame, with coving at its base. Like much of Olympic's recycled woodwork at Haltwhistle, the window surrounds within did not necessarily correspond to the window it was pared with within the factory site. For the majority of these windows (Pattern "E" teak framed window, according to Harland & Wolff archives) were the same size. So any internal window frame would theoretically fit any repurposed window within the factory site. When these frames were removed, unlike the seemingly unmarked window frames, the standard blue pencilled shipyard marking could clearly be seen on the edge, discussed below. In this case both window frames indicated they were originally located within "special staterooms" on Prom Deck.
The damaged window in situ. The plain walls around once supported grand oak panels from the ships 2nd Class staircase, whilst the reflection cast onto the further wall, once fell upon the final carved panel from the forward Grand Starcase.
During the demolition process some interesting discoveries were made. Whilst the general consensus was the windows had been used for external use, it seems a large number were also used internally. Thankfully after careful exposure, this beautiful window reemerged after being boarded up in the 80's when the kitchen and bathrooms of the canteen were refurbished. It's interesting to note that the green paint finish, shown here, was not original to the ship. As I understand it, much of the paneling once installed within the factory, was painted this particular green, and a duck egg blue, typical late 1930's art deco colours, common and fashionable at the time. Again upon further inspection, under the multiple layers of paint, and under this green, an 'Adam" green could be seen, rediscovering another of the lost Grand Staircase windows.
The iconic windows of the 'Olympic' class's gymnasiums, such a visible signature of the ships style, like a Georgian stately home had somehow escaped to sea.
Even to this day the frames of these windows seen at the Titanic wreck site, undoubtedly created by the same hands of the skilled craftsmen of Harland & Wolff that created the Hatwhistle Olympic windows, nobly stand guard at the openings of the quickly disappearing gymnasium behind, at the ships ill-fated sister, two and a half miles down, on the seabed of the North Atlantic.
One of the iconic windows photo bombs Captain Smith, with officers on the boat deck.
March 2021, the windows are finally removed.
The windows within my store, prior to restoration. Thankfully they came out in one piece, however, due to the way the building had been constructed, the windows had for decades, sat on a concrete base. The water never had anywhere to go, even teak, if not looked after will rot. Thankfully it was only the extreme base that was damaged, the bulk of the window surviving.
This photo shows the relationship of how the window sat within the wall of the building, with the internal frame sat back, much the same way it did on the ship and the bulkhead.
The windows within my store, prior to restoration, as well as a quantity of coving from the 1st Class Smoking Room ceiling.
The window pictured above also came from Haltwhistle, but had left the factory years previously. A former employee of the factory saved the window during renovations in the 1990's. What makes this particular window interesting, was not only was it in overall exceptional condition, but it still sported the majority of its obscured glass, and its upper section was able to open to allow air within the ship. Its very similar to the windows seen within the ships gymnasium, however none to my knowledge, had this particular upper opening panel. I think given that several of the salvaged internal window surrounds were marked 'special stateroom' of Promenade Deck, it's more than likely this originally hailed from one of those rooms or was again part of the Grand Stair case complex, originally opening out onto the deck beyond to let fresh air into the space, direct from the passing Atlantic Ocean.
The duck egg blue paint, as mentioned above, was a common and popular 1930's colour used throughout the factory site.
The top section opens up, the original brass hinges can clearly be seen. Originally there would have been some sort of bracket or arm to stop the window opening too far, as well as some form of catch, unfortunately both were missing.
Whilst restoring this particular window, under the 1930's duck egg blue, it also sported the 'Adam' green paint, so it looks quite probable, that although a stateroom window it once sat within the Grand Staircase complex itself.
The special stateroom window after a fantastic restoration by a gifted master craftsman. The woodwork was only restored to the areas that originally would have been visible once installed, the rest of the woodwork left in a raw state to show its construction and history.
One of the windows midway through a total restoration. The huge amount of dedication and work that went into each window was mind boggling, my restorer worked wonders, a great deal of time & money went into them, however I wanted them to last another hundred years, so it was well worth it.
A great cross section, graphically displaying, like the rings of a tree, the ages of Olympic. From the beautiful rich teak that complemented the golden oak of the Grand Staircase complex, to the 1930's 'Adam' green, onto several layers of magnolia and white paint, from the days of Haltwhistle.
The paint would come off in great pieces prior to restoration, the beautiful teak, an oily wood, retained its colour and original finish, in some ways the layered paint very much protecting the wood.
Vast sections of paint would flake off prior to restoration.
A classic feature of Olympic panelling, the beautiful way in which her shipyard constructors and craftspeople marked, the ships proud name, 'SS Olympic'.
One of the Grand Staircase complex windows after restoration. This showing the internal surface.
