Historical Background

The Edwardian period (1901-1914)

The Titanic disaster took place during a period that historians call 'The Edwardian period.' It is called this as it was named after King Edward VIII who reigned from 1901, (after the death of Queen Victoria) to 1910. King Edward's son George then took over the throne. Although there was a different king ruling in 1912, historians still call the years up to 1914 (when World War One broke out) the Edwardian era. This is because although there was a different King, Britain's way of life remained the same. These newspaper adverts show ladies and children's fashion in Britain in 1912. As you can you see, Edwardian clothes were very different to our clothes today.

What was the Edwardian period like?

The Edwardian period was characterised by the class structure of British society. Britain was generally divided into the very wealthy upper class, the comfortable middle class and the poorer working class. There was a much bigger gap in wealth between the upper and working classes than today. Whilst the poor struggled to find work, money, a home and food, the rich lived a life of luxury and richness. They had large beautiful homes, servants, fashionable clothing and as much food as they liked. Whilst the rich elite generally did not need to work, living off their land, the middle and working classes did. Most members of the middle class either owned their own businesses, i.e. shops or worked in the professions, i.e. teaching. The majority of the working class however were only able to find casual work as a labourer. They usually took up whatever work was available albeit in a factory in a town, or in the country as a farm labourer. Many also fled to docks like Southampton in the hopes of finding a job.

One of the things to come out of the Edwardian period was Britain's and Europe's love for ocean liners. Ocean liners had been in existence since at least the mid 19th century, when ships were gradually changing over from using sails to steam as a method of power. Ocean liners began to arrive in Southampton from the middle of the 19th Century because people could sail from Southampton to South America in the 1840s and to North America and Africa in the 1850s and then India. American Line was the first Liverpool-based company to switch to Southampton in 1893.) when many of the shipping companies who owned the liners such as White Star and Cunard began to transfer their services from Liverpool.

Ocean liners

What are ocean liners?

Ocean liners were steam ships that were first designed to carry mail and then passengers to overseas countries on regular scheduled services). By the post 19th century the shipping companies had begun to design the interiors of the liners to look more like expensive hotels rather than ships. Luxury was central to their design.

Many of them were designed so elaborately they resembled 'floating palaces'. The ships were designed so luxuriously to attract wealthy businessmen. The shipping company Cunard also wanted to build their ships to be fast to ensure that their passengers reached their destination in good time. In 1912 it only took 5 days to cross the Atlantic, from Southampton to New York. This seems like a very long time compared to the quick five hours it now takes us to reach New York by plane. However, in 1912 this crossing was considered to be very quick.

The ocean liners sailed all over the world: The United States of America, Europe and Africa were amongst the places they sailed to. As a result of this Southampton became known as 'The gateway to the world.' Ocean liners and ships were popular at the beginning of the century as the price of a one- way ticket had been dramatically reduced. It was also still the only way people could travel abroad as the aeroplane was still not advanced enough to carry passengers across long distances. In fact, the Wright brothers had only just made their first successful European and American flights in 1908.

Why were ocean liners important to Hampshire?

They were magnificent ships and brought much prestige to Hampshire.

They brought lots of jobs to the county as the ships needed lots of people to prepare the ship, keep her running and to look after her passengers.

They were important to local businesses as many were paid to provide the ships with furniture, food, drinks and newspapers.

Why did people travel abroad?

The wealthy travelled abroad for business and for holidays

Many poorer people travelled abroad in order to emigrate and find better lives. America for example was popular as it was seen as the 'land of opportunity'.


The class structure of the period was so important that it was mirrored in the structure of the ocean liners. The wealthier passengers were separated from the poorer for practically the whole journey. The very wealthy passengers paid the most for their tickets and stayed in first class accommodation. The slightly less wealthy middle class and upper working class paid slightly less for their ticket and stayed in second class accommodation. The poor Third class passengers paid the least amount for their ticket and stayed in Third class or what used to be called 'Steerage'.

If you look at the model of TITANIC (right) you will be able to see that she had nine decks. You can visit the model at Southampton Maritime Museum.

Decks A-D were mostly reserved for first class passengers. This was where their Cabins, Dining Saloon and other rooms were situated.

Decks D-G were reserved mostly for second class passengers. This was where their Cabins, Dining Saloon and other rooms were situated.

Deck G- was where the Third class passenger's rooms were situated. The engines of the ship were situated near by.

The Crew's cabins were arranged in a similar way with the Captain and officers' cabins located on the top decks and the less important Crew's cabins located towards the bottom of the ship.

Below this were the engines and boilers that drove the ship.


