Titanic owner's London HQ now a port of call for wealthy property hunters

While the upscale London property market may have hit an iceberg regarding prices of late, one developer is hoping its new offering can rise above the tide of gloom washing over the UK capital’s best neighbourhoods.

The Grade II listed Oceanic House at 1 Cockspur Street in the City of Westminster, which links Trafalgar Square to Pall Mall, was originally the London headquarters of the White Star Line, the operators of the ill-fated Titanic ocean liner. The building has been redeveloped to provide six luxury apartments and one two-storey penthouse for private sale. The apartments range from 1,679 sqft (156 sqm) to 5,447 sqft (506 sqm) in size. Each are bespoke designed to echo the luxury associated with the turn-of-the-century age of transatlantic ocean travel.

Founded in 1845 as a UK-Australia shipping firm by John Pilkington and Henry Wilson, in 1868 the White Star Line was purchased by Thomas Henry Ismay and transformed into a North-Atlantic ocean liner business with ships (from 1870) constructed by the Belfast firm Harland & Wolff. In 1902 Bruce Ismay, Thomas’ son, sold the White Star Line to the American multimillionaire John Pierpont Morgan. The sale provided money with which Ismay created the White Star Lin’s London headquarters building and bought a fleet of ocean liners. Oceanic House, located at 1 Cockspur Street was built between 1903 and 1906.

In July 1907 Ismay and Pirrie sketched out plans for the largest liners the world had ever seen – Titanic and her sister ships Olympic and Britannic. It was from Oceanic House that Ismay ordered the reduction in lifeboats on the Titanic and Olympic from 48 to just 16, the minimum allowed under safety standards.

Sea trials for Titanic began on April 2, 2012, and in the boardroom at Oceanic House Ismay boasted to journalists that the ship was “unsinkable”. Fatefully Ismay also said that Titanic might arrive in New York early on its maiden voyage, on the evening of April 16, in time to garner headlines in the next day’s papers.

On April 10, 1912, Titanic‘s maiden voyage began from Southampton, scheduled to arrive in New York on the early morning of April 17.

Documents from the first-class passenger luggage department of Oceanic House reveal that the most expensive piece of luggage lost on the Titanic was the oil painting entitled La Circassienne au Bain by French artist Merry-Joseph Blondel, worth the equivalent of £2 million (Dh9m), which was owned by the passenger Mauritz Hakan Bjornstrom-Steffansson, the son of the Swedish timber tycoon Erik Steffasson

Confident that Titanic was unsinkable, no lifeboat drill was carried out, and mindful of the papers, Ismay pressed Captain Edward Smith to sail at full speed, despite warnings of icebergs.

At 11.40pm on April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg and just before midnight Ismay escaped in lifeboat C; the ship’s architect, Thomas Andrews, and the Captain, Edward Smith, along with a total of 1,517 people died in the disaster.

In 2012 Misland Capital, on behalf of its client, purchased the Crown Estate lease for Oceanic House and, in late 2014, initiated the re-development of Oceanic House into seven luxurious apartments. The Grade II listed exterior of Oceanic House has been carefully restored and the grand interior remodelled to provide two three-bedroom apartments, four two-bedroom apartments, and a four-bedroom duplex penthouse, extending across the two top floors; each apartment accessed by a lift from the entrance hall.

Prices at Oceanic House start from £5.3m for a two-bedroom apartment and no doubt the developer’s sales team will be hoping for a safer passage to completion than the Titanic.

chnelson@thenational.ae