Close up detail, off the internal face of one of the Grand Staircase windows.
The same window, showing the other side, which would have been the external face, onto the open deck of the sheltered promenade. The beaded edge would have abutted up against the ships steel bulkhead.
Four of five windows salvaged and restored from the Haltwhistle paint factory, one already having been sold, the final un restored example also sold.
Lined up again much as they would have been when onboard.
Although I had each window fully restored, I did not want to make them look brand new. It would have been possible to dip the windows in paint stripper and loose all this residual paint, but I wanted to retain some to document their history.
The three available windows, each with an original internal window frame. As mentioned above, each of these frames originated from the special staterooms on Promenade Deck, along with the window with the obscured glass. However two windows came from the Grand Staircase complex, but they will be sold together, so hopefully they can be incorporated into someones collection.
A window, and its repurposed internal window frame, an Olympic marriage of sorts.
The special staterooms window, showing a detail of the opening section.
The frame reads:- "Port Aft. SS Olympic"
:- "Promenade DK"
:- "Special State Rooms"
One of the damaged panes from the Grand Staircase windows, after being removed from window frames, interestingly, even theses still showed traces of the "Adam" green paint from that 1930's refit
The glass was of a great thickness, hardly surprising given that it had to put up with the rigours of the North Atlantic.
So this was the end result, to create a relic and save a tiny element of the ships Grand Staircase complex. The surrounding wood having been salvaged from 1st Class stateroom corridor mahogany.
An interesting survivor from the Haltwhistle factory was this heavy and beautifully manufactured Yale door closer. Original to the ship in 1911 and seen in numerous archival images of the staircase complex and its related areas. Originally painted in a rich and bright gold over solid bronze, this again clearly show, along with layers of dirt and grease, layers of "Adam" green on the reverse. This particular example was liberated from the site in the late 1990's, but they could be found throughout the building. I chose to leave it as found, graphically displaying its proud history, still full of oil and still in fine working order, not bad for something in use for well over 100 years!
The "Adam" paint, clearly still visible.
The proud 'Yale' makers plate, c-1911.
The company name cast into the bronze housing.
A corner of the factory canteen, showing a mix of modern panelling installed in the 1990's (light brown, lower section), contrasting with original "Venesta" panels, pilasters and coving from the 1st Class corridors walls, the larger coving above once formed part of the ceilings of those corridors.
The interior of the factory canteen, showing the ceining and coving above, originally from the ships 1st Class Smoking Room.
The coving shown in situ within its original settings. It was reused in roughly the same shapes as shown. The 'Y' & 'D' shapes recreated. Also reused were the iconic central stars, a loose reference to the star of the White Star Line, the stars being the centrepieces to radiate light from the famous ormolu & crystal electroliers.
Prior to demolition, the paneling was, piece by piece, removed and placed on the canteen floor.
The 'Y' & 'D' shapes reused within the canteen ceiling.
The coving pattern on the ceiling was recreated from that of the Smoking Room, the unusual shapes are not as random as they may first appear, this photo for example shows how the design once originally fitted around on the Smoking Rooms uptakes from the machinery and engine room uptakes etc from deep below within the vessel. I have a number of 'Y' & 'D' shapes that I will be selling off in pairs, so hopefully they can be reused as intended, decorating someones ceiling once more. Some smaller sections will be sold, mounted on sections of the original ply ceiling.
The ceiling itself, after being removed during demolition, it too was original, painted the classic grey paint to the reverse, which was a standard feature found on much of the ships paneling, it was supposed to hinder the wood from cracking or creaking.
One of the 1st Class corridor wall/ceiling panels, stripped and restored. Originally these would have been bookended by acanthus swags, in either gesso, aluminium or bronze. Many of these sections, those with metal swags, were designed to be removable, to allow access to the ships electrical & plumbing systems behind. The swags at these junction points had to be in metal for durability and the continued vibration of the ships movement. The majority of the swags over the years had been 'liberated' or sold at the subsequent 2004 auction. Should any of you have two of them, then they would look magnificent remounted on this. Originally these when fitted on the ship were painted a bright white, to bounce light around from the electric fixtures, in what would otherwise be a dark internal space. When my restorer stripped it, he couldn't bare to paint over it, such was the beauty of the wood, so this is the only example I have chosen to strip back as shown, the reverse still retains the classic Harland & wolff grey paint and reenforcing bars to the reverse. More of these will follow in various sizes, refinished as they would have originally appeared on the liner in 1911.
The ceiling of the Smoking Room, as seen from the floor above, supported on a cross work of repurposed decking from the ship, supporting the canteens whole roof.
The sad sight of the former canteen, almost totally stripped of its Olympic interiors. Clearly shown are the apertures of four of the internal windows.