The building of TITANIC

TITANIC was built at the Harland and Wolff dockyard in Belfast Ireland. Work began on 31 March 1909 and was not finished until March 1912. She was to be built for Mr J. Bruce Ismay who owned the shipping company White Star Line.

How big was TITANIC?

Length = 269M (882FT)

Depth = 9 decks deep

Registered tonnage = 46,329 tons gross and 35,043 under deck (this was a measurement of her volume rather than her actual weight)

How much did TITANIC cost to build?


How was TITANIC powered?

Like all ships of this time TITANIC was powered by steam. The steam was made from the burning of coal. The coal was burned in a furnace like the one pictured below. Titanic had 29 large boilers, which had 159 furnaces. 852 tons of coal per day was needed to power the ship.

The Funnels

TITANIC had four striking funnels. The funnels towered 53metres (175 feet) above the keel plate, which dominated the skyline. The funnels were used to let the smoke out of the ship, which the boilers made from burning the coal. Most ships only had three funnels. TITANIC'S fourth funnel was a dummy. This meant that it was not used. It was added to make the ship look more powerful.

Technology for safety

The designers of TITANIC installed lots of new technology to increase the protection of the ship and passengers from the hazardous rough seas. These introductions soon lead the newspapers to call her 'unsinkable', despite designers saying that she was 'practically unsinkable.'

Double Hull

Like many steam ships of her time, TITANIC was fitted with a double hull, which was situated at the bottom of the ship. Although this was a safety feature it was not intended to be one. The cavity that was formed within the hull was primarily used to store fresh water for the boilers and the passengers' use. The cavity was also used to allow the "trim" of the ship to be adjusted to compensate for uneven loading.

Watertight compartments

The designers divided the ship into 16compartments, with 16 watertight bulkheads (walls). The designers believed that if a collision occurred and the ship began taking in water, the compartments that were affected could be closed off by a watertight door. It was believed that this would then prevent more water entering the rest of the ship. They believed that if only two compartments were flooded the ship would stay afloat.

Marconi radio and S.O.S

TITANIC was installed with a new Marconi radio. This was a piece of machinery that allowed messages from ships to be sent in Morse code across the seas to other ships. This was important as it meant that important messages such as iceberg warnings could be sent to warn other ships of danger. The Marconi radio could also be used to send out a message of distress if a ship required assistance. On 1st July 1908 S.O.S, the internationally agreed wireless distress call, came into force. The three letters were chosen because they were easy to send and receive in Morse code (…---…).

... 3 dots = S

--- 3 dashes = O

A dot stands for a short signal on the radio. A dash is a long signal.

These three letters do not stand for "save our souls" as many people think.

Sailing Day

Preparing to sail

Sailing day for ships was extremely busy and chaotic, particularly for ships sailing on their maiden voyages. Crew had to get used to the ship and find their way round as well as prepare the ships for the passengers. These are just some of the jobs that had to be done before sailing:

1) The ship had to be loaded with coal

2) Cabins and public rooms had to be prepared

3) Food, drink and other necessities had to be loaded onto the ship.

The crew also had to prepare themselves ready for the voyage.

1) They had to show their certificate of discharge like the one one the right. This had to be checked and stamped.

2) Each member of the crew had to have a health check by a doctor to make sure they were fit enough for the journey. Many sea-farers returning from voyages that were believed to be carrying disease were put into quarantine. Quarantine ships like the City of Adelaide pictured below were introduced for this reason.

3) Once on board the crew had to change into uniform and present themselves for inspection. This would have looked similar to the picture below. This shows the Captain of the Scott inspecting crew.

Passengers' arrival

Passengers arrived at Southampton Docks in many different ways.

The Boat Train

Many passengers of all classes arrived in Southampton on the Boat Train that took them from London Waterloo to Southampton Docks. The Boat Train that was used would have looked very similar to the troop train above.

The Boat Train passed by the South Western Hotel, from where it would enter the Docks. There were two Boat Trains one for Third and second class passengers, which arrived at the Docks at 9.30am and one for first class passengers, which arrived later at 11.30am.


Many first and some second class passengers may have taken a taxi to the Docks. The taxis during this period would have been a horse and carriage rather than a car. Some wealthier passengers however may have arrived in their own automobiles. (Cars). These people either lived locally or stayed in local hotels and guest-houses.


Other second or Third class passengers who lived locally or were staying in local guest- houses may have walked to the Dock.

South Western Hotel

Many first class passengers stayed in local hotels. Many wealthier passengers including Titanic's owner J. Bruce Ismay stayed in the South Western Hotel. Below is a picture of the present day building, which used to be the South Western Hotel. It still looks quite similar to how it would have looked in 1912.

