A Northumberland hotel’s unique link to the Titanic which has attracted tourists from China to America

As the world prepares to mark the 110th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, we uncover the story behind a North East hotel which boasts an unique link to the ill-fated liner.

There is an old saying that goes something along the lines of ‘if only the walls could talk’ and in the case of the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, this couldn’t be more apt. From the outside of this Northumberland hotel, you would be forgiven for overlooking the history treasure trove that lies within its walls.

However, step inside the dining room of the White Swan Hotel and you will immediately feel transported back to the opulent days of Edwardian ocean travel. Indeed, as the golden sign that adorns the front of the hotel will inform you, inside the hotel you will encounter the splendour of the RMS Titanic in the historic Olympic Suite, the hotel’s dining room, which has the original panelling, mirrors, ceiling and stained glass salvaged from RMS Olympic, the near identical sister ship of perhaps the world’s most famous ship.

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Intriguingly, the hotel also houses parts from Olympic’s staircase, which was identical to that found on her sister, as well as the revolving door from the liner’s restaurant. No pictures exist today of the Grand Staircase from the Titanic which, of course, features so prominently in the 1997 blockbuster film set onboard the ship.

And so, in many ways, it would be fair to say that some of the world’s most tangible links to the infamous Titanic can be found right here in the North East. However, you may be left wondering how this piece of maritime history found its way to Alnwick?

The original fittings, which are identical to those found on Titanic, can be seen at the White Swan Hotel
The original fittings, which are identical to those found on Titanic, can be seen at the White Swan Hotel

Well, in January of 1935, the Olympic was withdrawn from service after 24 glittering years at sea. With the liner now showing signs of age after a glittering service during which she was dubbed ‘The Millionaire’s Ship’, it was decided that she would be scrapped after being sold to Sir John Jarvis, a Member of the Parliament, for £100,000. Sir John, who was a local businessman, hoped to ease the hardships of an economic recession plaguing the communities of the North East.

And so, as fate would have it, Olympic’s final voyage was up the Tyne River, under her own steam to the town of Jarrow, where she would meet her end. An auction was soon held where fittings from the ship were put up for sale and then-owner of White Swan Hotel, Algenon Smart, who had been a frequent passenger on the liner, successfully bid for the wood panelling and ceiling from the first class lounge, the staircase and the revolving door from the liner’s restaurant.

Fast forward over eight decades and Mr Smart’s business decision could be seen as nothing short of a masterstroke. In fact, in 2022, the hotel’s manager Craig Martin explains the interest in the White Swan’s unique slice of history remains as strong as ever.

Craig is originally from Consett in County Durham and had worked at a number of hotels before taking up his post at the White Swan. He admits that the history of the venue almost hit him all at once when the the international interest in the hotel became apparent in the early months of his tenure.

He said: “It surprised me in some ways. Like many people, I was just completely taken aback the first time I saw the dining room.

“I guess the first question that sprung to mind was ‘how did they fit the dining room so perfectly into the hotel? ‘. Of course, I was since told that the room was built around it.”

“The staff really do delight in telling people about the background of the place. We have a great working team here, it’s very much like a small family, there are some people who have worked here for over thirty years.”

The fittings will loo familiar to fans of the hit blockbuster, Titanic
The fittings will loo familiar to fans of the hit blockbuster, Titanic

Over a century on from the sinking of the Titanic, the intrigue into the White Star Line ship has certainly far from dwindled. In fact, in recent years the Royal Titanic Society met for their annual meeting at the hotel.

Craig says that they have had visitors from across the globe, something that has only slowed as a result of the pandemic. In fact, he recounts the time that the daughter of two passengers was reduced to tears upon visiting the venue’s dining room.

He said: “We have visitors from as far afield as China- we have had buses full of people in the past that have arrived here to see more and stay. It is genuinely amazing just how many places we have had people in from over the years- everywhere from America to Australia.

“One time we actually a woman from Canada who was the daughter of two people who sadly were lost on the sinking of the Titanic. She was reduced to tears and at one point even hugged the fittings in the dining room.

“That was genuinely quite an emotional thing to see and I think showed that it’s just so real to many people. It was quite moving to see for us too.”

He added that although the history at the White Swan Hotel is known to Titanic historians around the world, the place remains an enigma to some even in the North East. He explains that being the custodian of such a rare find fills him with pride.

He said: “I love it here! It’s such a privilege to work somewhere with some real, genuine hidden secrets. We certainly don’t hide that we are here and there is interest often from all around the world in the history we have right here in the hotel.

“Even so, it’s probably fair to say that not as many people know about it as you might think outside of Alnwick. But we’re really proud to have what we do here.”

Another view of this storied dining room inside the White Swan Hotel
Another view of this storied dining room inside the White Swan Hotel

He is quick to point out that, despite his pride at leading such a historic venue, the hotel is very much a place of the present and plans are now in place for its future.

Craig explained: “These days, we get so many people coming in to dine and we also cater for weddings. We also have Hardy’s Bistro which offers a more informal dining option.

“We couldn’t be more proud of the unique history of this place and I’m delighted that plans for refurbishment are underway. This year we will be refurbishing the corridors of the hotel and we have planning permission to provide better access for disabled guests in the form of lifts.”