Monday, October 10, 2011

Titanic Tuesdays: Second Class

I was thinking this weekend that I need to come up with some sort of regular blog thing that will keep people not only interested in my blog, but maybe gain new reader interest in Destined. I’ve been getting some really good feedback on the “Research Notes” section at the end of the book, where I go into more detail about the historical figures featured in the story, so I thought why not make it a weekly blog feature as well?

So, I introduce: Titanic Tuesdays!

Unless I note it in the subject line, there will be no spoilers in these posts, so those who haven’t yet read Destined won’t have to worry about it being ruined. (Aside from the major and obvious spoiler that the ship sinks. I think everyone pretty much knows that part by now, right?) So while I might choose to highlight a particular passenger that gets mentioned in the book, I will be careful not to spoil their ultimate fate, and won’t include anything about the fictional characters unless it’s a passing mention that won’t tell anything important. I hate to be spoiled myself, so I’m going to be extra careful not to do so here.

One of the aspects of Destined that I feel is unique to most Titanic-set novels is that I chose to put my characters, for the most part, in Second Class. I’ve always been fascinated with this often-ignored section of the ship. So much attention is put on the rich and glamorous First Class, and the less-fortune Third Class. Even the 1997 movie only showed the First and Third classes. I’ll admit, they’re more dramatic, but what of the Second Class? These were the people who today might be considered the middle class: regular people who are neither rich nor poor. But they were still people, with lives and personalities and stories of their own. I wanted to tell some of those stories.

It’s mentioned in many a book about the ship that the Second Class areas of Titanic were nearly equal in luxury and appointments to the First Class areas of many other ships. The cost of a Second Class ticket for Titanic averaged about £13 per person. In today’s currency, that would be about £1158.05, or $1814.20!  And while that seems shocking at first, think about how much a transatlantic cruise would cost today. For a mid-range cabin, you’d probably pay about the same, though I suspect today’s ocean liners have better amenities. ;)

In 1912, however, the amenities of the Titanic, in all classes, were second to none. The White Star Line pulled out all the stops. Still, the Second Class held relatively little space on the grand ship. Their cabins took up a small section of D, E and F decks (with a section of G Deck set aside as optional 2nd or 3rd class). They had dedicated promenade space at the end of the Boat Deck and B Deck (First Class had all of A Deck to themselves) and a covered/enclosed promenade space near the end of C Deck. They had a library/lounge, smoking room (used by the men only), dining room and a barber shop. You can get an idea from the photo below how the ship was divided up, class-wise. First Class got the majority of the space (in fact, on decks B-D, their area extended even farther forward). You might also notice how the very front of the ship is designated to officers and crew. That famous “king of the world” scene? Wouldn’t have happened. Passengers weren’t allowed on the forecastle deck, or even the front-most portion of the Boat Deck. Those areas were officers only. But sometimes dramatic license needs to be taken. Heck, I did it myself in Destined, when I let some of my characters go up to the Officers’ Promenade on the Boat Deck. The beauty of fiction, folks. I tried to be as historically accurate as possible, but there are times when breaking those rules a little makes for a more interesting story.

Life in Second Class was still pretty good, despite having such a small area to call their own. The few common areas they had were nicely-appointed and, as mentioned before, on par with the First Class rooms on other ships. On B Deck, they had a Smoking Room where the men would gather after dinner for drinks and cards and other manly pursuits. It was very masculine, with oak paneling on the walls and oak furniture upholstered with dark green Moroccan leather. The floors were tiled in patterned linoleum.

Since the Smoking Room was a "men only" area, that left only the Library/Lounge for the women, located just below it on C Deck. Both men and women congregated here daily to relax, write letters, play cards and watch the 2nd class children play on the covered promenade outside the windows. This large room was lighter than the Smoking Room, paneled in sycamore with mahogany furniture. The chairs were upholstered in a (possibly green) tapestry, the floors were were covered in a rich Wilton (possibly brown) carpet, green silk curtains framed the windows, and there was a large, glass-fronted bookcase at one end of the room containing what was described as an impressive collection of books.

The other major area for Second Class passengers was the dining room. It spanned the entire width of the ship near the aft end of D Deck. Furniture was mahogany, with long tables and swivel chairs upholstered in red leather, both bolted to the floor in case of bad weather. Walls were paneled in carved oak, the floor was tiled in patterned linoleum, and there was a sideboard at one end with a piano. On Sunday, April 14th, church services were held here in the morning, and after dinner, passengers gathered around the piano for a hymn sing. Second Class meals were prepared in the same kitchens (galleys) that prepared those for the First Class, and reports are that they ate nearly as well.