Health Check

Once the passengers had arrived at the docks they had to have a health check before they were allowed to board. This was to make sure they were not carrying any harmful disease, e.g. scarlet fever. Those who were feared to be infectious were not allowed to board. This process was only enforced onto the Third class passengers. The first and second class passengers were always assumed to be in perfect health.

On Board

Each class of passenger had their own entrance to the ship. This was put in place to stop the different classes from mixing. Many wealthy first class passengers would have been appalled if they had to mix with the poor Third class passengers. Once on board they had to find their cabins and settle in.

Setting Sail

R.M.S TITANIC set sail from Dock Gate Four from Berth 34 at Noon on the 10th April 1912. Captain Edward John Smith was TITANIC's commander. He lived in a house on Winn Road in Southampton. As the ship left its moorings the passengers who were standing on the decks of Titanic frantically waved goodbye to their friends and family, till they could no longer see them. Many passengers then retired to their cabins or went to explore the ship.


These are photographs of first and second class cabins. Although by today's standards the second class cabin looks very plain and uncomfortable, in 1912 this was still regarded as luxurious, particularly as it had its own private wash-basin.

There are no photographs of the third class quarters on any ocean liner during this time. This is because the shipping companies only took photos of the first and second class cabins for their brochures and third class passengers would not have been able to afford to buy a camera.

However, we do know a little about what they would have looked like. Unlike the first and second class passengers not everyone would have stayed in a cabin. These were only reserved for families and women. These cabins would have only had rows of single or bunk beds and would not have had a private sink. Single men on the other hand stayed in two large dormitories. These contained rows of bunk beds. There was little privacy. There was also only two baths to share between 710 third class passengers.

What did passengers do to pass the time?

As the world did not have the same technology as we have today such as TVs and computer games, the passengers had to make their own entertainment. The first class passengers had many more things available to do as they could afford the extra activities the ship offered.

All passengers

The passengers could sit on the deck and relax. There was a different deck allocated to each class of passenger. On the right is a first class passenger enjoying a drink poured out by a Steward.

They could take a walk on the promenade.

On other ocean liners, passengers would have had the opportunity to take part in a boat drill. A boat drill is similar to the fire drill that many of you have had at school. The difference is that the passengers learn how to abandon ship in the case of an emergency. Unfortunately, a boat drill was not held on TITANIC as she was believed to be 'unsinkable'.

TITANIC was made up of passengers and Crew of different faiths, including Judaism and Christianity. As most of the people on board were Christian including the Captain himself a church service was held on Sunday. This was a unique experience for all passengers who attended the service. This was because it was the only time that people from all social classes mixed. The service was held in the first class quarters.

First and second class passengers

The male passengers could go to a smoking room like the ones pictured below to relax and have a smoke.

Female passengers in the meantime could go a drawing room to write a postcard or have a chat with another passenger.

All first and second class passengers could also borrow books from the ship's lending libraries.

In the evening they could attend a ball, which would have looked similar to the painting below of a dance on a ship called the SCOT.

First class passengers

The first class passengers were given the most things to help occupy them during their journey.

First class passengers could keep themselves fit and have fun in the gymnasium, which would have looked similar to the one on the right.

They could send messages to their friends using the Marconi radio

They could swim in the swimming pool which was a real treat as Titanic was one of the first ships to have a swimming pool. Men and women however swam at different times. This was because it was thought inappropriate for a man to see a woman in her swimming costume.

They could also go to the Turkish baths. These are similar to our spas today. The passengers could enter a steaming hot bath to relax and open the skin's pores, and then the passengers could go into a cold bath to cool down. This would have been very refreshing.

Third class passengers

The third class was very restricted in what they could do. They could not use the gymnasium or go to the balls because they were not wealthy enough. They were not given a separate smoking and drawing room either. They were given a general room, which men, women and children could use to relax in, play games and chat. The Third class passengers were not invited to the balls that were organised for the other passengers. This however did not stop them from having their own parties. Although they were not given a professional band to play for them, many passengers could play instruments such as the fiddle, violin and mouth organ. Together they were able to play the popular tunes of the time.

Meal Times

Meal times were the highlight of the day, as the food that was served on TITANIC was so good. Where the passengers ate and the kinds of food they ate however depended on the class they were in.

Where did the first class eat their meals?

TITANIC'S first class passengers would have eaten in a dining saloon similar to this one. They also had the option of eating in the a la carte restaurant. This was a managed by a top Italian Restaurateur Luigi Gatti. Passengers had to pay to eat at this restaurant. The a la carte restaurant served the finest international food and wine, which was just as good as the top London and New York restaurants.

