Tour of Factory with Olympic fittings


Myself and a friend will be touring the former Akzo Nobel factory the weekend before the BTS convention (5/6 April). The former site manager has got the new owner to show us round and explain his plans for the future (which will, thankfully, involve keeping all the fittings exactly where they are: nothing is to be sold off)

Send me an email at [email protected] for more details of the exact time and how to get to the factory(which is in Northern England)if you would like to join us. There's room for six more people in our tour group and it'll be first come first served. I put my photos of my first visit to the Factory in 1999 on the web at:

We will be staying the night before at the Lambton Hounds Inn in Pity Me to see the Olympic fittings that Gavin Murphy recently discovered. It is more reasonably priced than the White Swan Hotel!

May 8, 2001
OH MY GOD! I am in LOVE!

I'd better stop right now, as I will be broke with all these new ideas. Thank you or sharing them. They have solidified many ideas I had rattling around in my head.

Things have changed a great deal at the factory since my last visit.

Photograph taken 8 November 1999:

Photograph taken 6 April 2003:

The windows from the Olympic's gym remain but sadly Akzo Nobel, an employer of nearly 200 people in Haltwhistle, left on 28 June 2002.
I don't have time to go into detail but I will get round (eventually!) to putting my photos of objects from the Olympic on the WWW. Just as a taster, the one part of the factory that is still in use apart from the security booth at the front door, is the room that has the panelling from the gym. It is in use as an office and has been painted pink. Imagine having your office in the Olympic's gym!

I will be bringing the digital camera memory card I took about 150 photos on to the BTS Convention in Southampton at the weekend. I'll be happy to show the photos to anyone who asks me.


Eric Sauder

Nov 12, 2000
I haven't seen this mentioned yet on ET. Thought it might be of interest.

Eric Sauder



Titanic's "sistership" for sale

Specialist auctioneers, Ocean Liner Auctions have been contracted to sell the largest and finest collection of material offered for sale from Olympic, since the vessel was broken up almost 69 years ago.

Olympic was laid down by Harland & Wolff in Belfast in December 1908 and took almost two and a half years to build. When she entered service, in June 1911, she was the world's largest and finest passenger vessel, the pride of the White Star Line and described by the Illustrated London News as a "floating palace." The First Class areas of the ship were designed for the super rich. In the Summer of 1912 a single Atlantic crossing to New York for two persons in one of the liner's top suites could cost as much as £557, the equivalent of £32,700 today.

Titanic, her sistership, was built to the same design. Ten months after Olympic entered service, Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg on her maiden voyage. More than 1,500 passengers and crew died. After the loss of Titanic, Olympic spent several months undergoing safety improvements before re-entering the North Atlantic service in 1913. She carried many famous passengers, the Vanderbilts, the Astors and J. P. Morgan, the millionaire American banker, who purchased the White Star Line in 1902 and helped finance the construction of the ship.

Nicknamed "Old Reliable" during the First World War, she carried thousands of American and Canadian troops across the Atlantic and on one occasion rammed and sank a German U-Boat. She clocked up over 1.5 million miles on 257 Atlantic voyages, but in 1934, with emigration across the Atlantic reduced to a trickle her owners were forced to merge with their old rivals the Cunard Line.

The new company was called Cunard White Star Limited but in 1935 Olympic, after 24-years of service, was offered for sale. Deemed too expensive to maintain, in a market that had developed in to holiday cruising, "Old Reliable" was past her prime and was purchased by Sir John Jarvis for £100,000. He resold her to Thomas W, Ward Ltd, on the understanding that the vessel would be broken up at Jarrow-on-Tyne in order to relieve the serious unemployment in the North East of England.

The original auction sale conducted by Knight, Frank & Rutley was held over a ten day period in November 1935, during which the entire contents, including the liners deck machinery, was sold in 4,456 lots.

One of several hundred eager bidders at the sale was Douglas Smith. A director and partner in the firm of Smith & Walton Ltd, paint manufacturers, Smith attended the sale with the intention of purchasing panelling, bathrooms, electrical light fittings, flooring and furniture to fit out his company's new factory building at Haltwhistle, in
Northumberland about 40 miles from Jarrow, where the auction took place.

The list of items for sale and prices realised is impressive. Smith's own copy of the auction catalogue survives and contains much valuable information, including a shopping list of items his wife wanted for their home!