The bare concrete walls show how the 1930's building was built. The entirety of the buildings wooden supporting structure, was manufactured from wood recycled from Olympic's decks.
One of the most exciting discoveries for me was finding this near complete room/cabin from the ship. Although incredibly simple in nature, with sparse decoration, this was one of the finest treasures left on the site. This simple style of paneling was found throughout Olympic. Plain panels with a Harland & Wolff signature chamfer. From a First Class stateroom, what makes this particular example all the more extraordinary is the markings on the reverse.
Largely overlooked in the first 2004 sale, the true treasures of this paneling only revealed themselves when all the other paneling was removed. One the reverse of most panels of this particular room, was a feast of high Edwardian shipyard graffiti, unrivalled in any Olympic paneling I have yet seen. The following photos capture some of the whimsical drawings, cartoons, poems and doodles found.
A smart looking officer, standing proud in his uniform, a shipyard foreman?
An interesting and contemporary looking maiden with a swirl of mad hair, someones wife or girlfriend?
The 1911 version of a page three pin up?
Fantastically marked with the full location within the ship.
Similar paneling, as seen onboard the Olympic, c-1911. This type of paneling could be found within all three classes of the ship, including crew areas. It was also a popular choice used throughout many vessels built by Harland & Wolff's yards at this time.
During demolition, several of these door vents were found, they had been removed from stateroom doors and repurposed as for ventilation, set into the 1st class corridor paneling. One side, shown above, was original to the ship and had not been touched since it left the ship in 1935.
The front of the vent, coming from a paint factory, had a new coat of paint constantly. I found two of these vents, giving the two of them a very light restoration. They could be totally striped back, but have chosen to leave them as they are, as they currently show their history.
The Grand Staircase, showing a stateroom door beyond.
A close up off a similar panel in situ. These vents allowed air to circulate around the ship.
In the upstairs of the factory building, during demolition, the structure of the roof was exposed. The entire structure had been fashioned from repurposed pitch pine decking from the ship herself.
The floor in the upstairs of the factory, fully exposed for the first time in years after modern carpet tiles had been removed. The image here shows how it would have appeared on the ship 100 years prior.
When the decking was pulled up, on the underside, in some places the original rubberised tiles could still be seen and still in situ to their original locations onboard, I managed to save some examples.
Three tiles fragments I managed to save. Unlike those sold off in the 2004 sale, these were almost paper thin where they had been squashed and compressed under the flooring for the past 80+ years.
Slowly the wood was removed and stacked in piles within the factory.
In this image, you can clearly see the open plugs, that would have contained the steel pins that once connected the wood to the deck below, interestingly some of those pins were still within the holes.
In much the same way as it was laid, over 100 years before, shown above during the ships fitting out in Belfast, the pitch pine decking once agin sat in piles before its next use, and hopefully seeing another 100 years.
The bulk of the ships decking within my storage container. Although I will be selling some offcuts, my intention is to try and keep as much of the original material together. I plan in offering the decking out per square foot basis, for possible reuse in a new building development or other reuse as a whole.
Some smaller examples of the decking will be sold in small quantities, as shown.
A great deal of 1st Class 'Venesta' corridor paneling was saved, this will be offered in restored and un restored examples, however it would be great to find a use to retain a larger quantity together, to sell together as a room of paneling from the ship or a feature wall.
The 1st Class 'Venesta' after removal within the canteen of the factory.
A smaller example of the 1st Class corridor paneling, after being restoered, the strip to the left is the original paint surface from the ship, c-1911, I chose to leave that strip as an example.
This particular panel had particularly nice shipyard lettering to the reverse.
A restored "Venesta" 1st Class stateroom corridor panel, again with a preserved area of original paint, c-1911.
This particular large panel, had fantastic shipyard chalk wording on the reverse, due to its fragile nature, I had the original preserved under a sheet of clear plexiglass.
The wording reads:-
"Special State Rms, Forw No 1 Room Prom, SS Olympic"
Even more fascinating, is the clear cartoon of a bearded man, possibly King Neptune?
The restored Olympic articles within my store.
Three of the restored windows and yours truly, pictured for scale.
So in the event of purchasing all this material, I figured I would produce some form of certificate of authenticity or certificate of the items history, but I hate the idea of just some random piece of paper. I figured instead of a certificate, why not something more tactile and collectible in itself, so I produced these postcards. Each one will have a hand written title indicating the item it accompanies and be hand signed and dated by myself.
So that is my Haltwhistle Olympic blog, there are quite a few more items that will be offered, so please check my social media channels and website.
The Pursers Locker.
Copyright Jonathan Quayle/The Pursers Locker.
All images are my own or from my own collection.