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.


When the Triumph Motor Company had a Sheffield owner

A 1939 Triumph Dolomite. Image: Classic Driver

It wasn’t that long ago that Triumph cars populated our roads. Sadly, the Triumph marque disappeared, but not many people realise that the car company once had its head office in Sheffield.

Triumph’s origins were in 1885 when Siegfried Bettmann and Moritz Schulte from Germany founded Bettmann & Co and started selling Triumph bicycles from premises in London and from 1889 started making their own machines in Coventry.

In 1930 the company changed to the Triumph Motor Company and made upmarket models like the Southern Cross and Gloria ranges. The company had financial problems and in 1936 the car, bicycle and motorcycle businesses were sold.

Donald Healey, a Triumph manager, bought the motor business and developed a new car called the Triumph Dolomite.

1938 Triumph Dolomite mascot

The Triumph Motor Company went into receivership in 1939 and was bought by T.W. Ward, the Sheffield-based ship-breaking, iron, and machinery business. The head office was at Albion Works on Saville Street, but it wasn’t a successful acquisition. World War Two stopped production of cars and the Triumph works at Priory Street, Coventry, was destroyed by bombing.

“The Triumph Company was to us merely a plain straightforward speculation,” said Mr S.J. Dyal, a director. “And because of the outbreak of war we really did not have the chance of continuing car production. We had no manufacturing space, and as a policy decision it was agreed that car production was not to be our line of business. So eventually the assets – little more than the name Triumph – were eventually taken over by The Standard Motor Company.”

Donald Healey stayed on at T.W. Ward before leaving to join Vickers-Armstrong in aircraft production.

Albion House, Savile Street, Sheffield. Former head office for T.W. Ward and briefly for the Triumph Motor Company. Image: Rightmove

Under ownership of the Standard Motor Company a new range of Triumph models appeared after the war. Sporting models were badged as Triumph while the Standard name appeared on saloons. The Standard name was dropped with the introduction of the Triumph 2000.

Afterwards, the company was bought by Leyland Motors and further mergers led to the formation of British Leyland (later Austin Rover) in 1968.  The last Triumph produced was the Acclaim in 1981 and the marque disappeared completely in 1984.

The trademark is currently owned by BMW, acquired when it bought the Rover Group in 1994, and when it later sold Rover, retained the Triumph marque.

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Companies People

Tommy Ward – the man who built an empire

T.W. Ward, Albion Works offices, Savile Street, in 1937. The former offices still form an imposing appearance. Image: Picture Sheffield

When Thomas William Ward died in 1926, he had owned during his lifetime enough warships to make up a respectable fleet. He had founded T.W. Ward in 1877 and left what was probably the largest ship-breaking, iron, and machinery business in the world.

Once upon a time, businessmen had looked with suspicion on the scrap iron merchant and second-hand machinery business, but by honesty and square trading, Thomas lifted his business to the pinnacle which commanded the respect of the industrial community.

T. W. Ward, Coal Office, London Road, 1936. Image: Picture Sheffield

He was the son of Thomas William Ward of Wadsley Bridge and was born in Sheffield in 1853. He started his business career with Moss and Gamble, and in 1877, aged 24, launched out with his brothers as a coal, coke, and iron merchant. Within five years, he had cleared off obligations incurred in his father’s business and soon added the sale of machinery to his activities, extending the area of operations to deal with obsolete works and battleships.

Thomas William Ward (1853-1926)

Thomas had had the idea of dismantling old ships and recycling the material for other ‘useful’ purposes.

The business became a limited company in 1914 and such was the remarkable progress that it embraced 32 distinct undertakings in all parts of the United Kingdom.

The company dismantled many famous works, including Abbots Works, Gateshead; Bowling Ironworks; Kelham Rolling Mills, Sheffield; Derwent Rolling Mills, Workington; Dearne and Dove Works; Birchills Furnaces; West Cumberland and Whittington Works.

Many large battleships and merchant vessels were dismantled at Ward’s works, the list extending into several hundreds, including the steamers Luciana, Adriatic, H.M.S. Inflexible, H.M.S. Dreadnought, H.M.S. Magnificent, H.M.S. Prince of Wales, the German battleships Helgoland and Westfalen, and the steamer Canopie.

Lizzie Ward, the famous elephant, working for T. W. Ward in World War One. Image: Picture Sheffield

After World War One the company bought 1,000 tanks, the record purchase of 115 war vessels from the Admiralty, the acquisition of the Palestine pipeline, the Lartigue Railway, and the Marconi Wireless Station, Cliften, all for dismantling purposes.

Thomas Ward never sought public office but served as a J.P. and in 1913 had the unique honour of serving as president of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Master Cutler, both at the same time. He also gave advice to several commissions in connection with the Merchandise Marks Act and the National Insurance Act

While conducting business, he travelled a great deal visiting America, South Africa, Australia, Sweden Norway, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

“I have succeeded because I worked very hard at the beginning, and as a young man I studied mechanics and metallurgy.”

His younger brother, Joseph, was involved in the business from the start, becoming chairman and managing director, while another brother, Arthur, and nephew, Ashley, were joint assistant managing directors. Together they erected an imposing headquarters on Savile Street, known as Albion Works, with other extensive premises at Preston and Wednesbury.

T.W. Ward Ltd Shipbreakers Yard, Grays, Essex, Seen from above in 1921. Image: Britain from Above

Thomas was a member of the Wesleyan Church, holding many lay offices, and gave generously to the church. He was an enthusiastic horticulturalist, and his gardens at The Grove, Millhouses, and then Endcliffe Vale, were a source of great pride and pleasure to him.

He died at  Endcliffe Vale House, aged 72, in 1926, and was buried at Crookes Cemetery.

The company was run by the family until the latter part of the 1950s, by which time there were five divisions – raw materials, construction, engineering, motor distribution and industrial supplies. Through acquisitions the Ward Group consisted over 35 companies by the 1960s, but its fortunes dwindled in the following decades.

A display of Hillman, Humber and Sunbeam Ralbot cars at E.H. Pickford and Co, motor dealer and engineer, c1953. The company became part of the T.W. Ward Group. Image: Picture Sheffield

The Group was acquired by Rio Tinto Zinc in 1982 but after significant losses an administration order was granted to the parent company, Ward Group, in 1992 and although the subsidiaries traded normally, most were subsequently sold.

The machinery division was acquired by an MBO in 1983 and is now known as T.W. Ward CNC Machinery, still operating at Albion Works.

In 1937, T.W. Ward were appointed to demolish the remains of fire-damaged Crystal Palace in Sydenham Park, London. The company reclaimed scrap iron and debris.
Albion Works. Seen from Bailey Bridge. Image: DJP/2021

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved