RMS Olympic and its Sheffield connections

The Olympic – the world’s newest, largest and most luxurious ocean liner – made her maiden voyage on June 14, 1911.

There was a heavy fog on the night of May 15, 1934, and the Nantucket Lightship lay anchored off Nantucket Shoals off Massachusetts. She sounded her foghorn as the 47,000 ton, 900 foot ocean liner, RMS Olympic, approached. The Olympic had been following the lightship’s radio beacon signal with the intent of altering her course when she was close enough, but the lookout had miscalculated the location of the Nantucket and was unable to see her until she was just 500 feet away. It was too late. The Olympic, nearly 75 times the size of the Nantucket, literally ran over her broadside and cut it in half.

Passengers In the first-class drawing room of the Olympic were unaware of the collision. All they heard was a dull thump and the gentle, soothing, tinkling of clean wine glasses on a sideboard. If they had looked up, they might have seen that the large crystal light fitting was slowly swinging from side to side.   

The Captain of the Olympic halted the engines and ordered boats put over to save the crew, but the Nantucket sank within minutes. Seven of the eleven lightship crewmen drowned and four were rescued.

RMS Olympic. First Class Drawing Room. It may also have been known as the Reading and Writing Room. Take note of the light fittings. Image: Historic England

RMS Olympic was a British luxury liner belonging to the White Star Line and was sister ship of the Titanic and the Britannic. Construction started in 1908 at Harland and Wolff in Belfast and it was launched in 1910. At the time of its completion, it was the largest and most luxurious liner in the world and used on Trans-Atlantic crossings.

Olympic was retired from service a year after the Nantucket disaster and was sold to Sir John Jarvis who had it towed to Jarrow where the ship’s superstructure was demolished, and  its fittings stripped and auctioned off.  Two years later, the hull was towed to the shipbreaking yard of Sheffield firm T.W. Ward at Inverkeithing, in Fife. By the end of the year the steel shell had been melted and re-made into items for household and industrial use.  

Some items from the Olympic found a new home in Sheffield, in the vestibules leading to the banqueting room at the Cutlers’ Hall.

The most striking of the decorations was the same crystal and ormolu electrolier that had hung in the first class drawing room of the ship, bought by the Master Cutler, Sir Samuel Roberts, and presented by him to the Cutlers’ Company in 1936.

A light fitting from RMS Olympic now hangs in the Silver Vestibule at Cutlers’ Hall. This is only one of two ever made, the other went down on the Titanic. Image: David Johnson
The Silver Vestibule at Cutler’s Hall with light fittings and panelling from RMS Olympic. Image: David Johnson

The light was a massive ornamental ormolu electrolier with cut and engraved glass panels and cut glass beadings and had a border of 16 lights with engraved glass shades and bead festoons.

In the same vestibule, the walls were covered with mahogany dado and sycamore panelling to the level of the door heads. This was from the second class library of the Olympic and was purchased by the Cutlers’ Company and installed by Johnson and Appleyard’s of Sheffield.

The Cutlers’ Company also bought four ornamental ormolu, oval electroliers with shaped cut and engraved glass panels, and these were hung in the second and third vestibules.

The vestibules are hung with chandeliers and lined with maple panelling, all salvaged from the White Star liner Olympic – sister ship of the Titanic – when she was scrapped in 1936. Image: David Johnson

These relics from RMS Olympic can still be seen today, but other, stranger pieces, occasionally turn up in auction rooms.

These include paperweights made from the Olympic’s scrap brass by T.W. Ward, presumably to give away as a marketing tool. The base has ‘Metal from the Olympic 1935’ on one side and on the other ‘Thos. W Ward Sheffield Phone 23001’.

Rare solid brass paperweight made from the metal of the White Star Liner R.M.S. Olympic
Images: Worth Point

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

People Sculpture

The lost genius of Charles Green

Charles Green loved flowers, animals, and children. “He took scrupulous care in workmanship.” (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Charles Green (1836-1916) had reasonable acquaintance of old Sheffield buildings and landmarks, and his knowledge of Sheffield craftsmen was remarkable. But throughout his life he lamented the fact that they weren’t valued.

“The citizens of Sheffield have little idea of the beautiful works that are now being produced by its native sculptors in other towns, where they have gone for lack of encouragement at home.”

The same could be said for Charles Green, sculptor, modeller, and designer, whose reputation faded after his death.

Today, his name barely registers in the art world, yet his work was patronised by the likes of the Duke of Portland, Baron Rothschild, and Indian Rajahs. After the Boer War he designed and modelled monuments for the battlefields of South Africa.

Charles Green was born at Brampton, Chesterfield, the son of William Green, who became a fender maker at Sheffield’s Green Lane Works. He was educated at St. George’s School, Hallam Street, and showed great aptitude for art with a love of drawing and modelling at the expense of his lessons. He went to Sheffield School of Art aged 11, becoming a pupil of Young Mitchell, and was apprenticed to Edwin Smith, sculptor, and learnt how to model and carve with marble.

