Nomadic sails back to an era of Edwardian splendour
Linda Stewart reports on how Titanic’s little sister is being lovingly restored to its former glory
The sound of sawing fills the air. Teak benches and panels are everywhere and plasterwork is being worked on, bringing the Edwardian era delicately to life.
SS Nomadic is being restored to her former glory as workers from Tracey Brothers toil to restore her historic fittings.
The main restoration work on the Titanic tender should be complete by January. The team behind the scheme has promised she will open as a visitor attraction next Easter, to coincide with the annual Titanic Festival.
Joiners and plasterwork craftsmen work meticulously to restore the fine interiors of the Harland and Wolff-built vessel, which ferried passengers from the harbour at Cherbourg to the doomed liner.
And outside, thousands of cobblestones have been placed in position as part of the restoration of Hamilton Dock in the Titantic Quarter. The pumps in an old pumphouse on the nearby quayside have also been spruced up so that visitors will be able to see them in action through a glass floor panel lit with fibre optics.
The plan is that visitors will be able to learn the Titanic story at Titanic Belfast — and then cross the road to experience that Edwardian-era craftsmanship and sense of history for themselves.
SS Nomadic is the last remaining White Star Line vessel and was saved from the scrapyard in 2006 when she was bought at auction in France by the Department for Social Development following a Belfast Telegraph campaign.
Dennis Rooney, chairman of the Nomadic Charitable Trust, said that when the tender opens as a visitor attraction she will be managed by the Nomadic Trading Company, overseen by the trust.
It’s taken a while to get the funding in place and the DSD took flak from the Audit Office as a result. But last year the restoration got under way when Harland and Wolff was appointed to undertake steelwork repair on the vessel it had built a century earlier.
The £2m contract involved recreating the missing bridge and flying bridge decks, hull repairs and a paint job in its original White Star Line livery.
It opened for limited ‘hard hat’ tours during the Titanic centenary this year, and since then restoration has continued.
Mr Rooney added: “The upper deck is going to be used to interpret the Nomadic as it was in 1911. As visitors come on board, a virtual barman will introduce them to the ship and tell them what they are about to see.
“The second-class area and upper deck will tell the stories of some of the people involved with the Nomadic at the time.”
Meanwhile, down in the stern of the lower deck will be stories of people associated with Nomadic throughout her 101-year history — from her days as Titanic tender, to her stint as a troop carrier in World War I, the years carrying stars such as film star Charlie Chaplin as she served the Cunard liners and her retirement from sea to the Seine in Paris, where she became a floating restaurant.
Next door in second-class will be a display charting her years in Paris. Visitors will then move down into the engine room.
The next section will tell the story of how SS Nomadic came to be rescued from the scrapyard and brought back to the city where she was built, and in the bows will be an interpretation of the crew quarters. Up on deck will be a table where people can try their hand at navigating SS Nomadic towards Titanic.
“As you can see, we’re going to be using every inch of it,” Mr Rooney said. “The link to the Titanic is a very significant part of the Nomadic story but it is only a part of the story. There has been a lot of interest in its role as a troop carrier
“This has been a very complex project but there have been no problems found on the ship that couldn’t be sorted. The hull was pretty much intact, there was no significant rot, nothing that was particularly expensive to fix.”
The team is beginning to look to the future and the next phase, such as potential restoration of Caisson gate, a listed structure used to control the flow of water in and out of the dry dock.
He said he wasn’t disappointed that Nomadic couldn’t be restored in time for the Titanic centenary as it offers a fresh attraction.
“The fact that this is coming a year after Titanic Belfast opened is probably no harm at all.”
The restoration in numbers
50 tonnes of steel was used by Harland & Wolff during the restoration
150,000 the number of rivets used to restore the superstructure
115 cubic metres of wood was used in restoring the interior of the Nomadic
230 tonnes of cobbles was needed to create an authentic 1911 dockside