Titanic sister ship’s Jarrow links

FASCINATING STORY ... The RMS Olympic.
FASCINATING STORY ... The RMS Olympic.

LAUNCHED at the famous Harland and Wolff yard, Belfast, on October 20, 1910, RMS Olympic was the largest ship in the world.

One of a trio of steamships constructed for the White Star Line, the vessel is probably best remembered as the sister ship of the Titanic.

But the Olympic has its own long and fascinating story, one which has now been told in great detail by Brian Hawley.

Serving as a troopship during the First World War, Olympic became the only major passenger ship in the world to sink an enemy submarine.

She enjoyed a luxurious life after the Great War, when she was refitted and served as an in-demand liner for the rich and famous throughout the 1920s.

But the wheel of fortune eventually turned full circle, with RMS Olympic being banished to the breaker’s yard in 1935.

However, the ship’s end also provided an employment lifeline for a job-starved Jarrow, just a year before the town’s famous crusade for work.

The ship was taken apart at Palmer’s Shipyard in Jarrow, providing some economic respite for the town.

And tales soon emerged of humble homes in Jarrow being lined with some of the most expensive carpets from one of the world’s biggest ships.

Mr Hawley, who lives in Winterville, North Carolina, US, has spent years researching and writing the story of the Titanic’s sister ship.

The result is his book, RMS Olympic, a 128-page paperback, featuring more than 150 pictures and images, most being previously unpublished.

Mr Hawley told the Gazette: “Olympic was purchased for £97,500 by Sir John Jarvis, MP.

“He wanted to provide as much assistance as possible to Jarrow, which had been devastated by the depression and the closing of Palmer’s yard.

“The impact that Olympic’s scrapping made on the town was huge, and the crowds that greeted her upon arrival at Jarrow were estimated to be much larger than those for the Mauretania, the prior year.

“She provided work for hundreds of people for several years, bringing much-needed economic relief.”

But Mr Hawley also discovered that the apparent good deed by Guildford Sir Jarvis – using his personal wealth to buy the Olympic and alleviate poverty – did not go down well with some opposition MPs. “Jarvis was criticised for it, and others called it simply a publicity stunt. One MP said that the jobs produced were ‘small-scale and temporary’.

“I am sure the people who were helped by Jarvis’s generosity, even in some small way, were grateful for the steady income.

“Unfortunately, this really proves that despite one’s best intentions, politics always rears its ugly head and comes into play.”

Despite Jarvis paying for the ship, the scrapping of the Olympic eventually only kept a few hundred men out of the dole queue, but it was still work in one of the country’s worst unemployment blackspots.

It took the Jarrow March of October, 1936, to highlight the plight of the town on a national level.

Some of the Olympic’s fittings were later sold at auction, while many local houses, hotels, pubs, offices and factories were fitted with the vessel’s sumptuous interiors.

Mr Hawley added: “As far as I can tell, only one souvenir was produced from Olympic, and that was by the scrapyard, Thomas Ward, in the form of a limited number of 500 paperweights.

“No other souvenir that I can think of was made from her, and it may be that she was so effectively recycled that nothing was left to make souvenirs from.

“Because of the extremely high quality of her fittings, everything on board was recycled, from carpets, furniture and panelling, all the way down to linoleum, urinals and staircases.”

Mr Hawley is one of the leading experts on Olympic-class vessels and has one of the finest archives relating to the Titanic’s sister ship.

From his home in North Carolina, USA, he runs a business selling ocean liner memorabilia.

n RMS Olympic is available from Amberley Publishing, at £19.99.

Twitter: @terrykelly16