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By SOPHIE WYLLIE
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
An iconic part of the tragic Titanic ship which sunk in the Atlantic 100 years ago has been replicated at a Norfolk museum.
The Marconi wireless room, which was used to send distress signals before the disaster on the morning of April 15 1912, is on show at Swaffham Museum for three months.
During the evening of the April 14, 1912, the large liner struck an iceberg south of Newfoundland, Canada, and sank two hours later killing just over 1,500 passengers.
Approximately 2,223 were on board the so-called “unsinkable ship” at the time.
Retired lorry driver and Titanic enthusiast Ted Sinclair, 71, of nearby Beachamwell, spent four years creating a near perfect copy of the wireless room.
“It has been a labour of love, because the parts are wildly expensive. Where possible I have used original pieces from the time,” he said.
Mr Sinclair bought most of the items for his replica from eBay and it includes a silver plated brass lamp dredged up from the seabed near the wreckage.
Some 12 copies of a brass handle with an original White Star Line design were also made for the desk.
James Cartland and Sons, which had a large foundry in Birmingham, made the original handle and James Cartland was the grandfather of the late author Barbara Cartland.
At the time of the disaster the equipment in the wireless room, which sent Marconigrams, was state-of-the-art and was mostly wood or brass.
Mr Sinclair said: “While the system had been used for eight years, the shipping companies didn’t take it that seriously to exchange information about icebergs. It was not part of their safety system.
“What they liked about it was the well-off clients could send messages from the ship to the shore. It would be quite pricey.”
The price to send a message from the Titanic’s wireless room on the boat deck cost 12/6d for the first 10 words and 9d for each word after that.
In today’s money an average Marconigram would cost £50 to send.
Mr Sinclair’s display was inspired by a photograph taken by first class passenger the Rev Frank Browne, who got on at Southampton and off at Queenstown, Ireland, now called Cobh.
The Jesuit priest was staying on A deck and took photos around the ship, including the wireless room at 10.10am on April 12.
Before the Titanic sank messages were sent to other ships by Jack Phillips, 25, who was a senior ship radio operator, and Harold Bride, 22, the junior radio operator.
Mr Phillips died in the sinking, but Mr Bride was lucky enough to survive.
Titanic’s sister ship the Olympic responded but was too far away and the SS Carpathia arrived at the site of the sinking four hours after the iceberg was struck.
Mr Sinclair said more than 20 signals were sent and the crew went into panic mode.
A back-up system which ran from batteries was used after the power supply failed 30 minutes before the ship sank.
Sian Hogarth, heritage development officer for Swaffham Museum, said: “I think the display is amazing. It is a huge undertaking because Ted has got it so right and I admire him for doing that. It is a lovely tribute to people who were lost on the Titanic and Ted’s encyclopedic knowledge complements it.”
The wireless room featured in the Titanic exhibition at the Forum in Norwich in April to mark the centenary and then briefly at the Forncett Industrial Steam Museum.
Mr Sinclair, who has been interested in the Titanic since he was young, said: “The disaster was a bit if a turning point. Once the world became aware of the importance of the radio sets that brought it to everybody’s notice. The powers that be brought in regulations for equipping ships with radios.”
Swaffham Museum, on London Street, is open between 10am and 4pm between Tuesdays and Fridays and between 10am and 1pm on Saturdays.
For more information, visit www.swaffhammuseum.co.uk or ring 01760 721230.