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Honour and Glory?

Many individuals are aware that the First Class Grand Staircase clock carving on the Olympic and Titanic ships was referred to as 'Honour and Glory crowning Time.'

This intricate carving, made of English Oak and positioned atop the staircase between the Boat Deck and A Deck, served as the central highlight of the entire staircase design and symbolised the grandeur of the Olympic class ships.

The clock, encased within an exquisitely carved surround, is widely recognised as one of the most iconic representations from the Titanic.

While no photographic evidence of the Titanic's staircase exists, it is reasonable to assume that it closely resembled the one on the Olympic.

With joint brochures featuring illustrations utilised to promote both vessels, definitely suggesting that the staircases were nearly identical in design.

The Grand Staircase. Artwork by RMSTitanic.Design

The Grand Staircase

One of two staircases in first class, the forward staircase was the pièce de resistance of the Titanic's first-class public rooms and spanned from the Boat-Deck down to E-Deck. The two-storey-high A-Deck level featured a large wrought iron and glass dome overhead that allowed natural light to enter the stairwell during the day. The dome was fringed with a delicately molded plaster entablature and rested on the deck housing surrounding the stairwell. Each staircase was built of solid oak, with each banister containing elaborate wrought iron grilles with ormolu swags in the Louis XIV style. The staircases were 20 ft. wide and projected 17 ft. from the bulkhead. The surrounding entrance halls were appointed in the same polished oak paneling carved in the Neoclassical William & Mary style. The panels of the newel posts were carved with high relief garlands, each one of unique design, and topped by pineapple finials.

The Grand Staircase on Olympic 1911

The Grand Staircase Concept

It is crucial to perceive the staircase and the entrances as integral components of a unified piece of art. This aids in comprehending the underlying thesis behind the intricate details and the clock itself.

The staircase, as a whole, embodies the ancient Greek mythology of life's journey and the ascent to heaven, as well as the gods' descent to the mortal realm. A-Deck and Boat-Deck represent the heavens, while the lower decks symbolise the living world. As passengers ascend the staircase, they are welcomed into the heavens or Elysium, as per Ancient Greek beliefs, where heroes and gods spend their eternal days. This is depicted through the increasing brightness of the dome above as one climbs higher, along with heavenly motifs and the presence of figures representing Honour and Glory. Conversely, as passengers descend, they become heroes who can freely move between the heavens and the world below.

D-Deck predominantly represents the "living world." Here, no heavenly motifs are visible, but instead, a candelabrum stands at the foot of the stairs, symbolising man-made light and human progress. The architecture of D-Deck is more structured, characterized by square columns and carvings depicting manipulated nature, typical features of the Jacobean style. The bustling D-Deck serves as a space where passengers dine, socialise, and welcome newcomers, mirroring the everyday experiences of the "living world."

As one ascends the staircase further, heavenly figures begin to emerge, with cherubs adorning the sides of each staircase on B and C Deck, pointing upwards towards the heavens, guiding the way to the realm of gods. The architectural style also transitions to a more classical form, featuring rounded columns with ornate capitals and friezes, in accordance with the classical orders of ancient Greece and Rome.

Upon reaching the top of the staircase (A and Boat-Deck), the architecture combines influences from Louis XIV, the "Sun King," and the English Baroque style of William and Mary, which often portrayed heaven in dramatic Christian religious contexts.

On Boat Deck level, the column capitals change again to a more ornate Corinthian style, supporting the Adam-style frieze at the base of the dome. The Adam style adheres to strict mathematical proportions and order, further accentuating the divine motif.

These architectural elements collectively indicate a heavenly realm, merging diverse styles with strong divine motifs, and can be better appreciated by regarding the staircase and entrances as an interconnected artistic whole.


The main source of inspiration for Titanic's clock was a monumental chimney designed by Percier and Fontaine for Napoleon Bonaparte, which included a decorative timepiece.

The relief clock in the Empire style was sculpted in white marble by Auguste-Marie Taunay, it represented History writing under the dictation of Victory.

In 1810 the ensemble was installed in the Grand Salon of Louis XIV in the now missing Tuileries Palace. This palace was intentionally burned down in 1871 and ultimately demolished in 1883. Old photos of the timepiece exist and was partially depicted in the 1865 painting "Louis Visconti presenting the new plans for the Louvre to Napoleon III" by Jean-Baptiste-Ange Tissier. It was probably from the detailed drawing of the monumental chimney, first published in 1812 in the book by Percier and Fontaine Recueil de décorations intérieures, that inspiration was drawn.