The factory building to be fitted out was of simple concrete block construction set over two floors with a pitched roof. The ground floor, with its high ceiling was laid out as the work's canteen, the ceiling created from the carved wooded mouldings from Olympic's First Class Smoking Room, once the preserve of American millionaires. The light fittings, not of the design used in the original room, came from the First Class lift entrances and passageways. Corridor panelling from various parts of the ship surrounds the room and at one end four arched oak windows from either the Gymnasium or the "A" Deck were built into the outside wall. These windows once allowed light into the "Olympic Hall," as Smith & Walton called their canteen, but the factory was extended and the windows panelled up from behind and covered with mirrored glass. The ladies' and gentlemen's toilets off this hall were built from the following lots;

3823 Gentlemen's Lavatory. The painted enclosure to water closet, with five doors and brass fittings, 21 ft run, and the entrance door, with brass lock and automatic closer.

3824 Ladies' Lavatory. A similar lot.

Smith paid £4 for each of these lots. Three ormolu and cut glass light fittings in the recreated gentlemen's toilet were originally from the "B" Deck landing off the Grand Staircase. The ceiling was made up from pitch pine decking, a large quantity of which has been utilised in the loft spaces throughout the building.

A large number of stateroom doors (and their matching frames) with original hinges, handles, key escutcheons and night locks have been incorporated with a mixture of panelling to make up several private offices on the first floor.

The floor joists on the first floor and the floor boards are all Olympic wood, most of the boards are hardwood and have holes in each where they were originally bolted to the steel decking. The long flight of stairs in the factory building was originally two flights from the Second Class. One flight has been turned 180 degrees and joined to the other to make one continuous flight. The oak handrails with silver-plated metal brackets are
attached to oak panelling which has been rebuilt from stairway and corridor panelling from the same areas of the ship.

The magnificent metal dome, at the top of the stairs, has been the subject of some debate as to its pedigree. The catalogue entry reads;

3537 Aft First Class Staircase. The frosted glass and ornamental iron circular dome, as on First Class staircase, but circular with similar gilt metal electrolier, with glass bead bowl shade, approximately 18 ft. 6. Diam.

The above description does not quite fit with the dome being offered for sale at Haltwhistle (the dome in the factory is oval), however, the light fitting is as described, and the dome is of the same pattern and type used in several White Star vessels, including the "Olympic Class."

Local people claimed that as much panelling fitted into the new factory building was burnt in the yard, deemed surplus to requirements. Searching the loft spaces and other areas of the factory has turned up other gems from Olympic, forgotten or overlooked until OLA cast its expert eye over the site. Mahogany bunk ladders, armchairs from First Class suites, mahogany decking, even rubber floor tiling from the Second Class Dinning Saloon etc have all come to light. The owners of the site plan, with help from OLA, to turn some of the mahogany decking into exact replicas of White Star Line steamer chairs, so it will be possible to own a usable piece of Olympic wood, much in the same way that the ship-breakers turned decking from Cunard's Mauretania into thousands of souvenir items.

The crown jewels of this sale are undoubtably the exquisite crystal glass and ormolu light fittings and the finely carved oak panelling from the First Class areas of the ship. A large run of panelling from the First Class Gymnasium, including a number of matching windows and similar ones, from the "A" Deck companionway, will be offered in a number of lots.

Material from the famous Grand Staircase is also included in the sale; Eight carved panels of fruits and foliage each one a distinctly different carving and all produced to the highest standard in solid oak. Carved architrave mouldings from the Grand Staircase and the Second Class Dining Saloon will be offered in large lengths, offering purchasers the opportunity to incorporate this material in new spaces. The magnificent oak columned entrance with half-glazed door originally leading to the Second Class Dining Saloon with its original door key, to be offered as one lot.

Sections of the elaborately carved oak panelling with heavy garlands of fruits and foliage and oil paintings from the First Class Empire Suite will be offered in several large lots and flooring from Olympic is also included in the sale;

3819 Second Class Library. The oak parquet flooring as laid, about 9 yards by 6 yards.

Smith made a notation against this lot that it was 8 X 6 yards and set himself a maximum price of £10, but managed to purchase the flooring
for just £5.

Also included in the sale is the coloured longitudinal cross section of the ship which hung for many years in the entrance lobby to the "Olympic Hall."