A newspaper advertisement from 1877. Green had moved from his original studio on North Church Street. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

During his apprenticeship he carved a bust of Rev. Thomas Sutton for Sheffield Parish Church (now Cathedral) and that of Sir Robert Hadfield for the Cutlers’ Hall.

Green set up his own business and drifted away from sculpture, designing, and modelling ornamental cast-iron on a large scale. He designed fountains, gateways, mantelpieces, ceilings, decorative silver, and metalwork.

Perhaps his finest work was a cabinet commissioned for the Duke of Portland at a cost of £1,100. It seems the Duke changed his mind, but the ebony and bronze cabinet, representing the four seasons, the four elements, the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the globe, merited exhibition in London and Paris.

“I had the spirit within me to make this cabinet as a monument to my father who was so fond of flowers.”

Charles Green’s ebony and bronze cabinet (top) was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition in 1878. It was later exhibited in Sheffield and Rotherham but its whereabouts is unknown. It would appear that these images from Picture Sheffield are the only in existence, and underlines the incredibly important work of the photo archive. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

His studio was at North Church Street, later relocating to Bank Street, and ending up at 19 Shrewsbury Road, opposite his home at No.18, a listed building that survives. (It subsequently became Samuel Walker’s sweet factory).

“He was widely read in the classics, his broad outlook mellowed by a sense of humour.” (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Charles Green married the daughter of Dr Wright Wilson, and had four daughters, one of which, Florence, also became an artist, modeller, and designer.

Before the Society of Artists was formed, local artists met at his studio in North Church Street as far back as 1859, he being one of the first members of the society. He was invited by John Ruskin to attend the first meeting of the Ruskin Museum, and the Sheffield Art and Crafts Guild was formed at 18 Shrewsbury Road in 1894, he being the first master.

He also wrote Artist’s Rambles In and Around Sheffield for the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent.

No. 19 Shrewsbury Road. If ever a building experienced highs and lows this is it. Destroyed by fire, rebuilt to become a sweet factory, and then allowed to fall into disrepair and become a crack den. The Grade II listed building was restored by South Yorkshire Buildings Preservation Trust in 2001.

Charles Green was a lifelong collector of works, and at his studio on Shrewsbury Road, he had a large library, priceless antiques, and prints.

Amongst these were two original models by Francis Chantrey, one was a plaster cast of Sir Walter Scott, and the other, an early model of Rob Roy, thought to have been the only one. He also had several masks taken after death of Lord Brougham, Napoleon, Oliver Cromwell, and others.

Sadly, one August evening in 1911, Green was heating wax in his studio, when it boiled over, a sheet of flame enveloping him in fire. He managed to rip off his apron, but flames spread to the whole property.

The Chantrey busts were lost, as were pieces of carved oak, old oak chairs, pencil drawings, and sketches by Thomas Creswick, Alfred Stevens, William Ellis, E. Stirling Howard, and Robert Baden-Powell. Amongst his huge collection of books lost were a first edition of Rhodes’ Peak Scenery and early editions of Ebenezer Elliott, and first editions of James Montgomery.

“The scene after the fire was a particularly distressing one. Near the entrance was a ruined China cheese dish, huge enough to take a stilton cheese, obviously of high value. All around were prints and frames and statues of beautiful design, hopelessly wrecked, whilst the valuable library, too, was utterly destroyed.”

Charles Green was critical of Sheffield Corporation for destroying old artworks. The demolition of Tudor House, in Tudor Square, about 1909, had allowed him to save several relics from the rubbish heap, including this fireplace that was installed at 19 Shrewsbury Road. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Green died at No. 18, High Bank, Shrewsbury Road, in April 1916.

“The last of the arts craftsmen of the type that won for Sheffield its proud pre-eminence, associated with Alfred Stevens, Godfrey Sykes, Henry Hoyles, Hugh Stannas, William Ellis, James Gamble, Reuben Townroe, and Robert Glassby. He also enjoyed the friendship of Ruskin, Onslow Ford, Tom Taylor, and James Orrock.”

One of Green’s last unfinished works was a bronze bust of conductor Dr Henry Coward, presented to him by the Sheffield Musical Union, and completed by his daughter. He had also made a Florentine bronze tablet for the Hunter Archaeological Society, with various panels with portraits of the Earl of Surrey, Mary Queen of Scots, Cardinal Wolsey, Chaucer, and Joseph Hunter.

Amongst his first successes were the Montgomery Medal, offered by the ladies of Sheffield in honour of the poet, for modelling wild flowers from nature, and awarded by the poet himself. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Some of Green’s work survives in private collections but an internet search reveals extraordinarily little. However, we can still see some of his work in Sheffield, including the Lord Mayor’s Chain of Office (which he designed aged 21), and some of the ceilings in the Cutlers’ Hall.

But where did that prized ebony and bronze cabinet go?

“The work of a lifetime is practically gone.” The words of Charles Green after the fire at his studio in 1911. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.