Comparison between the original and Olympics carving

Among the several differences between Percier and Fontaine's original design and Titanic (and Olympic) reinterpretation is that in the latter the two female figures were completely dressed, as opposed to the French ones, whose bodies' upper halves are shown almost entirely nude.

The laurel wreath appeared on the floor in the Titanic's clock, whereas in the Napoleon's one the goddess Victory was holding it in her left hand.

Auguste-Marie Taunay, Louis XIV Salon, Tuileries Palace.

According to the book, Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage:

Charles Wilson, who carved the central portion of the "Honour and Glory Crowning Time", remembered that when the Titanic finally set sail from Belfast there had not been time to set a clock into the ornate carved panel over her First-Class Staircase, and a mirror had to be substituted until the clock arrived.

The ocean liner arrived from Belfast in Southampton at midnight, 3 April 1912. Therefore, the timepiece must have been installed sometime during the week before her maiden voyage on 10 April 1912.

Auguste-Marie Taunay, Louis XIV Salon, Tuileries Palace.


The craved figure on the left of the clock is Honour. Today, we generally see honour as a synonym for pride – an emotion a person feels about a positive action they have performed. In both Ancient and Christian terms, however, honor was seen differently.

The original Greek word for honour means worth or value, but in a very literal sense.

Honour was a culturally constructed evaluation of a person’s actions, which determined a person’s worth, as in their price, or value to the community.

For us, we see honour as a feeling that starts inside the person and seen by people outside. Honour worked in the opposite direction: the community feels the emotion about the person and projects that feeling on to him.

This is why Honour holds a tablet and is inscribing calculation of judgments using a stylus.

Her left foot rests on top of a globe symbolising dominance and power over the world.

Honour was also the King of Olympus, and son of the Titans, thus the perfect symbol for Olympic and Titanic.

The central carving of Honour and Glory


The carved figure on the right is Glory or Algaea and was the youngest of three Kharites (Charites) the daughters of Zeus. She was the goddess of glory, beauty, splendour and adornment.

She was the wife of the god Hephaistos (Hephaestus) and the mother of four younger Kharites named Eukleia (Eucleia, Good-Repute), Euthenia (Praise), Eupheme (Eloquence) and Philophrosyne (Welcome).

She dwells with the other Greek gods in Mount Olympus and with her sisters oversees all Olympian feasts and dances.

Glory herself specifically acts as messenger for Aphrodite (Goddess of sexual love, fertility and beauty)

On Titanic she is holding a palm leaf which symbolises victory and integrity. She appears to be gesturing the palm leaf to Honour in her judgement.


Chronos or Cronus the Titan god of Time. Often depicted with a zodiac wheel and a harvesting scythe.

The semen of Chronos was placed in the recesses of the Earth and produced the first generation of gods. He and his older sister Rhea took the throne of the world as king and queen. The period in which he ruled was called the Golden Age, as the people of the time had no need for laws or rules; everyone did the right thing, and immorality was absent and they were known as the divine pair.

Chronos knew that one day he would be overthrown by one of his sons, so after every son born, he would devour them to prevent his demise. Rhea eventually had a sixth son, Zeus that she hid from Chronos on Mount Ida, Crete to prevent him from devouring him.

Zeus eventually grew up strong and with powerful alliances and eventually overthrowing his father taking the throne.

Time on Titanic is simply depicted as a clock mounted on top of a decorated pedestal. The pedestal has a carving of a zodiac wheel and decorated in garlands.

Time here is Chronos' death after being overthrown. He is below Honour and Glory as they cast judgement on him. The wreath lent against the pedestal awaiting to see if the judgement will allow Chronos to be crowned a Hero.

The Clock

The clock itself was one of 24 clocks onboard known as 'slave' clocks. Manufactured by the Magneta Company of Zurich, Switzerland, These clocks were all connect to the 'Master' clock located on the Bridge in whats called the Magneta system. This allowed synchronisation of all clocks onboard by just adjusting the one on the Bridge. This was important as the time was altered an hour every night to coincide with the current time zones.

The slave clocks were impulse driven and had dials inside that reacted to negative impulses produced from the master clock. This happened at one minute intervals meaning the clocks time would only advance every minute instead of every second.


The Laurel wreath is found at the bottom of the central carving and leaning against the clock pedestal. A laurel wreath is a round wreath made of connected branches and leaves of the bay laurel, an aromatic broad leaf evergreen, or cherry laurel. It is a symbol of triumph and is worn as a chaplet around the head, or as a garland around the neck. Wreaths were awarded to victors in athletic competitions, including the ancient Olympics; for victors in athletics. As well as being awarded for merit and military conduct, they were awarded to Hero's and gods.

