B-Deck on RMS Britannic
By Remco Hillen
After the maiden voyage of Olympic, Harland & Wolff received their first feedback from White Star Line chairman Bruce Ismay. It was surprisingly little considering the size of the new ship. Ismay was in fact very pleased with his new vessel according to the message that he cabled to Lord Pirrie at Belfast:
There were however a couple of points which he wanted to see changed in the future, going from minor things like the fact that the 1st class bathrooms had no cigar holders, to some bigger changes.
One of the largest things that Ismay wanted to see changed in the future was the B-deck promenade area as he noticed that during the voyage passengers rarely used this enclosed area. So when Titanic entered service, her B-deck was changed the way Ismay wanted to see it; nearly all the promenade space was replaced by much larger 1st class cabins that now reached the ships sides. Along with these larger cabins where some other new features like the Café Parisien, alongside the Restaurant, and the Private Promenades for the 2 ‘Parlour’ suites, just aft of the forward Grand Staircase.
When Titanic sank, Olympic was called back the Harland & Wolff and the construction on Britannic was stopped. This was of course mainly done to get both ships’ safety standards up; but they could also change some of interior-layouts using information received from previous voyages and Titanic. It is interesting that Olympic’s B-deck never received Titanic’s layout, and it never matched Britannic’s layout either. The answer to this has undoubtedly a lot to do with the fact that the ships now had to carry enough lifeboats to accommodate all the people onboard. Olympic had all of her extra lifeboats placed along the sides of the Boat Deck. Probably to compensate the loss of good promenade space, B-deck maintained most of its promenade space. The only changes were to be seen aft, the changes included the expansion of the Restaurant, and a Café Parisien was installed. Later in her career, around 1928, the cabins on the forward of the forward Grand Staircase were expanded to the sides of the ship.
As Britannic was still a far way from being finished, her designers were able to incorporate more drastic changes in her design. One of the results were the Gantry davits, a type of davits which could handle a lot of boats on a relatively small amount of space. The fact that the Gantry davits didn’t affect the Boat Deck’s promenade area as much as the extra lifeboats and davits did on Olympic, may be a reason why B-deck was laid out on the ships as it was.
Olympic lost almost the whole Boat Deck area as promenade space, and probably as a result of that, a lot of deckspace was maintained on B-deck instead of filling the area with larger cabins as on Titanic. On Britannic, the new type of davits saved deck space. This could be the reason why she received a different type of configuration with less promenade space; expanded cabins amidships and promenade space forward. The strange thing about this is the fact that this promenade area was for the 1st class, while the Gantry davits on the Boat Deck were placed mostly in the 2nd class area. So until I run into some new information, this is the best guess I can make for the positioning of the promenade area on Britannic’s B-deck. Of course there was more to be found on B-deck then only promenade space and cabins! The next part of this article will deal with some of the interesting features on Britannic’s B-deck, with the exception of the aft end, which has been covered in another article on this website.
Below is a piece of the Builders Plans, showing the area around the forward Grand Staircase. Clearly visible is the promenade area, which started at this forward Grand Staircase and stretched out until the forward end of the superstructure. Outlined in red are the two Parlour suites, the most luxurious and expensive cabins aboard the ship. The cabin on the port site has the same layout as on Titanic; a large private promenade, a sitting room, 2 bedrooms, wardrobes, a WC and a bathroom. The cabin on the opposite site of the ship is however very different from its counterpart. The promenade area has been reduced in size by more then half, and is now named Verandah. The sitting room has been replaced by a larger Saloon, while there also is space for a servant’s room which has it’s own entry door.
©2003 Remco Hillen
Apparently the White Star Line saw such large cabins as important features on the ship, as one deck below on C-deck they created something similar. Directly below the cabins on B-deck were 2 large Sitting rooms, one on each side of the ship. They lay next to a standard 1st cabin and were connected to each other by a single door, so presumably the passengers occupying the adjacent cabin were given the choice whether or not they wanted an extra, separate Sitting Room.
The blue-colored room is labeled in the deck-plans as the ‘Passengers Mail Room’. I haven’t come across any further information about this room, so the official function of the room is unknown. We can however always speculate with the facts we have. The room lies near the Grand Staircase and directly forward of 3 elevators, so it’s positioned prominently in sight of the passengers. Its labeled name can indicate that this room took over some of the duties from the Purser’s Office, namely dealing with the wireless messages that passengers could send and receive. This is supported by the fact that the plans call for a ‘barrier’ to be placed at a certain distance from the room. I imagine that the aft side of the room, the side that faces the elevators, would have a couple of desks where passengers could send, pay and receive wireless messages, while the barrier keeps other people away to give them a certain amount of privacy.
The next and final diagram deals with the area around the aft Grand Staircase. This area was changed considerably when compared to Olympic and Titanic. Onboard the sister ships, this was the area where the Café Parisien was located. The Café was first installed on Titanic, and proved to be so successful that Olympic received one too during her first refit in 1913 after Titanic’s sinking.
©2003 Remco Hillen
Knowing that the Café was popular, makes it sounds logical that one would have been installed on Britannic too. Yet it isn’t, not in this area or anywhere else on the ship. Apparently the White Star Line and Harland & Wolff gave the Restaurant a higher priority and weren’t able to find another suitable spot for the Café Parisien. I’ve written an article a long while ago, speculating about a new position for such a Café (it can be found here). That article is pure speculation and not based on any facts, we’ll never know whether or not Britannic would have received a Café during her White Star Line career.
The Restaurant had a large separate Reception Room. On Titanic, the Reception Room was the dark-green colored room; which on Britannic is now named ‘1st class Entrance’ and is a lot smaller. Olympic had her Reception Room in a position similar to Britannic’s, but because of the promenade deck and later the Café Parisien, hers was about half the size. Both of these Rooms were white colored, while it seems that the paneling on Britannic was wood coloured. The room would have been equipped with a piano according to the Artist’s Impression of this room, and because of the open doorway between the Reception Room and the Restaurant, both would have enjoyed the piano’s music.
©2003 Remco Hillen
Just forward of the Grand Staircase are three rooms, light blue, blue and purple colored in the diagram. The light blue room in between the Men’s Barbershop and the Ladies Barbershop is actually for a manicurist, someone who would look after a person’s hands and nails. The light blue room is the Gentlemen’s Barbershop, while the purple one is the Barbershop for the ladies.
Olympic and Titanic were only fitted with one Gentlemen’s barbershop to serve the 1st class when they entered service. It wasn’t until 1928 that Olympic received a beauty parlor, so quite a while after Britannic would have entered service. It is worth saying that a Ladies Barbershop wasn’t as common on a vessel around 1910-1920 as it is to us now, a lot of female 1st class passengers would have had their Maid do their hair. But seeing a Ladies Barbershop and a Manicurist’s Room installed on Britannic, does say something about her standard of luxury.
HMHS Britannic, The Last Titan – Simon Mills
Mark Chirnside and Daniel Klistorner, who kindly provided me information about Olympic and Titanic
Artist Impressions of Britannic’s public Rooms
Various deck plans