A particular prize for collectors is the original auction catalogue, tatty and well thumbed, this scarce document should realize a good price and perhaps a little more than the £800 Douglas Smith spent on his entire purchases in November 1935.

A large number of complimentary White Star Line materials including Olympic, Titanic and Britannic items will also be offered.

The sale takes place on Saturday, 4 September 2004, almost 135 years to the day of the founding of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (the official title of the White Star Line). Viewing is on Friday, 3 September between 10am and 4pm and Saturday, 4 September between 10am and 1pm. The auction begins at 2pm.

Fully illustrated colour catalogues will be available approximately two weeks before the sale and are priced at £15 each (admits two) from Ocean Liner Auctions Limited, Suite 200, 151 High Street, Southampton S014 2BT.

Contact: Stephen A. Booth or Paul Louden-Brown Telephone: 02380-432828 or 01227-371380).

*It should be noted that, according to the office for National Statistics, £800 in the mid 1930s has an equivalent buying power today of approximately £48,000.

Captions (colour prints available upon request);

[1] The years and the layers of paint can't hide the quality of this exquisitely carved oak panel from Olympic's First Class Empire Suite.

[2] Olympic's Second Class staircase dome?

[3] The entrance to the Second Class Dining Saloon.

[4] Closeup detail of the oak handrail from the Second Class staircase.

[5] The entrance doors to the "Olympic Hall" originally formed the division between the Grand Staircase and the corridors leading to various First Class suites.

[6] One of a pair of newel posts from the Grand Staircase, each panel (a total of eight) offered as separate lots.

[7] This column capital original came from Olympic's Second Class Smoke Room.

[8] One of the half glaze doors leading to the Grand Staircase, the one famously opened for actress Kate Winslet in James Cameron's Titanic film,when she revisited the ship in her dreams, was discovered in a long forgotten part of the factory.

[9] Photographed by Dr Robert Ballard when he discovered Titanic in the 1980s, this light fitting has come to symbolise the opulence of the "Olympic" class vessels. This fitting, one of over twenty, is also included in the sale.
This is quite sad but I suppose inevitable after the factory closed. I don't think many people would be willing to go to a remote place like Haltwhistle to pay homage to the Olympic or the Titanic.

The new finds sound very exciting. I always thought there must have been more stuff there given the extensive notes in Douglas Smith's copy of the 1935 Catalogue.

I have informed the Belfast Titanic Society of the sale and they are talking about acquiring pieces to return to Ireland to be where the Olympic and her sisters were built. I think it would be good if significant pieces found their way to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and also to a prominent museum in Newcastle or Jarrow, the places where Olympic began and ended.

Sean Hankins

May 15, 2004
Stuart said it right. This is very sad.

Olympic's fittings have so much more emotional and historical meaning when they are kept together as complete or near complete rooms like the Lounge at Alnwick, the A La Carte Restaurant onboard Millenium, the Gymnasium at the factory and not wasting away in someones attic where they can't be seen and appreciated.

I really hope one of the major museums or Titanic Societies will at least be able to keep the Gymnasium together. It would really be a shame if it were separated.

Geoffrey Todd Bennett

It would be great to keep all those treasures together.
Does anyone know of a book of photographs of the Olympic, specifically her interiors. I know that more photos exist of her than Titanic.
Thanks for any info you can give me.

Geoffrey Todd Bennett

Thanks for the info guys...just what I needed.

Unfortunately I don't have "a couple of thousand" to buy Olympic photos....but thanks for the offer just the same. I will get a few of the books mentioned.


Guest (R17)

I have noticed a lot of Olympic wood appear on Ebay from this factory and auction. At the moment there does not seem to be much. Does anyone have any bit's they plan on selling ? If so I'd be grateful if you could contact me. I can pay with paypal.

Cheers :)


Guest (R17)

Hi Eric

The link does not work. Do they take paypal ? Prob not. I need to open up a bank account in France.



Guest (R17)

Anyone have any idea why the links are not working. And when and if the site will be up and working.

What sort of payment methods to the take?Would be grateful if anyone has any information

Many thanks

Jun 11, 2004
Hi Miles,
I am the person who owns the factory at Haltwhistle and who had the auction in September a lot of items from the auction have ended up on ebay and have myself sold several items that I have been making from OLYMPIC timber along with other smaller sections of coving, I will be listing items on the MARKET PLACE section shortly if anybody is interested

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