Northern Ireland

New BBC series reveals 30 pieces of Titanic's history

The "Port 18" badge was worn by a steward on the Titanic
Image caption The "Port 18" badge was worn by a steward on the Titanic

A History of the Titanic in 30 Pieces is a new series which reveals 30 very different objects from Northern Ireland which each have a link to the Titanic.

Broadcast in the lead up to the centenary of the sinking on 15 April, each film is only one minute long but gives a unique perspective on the most famous ship in the world.

The objects we filmed range from tools used at the Harland and Wolff shipyard through to items owned by people who escaped the disaster.

Over six months I went on a quest across Northern Ireland, searching high and low for the different Titanic artefacts we finally featured in the series.

Even in the age of the internet there is no substitute for picking up the telephone and speaking to people.

I was often passed from one person who could not help me but knew someone who might, who then passed me on to someone else and so on.

These calls would often lead to a fascinating object with its own Titanic tale to tell.

Every time I added a new object to the list it felt like a triumph and I was always struck by how these mute artefacts have witnessed such incredible things.

Collection sold

Image caption The small lump of coal from the Titanic which is now displayed in a Belfast barber shop

I will never forget the day I went to visit historian Paul Louden-Brown.

He had recently sold his huge Titanic collection to National Museums Northern Ireland but there were some items he could not part with.

One of these was a small metal badge with the "Port 18" on it.

This had been worn by a steward on the Titanic and indicates the muster station where he was assigned to help passengers into the lifeboats.

Paul told me how the captain had cancelled the lifeboat drill only a few hours before the Titanic struck the iceberg.

With no lifeboat drill, confusion reigned in the early hours of the 15 April 1912 and Paul argues that many hundreds of lives were lost as a result.

Some of the objects were then stumbled upon almost by chance.

One morning I went to get my hair cut and sitting in the barbers I looked up and suddenly realised I was staring at a piece of the Titanic.

There on a shelf was a small lump of coal brought up from the wreck site and now in a display case here in Belfast.

Eddie McGlinchey, the owner of the shop, told me how he had bought it while on holiday in Las Vegas and brought it home because of his customers' fascination with the ship.

What was even more astonishing was that there had been a barber shop on that site right back to the time of the Titanic.

Eddie told me how shipyard workers had been known to queue round the block for a shave or a haircut before starting work.

Making this series, I have realised that the connections between the people of Belfast and the Titanic are literally everywhere.

After all it is not ancient history - there are many alive today whose parents would have heard the news of the sinking first hand.

For me, it has been a huge privilege to discover these unique objects and meet the people who treasure them and tell their stories.

A History of the Titanic in 30 Pieces starts on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday, 12 March at 18.59 GMT.