The first class Dining Saloon also served very fine food. For dinner on 14th April the dining saloon served up a very extravagant 7 course meal. It included:

Various hors d'oevres/ oysters

Choice of two soups


Filet mignon

Sauté of chicken

Lyonnaise or stuffed marrow


Duckling or sirloin of beef and vegetables


Chocolate and vanilla éclairs

French ice cream

Waldorf pudding

Where did the second class eat their meals?

This is a photograph of the second class dining saloon on R.M.S OLYMPIC. The second class passengers on TITANIC would have eaten in a dining saloon very similar to this. They did not have the extra option of eating in the a la carte restaurant.

The second class menu was much smaller and simpler than the first class menu. On the same evening the second class passengers had the following:

Clear Soup,

Baked Haddock

Curried rice with Chicken



Coconut sandwich, (like a cake)

American ice cream

Where did the Third class passengers eat?

The third class passengers only had the choice of eating in the third class Dining Saloon. It would have looked a little similar to the second class Dining Saloon accept it would have been smaller and not quite as prettily decorated or as comfortable. There was only enough space to seat 473 people out of the 710 Third class passengers on board. As a result the passengers ate in two sittings. On the same evening, the third class passengers ate a much simpler dinner than the first and second class passengers. The third class passengers' main meal was held in the afternoon, rather than in the evening like the second and first class passengers was.

The Third class dinner menu consisted of:

Rice Soup

Cabin biscuits

Roast Beef + Brown Gravy

Sweet corn + boiled potatoes

Plum pudding


The Disaster

The passengers and crew were enjoying a calm journey until disaster struck late on the 14th April 1912. At 11.40pm R.M.S Titanic struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean, just off of the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The iceberg looked very similar to the one pictured below which was taken after the Titanic disaster.

The ship's lookout Frederick Fleet, whose job it was to look out for incoming danger like icebergs noticed too late. He had not been provided with binoculars so had to rely on his own eyesight. As soon as he realised he alerted the ship's officers who tried to steer the ship around the iceberg. The berg however was too big and it cut into the side of the ship.

Abandon Ship

The majority of the ships passengers did not know anything about the iceberg at first, as they did not feel the ship collide into it. The situation however was very serious as six of the watertight compartments had filled up with water and the ship was sinking. When the passengers were told this, they did not believe it at first as they believed she was unsinkable. The situation worsened however and the Captain ordered the passengers to abandon ship.


Captain Smith was in a serious predicament as there were not enough spaces in the lifeboats for everyone on board. TITANIC had 2,207 passengers on board but there was only enough space for 1158 people in the lifeboats. This was because the Board of Trade stated in a law that a vessel that was more than 10,000 tons only had to carry enough lifeboats for 962 people. This was such a small number because the number of lifeboats that was needed was calculated by the tonnage of the ship rather than the number of passengers. Although White Star provided more lifeboats, than they needed this still wasn't enough.

Women and children first!

Due to the inadequate number of lifeboats, Captain Smith called women and children first to the lifeboats. Despite this rule many men, particularly first class men still got into a lifeboat. Some crew- members were also put into the lifeboats to help steer them to safety. Captain Smith chose to go down with the ship. The lifeboats were lowered down into the water in such a hurry that they were not all filled up to their full capacity. As a result only 705 people were lucky enough to get into a lifeboat.

Titanic sank at 2.20am on the 15th April taking 1500 people with her. Pictured below is a pocket watch, which was recovered from the body of. If you look closely you can see that the watch stopped at 1.50am. The watch would have stopped because the watch was immersed by water from the sea. Titanic sank shortly after.

The lengthy time it took for Titanic to sink reflects just how well Titanic was designed and built. If it were badly designed it would have sunk at a much quicker pace.

Carpathia to the rescue

Throughout the time the ship was sinking Harold Bride, the ship's radio operator was frantically sending S.O.S messages to other ships, asking for help. CARPATHIA was one of many ships that received the message. The ships Captain, Arthur Rostron hurriedly got the ship ready and went to TITANIC'S rescue. Although they arrived too late to save the passengers who were on board the ship they were able to pick up the survivors who were in the lifeboats and took them safely to New York.

The survivors were then rushed to hospital. Captain Rostron of the CARPATHIA and the rest of his crew were later given medals for their bravery. One of these medals which is now displayed at Southampton Maritime Museum was presented to Stewardess Amy Quail.

