On a sunny afternoon in April, 1914, people flocked to St Andrew’s Park in Southampton to witness the unveiling of the memorial to the engineers who lost their lives on the Titanic two years earlier.
Now the famous memorial, with its angel sheltering the doomed engineers under her outstretched wings, is to be restored to how the monument would have looked on that spring day all those years ago, when an estimated 100,000 on-lookers gathered for the historic occasion.
After the renovation work, the memorial will be transformed back to its original appearance first seen by a crowd more than nine decades earlier.
Over the years, time, weather and pollution have taken their toll on the memorial, dulling the bronze panels and the figure of the angel standing on the bow of a ship, but after the restoration the warm lustre of the metal will re-emerge.
It would have been a poignant occasion for many of the thousands who packed the area in 1914, as among the vast assembly were grieving local families who had lost husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons when the “unsinkable’’ White Star liner foundered on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.
The majority of crew members signed on in Southampton, and, of those, nearly 600 seamen, mainly with homes in the narrow dockland streets, perished when the liner slipped beneath the waves.
A number of memorials were set up around the city, commemorating different groups of the crew. However, the largest was that to the engineer officers subscribed for by “fellow engineers and friends throughout the world’’.
Titanic struck an iceberg in the freezing Atlantic waters off Newfoundland with a huge loss of life, including the engineers who remained loyally at their posts deep inside the liner despite knowing they faced certain death.
The memorial, officially a Grade II listed building, was designed and built by Whitehead and Son of the Imperial Works, Kennington Oval in London.
The choice of the memorial’s site, standing on a prominent position in East (Andrews) Park, is significant, as at the time Above Bar was the main road by which most visitors would come into the city centre. This position probably influenced the siting of Lutyens’ First World War Cenotaph, placed in the park on the opposite side of the street in 1920.
The memorial was unveiled on April 22, 1914, by Sir Archibald Denny, president of the Institute of the Marine Engineers, who said: “ By the manner of their deaths [the engineers] carried out one of the finest traditions of our race.
“They must have known that pumping could do no more than delay the final catastrophe, yet they stuck pluckily to their duty.
“Driven back from boiler-room to boiler-room, fighting for every inch of draught to give time for the launching of the boats, not one of those brave officers was saved.”
Andy Russell, the city’s ancient monuments officer, said; “As far as is known, the memorial has not had significant repair or maintenance since its erection, apart from some repointing of open joints.
“The protective wax coating, and the original dark patination has mostly weathered off and the surface of the bronze has oxidised to a bright green.
“Exposed parts, such as the head of the angel, show pitting, and unless a protective coating is applied the corrosion will eat through the thin bronze panels and begin to erode them from the inside.’’ The proposed work will clean the memorial, restore the look of the bronze, as well as add protective coats of wax.