On Titanic, the wreath is awaiting judgment from Honour whether or not to crown Time (Chronos) after being overthrown by his son, Zeus. It is significant that the wreath is on the floor, as it says even Kings are judged. In the original Tuileries Palace version, the wreath is in Glory's left hand ready to crown Time.

The Arch Surround

The surround around the central clock carving is an interesting part of the whole staircase clock design. The architectural surround was carved in oak and consisted of pilasters, an arch and a decorative base frieze.

The pilaster capitals had central cherub heads on them which is very rare motif found in pilaster capitals. Even rarer is that the volutes on Olympic have been turned upside-down. this has never been seen before in architecture and with the cherub motif makes these pilasters unique.

Olympic volutes upside-down and cherub head in the capital

The arch was decorated in with garlands and foliage all symbols of purity, peace, and beauty. In the centre of the arch above the clock carving are two scrolls or an open book also found on the Tuileries Palace version. This is a biblical symbol of 'the Word of God' or the book of life. ascending from the book is a shell, this symbolises Birth, fertility and good fortune as well as a bridge between the physical and supernatural realms.

On the base frieze under the central clock carving are two griffins facing opposite directions. Griffins are Christian symbols of divine power and a guardian of the divine. They are also known for guarding treasures and possessions, and protectors from evil, slander and witchcraft.


Pineapple finals were used on various point of the staircase, they were used at each ends of the fan staircase and on the balcony balustrades at Boat-Deck level.

Pineapple motifs have been used in architecture for centuries. In colonial-America, pineapples were highly prized and expensive. so-much-so that they were often rented for parties as centerpieces. Only the most affluent and extremely wealthy people could actually serve it as food. Guests confronted with pineapple-topped foods, would be so honored and would be a luxury delicacy to eat. This is how the pineapple became a symbol of hospitality, celebration and welcome.

Even in 1912, pineapples were still a moderately rare fruit reserved for the wealthy.


The ribbon motif in architecture is characteristic of the Louis XIV style. It is said that in the late 1600s, Louis XIV of France started to wear bouquets of ribbon on his shoulders in an attempt to revive the French ribbon trade. This sparked a new trend within the French court and the ribbon became synonymous with the Louis XIV style. The sun King himself, stopped wearing the shoulder ribbons in the height of its fad as to not conform to a dying trend.

On Titanic they can be found in the various carvings around the Grand Staircase specifically the pedestals and the ironwork in the balustrades. Ribbons can also been seen at the top the the arch around the central clock carving.


The dome was the crowning piece of the whole design, and to achieve this Harland and Wolff used a design previously used on SS Laurentic above its First-Class staircase.

First Class Companion way SS Laurentic 1908

Titanic's dome over the staircase was located above the deck-house on Boat-Deck and situated within its own enclosure to protect it from the elements. In the top of the dome enclosure were skylights that allowed natural light to shine through and onto the dome inside. The dome being made from an opaque glass diffused the light below on to the staircase.

At night, the staircase was lit by a large crystal chandelier in the centre and electro-lights around the base of the dome that gave the dome a slight dull glow.

The dome significantly tied the whole staircase together in the mythology and heavenly design of the staircase. The natural light would have flooded the space giving a celestial feeling to passengers below, as well as its size and beauty.

The First-Class staircase at Boat-Deck with the dome above on Olympic

In conclusion, the First Class Grand Staircase carving of Honour and Glory crowning Time, possesses profound symbolism and significance. The staircase, crafted with meticulous skill and architectural finesse, embodies the ancient Greek mythology of life's voyage and the ascension to heaven, intricately intertwined with the descent of gods to the mortal realm.

Positioned atop the staircase, the clock assumes its role as the pinnacle centerpiece, symbolising the emblem of the Olympic-class vessels. Carved from English Oak and adorned with intricate embellishments, the clock carving encapsulates the themes of honour, glory, and the passage of time.

Honour, meticulously inscribing judgments, and Glory, epitomising splendour, flank Time, the Titan deity of Time, as they pronounce their verdict upon him. The laurel wreath, poised for judgment, alongside architectural features such as pineapples, ribbons, and the dome, collectively contribute to the ethereal and mythical ambiance enveloping the staircase.

By comprehending the interconnected nature of these artistic components, we cultivate a heightened appreciation for the staircase's profound narrative and its representation of the eternal and divine.

The Grand Staircase on Titanic, the view from Honour and Glory crowning Time. Artwork by RMSTitanic.Design

Written by Chris Walker of RMSTitanic.Design

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