The effect of the disaster

As you can see from the pie charts the sinking of TITANIC had a tremendous impact on Hampshire; particularly in Southampton as a great many of TITANIC'S crew lived in this area. However even in some of the other towns and villages where there were only one or two people involved the impact was just as great. Communities were much smaller and more tightly knit at the beginning of the 20th century so a disaster like this would have been catastrophic. Most people if not everyone in Hampshire would have known of someone who was involved.

TITANIC's local impact

Hundreds of relatives and friends of the crew fled to the White Star Line's offices on Canute Road, Southampton. Many of them stayed there all day and night waiting for news of their loved ones.

In this photo you can see Mrs Hurst receiving the news that her husband Mr Walter Hurst who was a fireman on board TITANIC had survived. Hundreds of other families however were not so lucky.

Below is a photograph of some children playing in a street in Northam, Southampton. Many children like these across the county were deeply affected by the tragedy as many lost their fathers. This was terrible as their fathers were the main wage earners and so left their family in deep poverty. Many other children also become orphaned.

The Mansion House Relief Fund

Many newspaper articles describe the relief fund opened by the Mayor of Southampton opened up a relief fund called 'The Mansion House Relief Fund' which gave money to those families who had lost a relative.

The advertisements and newspaper articles show how the whole county pulled together to raise money for the relief fund and to commemorate the disaster. Here are some examples.

The British Inquiry

The crew of TITANIC were kept as prisoners in Plymouth, Devon after their arrival from New York. They were to be key witnesses in the forth-coming inquiry that the British Government was carrying out. The inquiry was arranged to find out the causes of the disaster. They were particularly concerned with the number of third class passengers who died in the disaster. The Government wanted to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again.

The photographs below show various members of the crew and officials going to the inquiry that was held in London.

The findings of the British Inquiry - what went wrong?

Titanic was travelling too fast and so found it more difficult to avoid collision with the iceberg.

Captain Smith was blamed for allowing the ship to travel at such a high speed in icy waters.

The inadequate number of lifeboats was also blamed for the large numbers of deaths.

Remembering Titanic

Hampshire fell into a period of deep shock and mourning. The many newspaper articles and documents show that many memorial services were held throughout the county to mourn their losses.


To ensure that the tragedy would never be forgotten, towns and villages across the county raised money to build memorials like the ones below. They wanted to make sure that nobody would forget those who died in the tragedy.

Pictured here is a petition sent by the village of Branscombe to the Bishop of Salisbury requesting the building of a memorial to their seven parishioners who died in the disaster.

Commemorative items

Many commemorative post cards and other items were made in remembrance of Titanic after her disaster. This commemorative serviette is just one example.

The Daily Graphic also published a special 'in memoriam' newspaper to commemorate the loss of the TITANIC.

Although the TITANIC disaster brought many terrible consequences many positive changes were made to improve the safety of shipping.

The Board of Trade passed a new law that stated that all British ships had to carry enough lifeboats for everyone on board.

The International Ice Patrol was established in 1914. It was this patrol's responsibility to sail around the North Atlantic shipping lanes watching out for icebergs to warn ships if there were any. Many lives have been saved as a result of this.

Transatlantic liners travelled in a more Southerly direction through the Atlantic Ocean to avoid the icy areas

Hampshire and ocean liners today

Ocean liners like TITANIC have had a tremendous impact on the lives of Hampshire residents for nearly a century. Even though the disaster had a devastating impact upon the local region and the shipping industry, it did not greatly reduce the popularity of ocean liners. At this time it was the only option available to people who wanted to travel abroad.

Southampton has since become a thriving port and is still home to the large shipping companies such as Cunard, the company who owned Carpathia. Ocean liners are also still in existence. They are now used for passengers who wish to travel at leisure though, as the introduction of affordable flights has reduced people's reliance on ships.

Cunard have recently launched the luxurious liner, the QUEEN MARY II Though there is not a 'class' system, there are still different levels of accommodation. These are open to anyone though regardless of social class.

Although city has moved on the residents of Hampshire have never forgotten Titanic and all those people who were on board at the time. People still leave flowers at the memorials in Southampton, and memorial services are still held at the anniversary of the disaster.

Southampton City Council Oral History Unit have done much to capture the testimonies and memories of local people who had survived the disaster. Many of these oral histories have been published in the book 'Titanic Voices' by D. Hyslop, A. Forsyth and S. Jemima (1994).

Southampton City Museums have also produced an exhibition dedicated to TITANIC and what it meant to the people of Southampton. You can visit the exhibition at Southampton Maritime Museum, which is situated on the corner of Bugle Street and Town Quay, close by to Southampton Docks.

Last amendment date: 02/07/2015

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