While First Class had 3 elevators at their disposal, Second Class only had one (Third Class had none), so the stairs were most likely their main method of access. Railings were light oak, carpet was red, and each landing held some seating for those who wished to rest. There were two sets of these staircases. The forward stairs, in the front portion of the Second Class section of the ship, ran from the Boat Deck down to F Deck, and had the elevator between the two flights. The aft stairs, set at the back end of the Second Class section of the ship, didn't start until B Deck and went down to G Deck.

Outdoor space for the Second Class was plentiful, more than they would have had on other ships. In addition to the Boat Deck and B Deck promenades, they also had a covered/enclosed space outside the library on C Deck. If the weather was good, passengers would gather out on these promenades and chat, play games, or people watch. They could have drinks brought out to them here as well, since their class didn't have a café. (Delivery could also be made to the library if they so chose.)

The cabins in Second Class ranged in luxury, some being almost as nice as First Class, others being nearly as stripped down as Third. But most seem to fall into the range of the cabin I assigned Noelle and Henriette. The photo to the left, most likely taken on her sister ship, Olympic, is the closest to what I imagine cabin E-103 would be. Like the library, furniture was mahogany. Each room had a fold-down wash basin with running water: both fresh and salt. Floors were usually tiled in linoleum, and each had an electric bell to ring the steward and heaters for cold nights. Cabin walls were enameled in white, and many of the surviving passengers would note that they could still smell the fresh paint. Below is an illustration of what a Second Class cabin might look like, taken from a postcard of the time. Just take out the lady and her little girl and put Noelle in her place, and you have the opening scene of Chapter 3. :)

There are some lovely, detailed deck plans on the Discovery Channel website by Bruce Beveridge, that were an invaluable resource to me when I was editing the book. The segment below is a close-up of the section of E Deck where Noelle's cabin is located. It gives a good idea of how her particular room (E-103) would have been laid out, and gives an idea of where some other things are located: the stairs, the ladies bathrooms, the room where the musicians stayed, etc. Also notice cabins E-100 and E-101, across the hall. One of these was where Edwina Troutt, Susan Webber and Nora Keane stayed. Most accounts say their cabin was E-101, but there is a story told that when Edwina was trying to hurry her roommates along in getting dressed, she got frustrated when Nora was taking too much time trying to puton her corset. In one version of the story, it is said that she grabbed the corset and threw it down the narrow passageway leading to their porthole. Other accounts say she threw it out the door. If the porthole version is correct, then their room would have to have been either E-103 or E-100, not E-101.

That’s about it for the Second Class portion of Titanic. Some of these areas figure more prominently in Destined than others, and while I do try to describe them in the book, it’s never the same as seeing an actual photo. Most of the images used here are photos taken on the Olympic, since very few photographs were taken of the Titanic. The two ships were nearly identical, however, so they can be considered relatively accurate. My various research sources can be found on my online bibliography. Some photos can also be credited to the Ulser Folk & Transport Museum.

As usual, I seem to have gotten a little long-winded. I promise to try to keep future Titanic Tuesdays more concise. :)


  1. Hi there! I just happened across a link on the web that led me here to your first Titanic Tuesday post. I'm doing some research on the Titanic and I'm very glad to have found your posts! Starting next Saturday, I'm going to be posting a day-by-day series of writings on my blog about the Titanic, which I'm preparing for. I've only read a couple of your posts so far, but enjoying them greatly.
    ~ Tarissa
    { In the Bookcase }

    1. Tarissa,

      Thank you for the comment. I'm glad you're enjoying my Titanic posts. I've been fascinated by the ship most of my life, and have devoured most every book and documentary I've found over the years. After writing a novel set on the ship, I figured it was a natural thing to do Titanic-themed posts every week, to share some of my research. I haven't always been able to keep up the weekly pace, but I try to get at least one up a month.

      Good luck with your blogging!


    1. Thank you! I'm glad my posts could help. Good luck with your project!

  3. Hi i have 2 of the swivel chairs shown in your photo of the dining room. However mine have a red tapestry cover to the seats. Any clues which ship these would be from...perhaps Olympic???

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. (Sorry for the deleted comment - there was an error in the link)

      The photo I used is credited to the Olympic, as there were almost no photos taken inside the Titanic, especially in the Second Class. I did find a photo online of a chair from RMS Olympic that was sold at auction a few years ago: Charles Miller Ltd. It appears to have red tapestry in the seat. The White Star Line tended to use the same furniture in many of their ships, changing small details here and there (like using leather on Titanic's), so it's possible if your came from a ship it could be Olympic. Sounds like you might have a nice little piece of history!

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  6. Great post. You provide a detailed depiction of the Titanic. I am preceding to read Titanic Tuesdays: Second Class.