Southampton marathon

5 May 2019

After months of training, hundreds of miles run in all weathers, nutrition plans, hydration plans and lots more, Southampton marathon day had arrived. Commando, Rob and Mark had all run marathons before but this one was meant to be special, not least because it was in their home city. The training had gone well, they were all set for a record breaking run. Well they were until the bike ride in the last two weeks, during their tapering.

In hindsight, going for a ‘nice easy’ bike ride with Mr G, who is a cycling legend, was probably not the best of ideas. Mr G doesn’t know the meaning of nice and easy. There were lots of miles and lots of hills. Male pride meant they tried to keep up. They came home broken. Even a sports massage from the amazing Paul Bartlett at The Running School didn’t fix things completely. This race would be run on determination, with teeth gutted against pain.

At least the weather was nice, although it looked like it might turn out to be a bit too warm for running 26.2 miles. Commando and Rob’s new running group, Hamwic Harriers, looked marvellous in their new shirts. Some were pacing, which is what Commando and Rob usually do, some were running the 10k, some the half marathon and a few the full marathon. As usual, not everyone made it to the team photo. There is always one!

With the team photoshoot of the way, we hung around in the VIP changing room for a while. All the pacers were there and Sammy Saint, (A.K.A Matt Dennis) the Saints mascot who was running the 10k. The amazing Saints legend Francis Benali was in the room next door getting ready for the final marathon of his seven iron man’s in seven days to raise money for cancer research. We saw him and his family but didn’t disturb them. The last thing he needed was people asking for his autograph or wanting a photo at this stage. Knowing Franny, he’d have been all too obliging but he needed all the rest he could get.

Other than the team photo, I had one really important job to do. I was in charge of Commando’s own mini water station just before the end of the first lap on London Road. There were two small bottles of water in my rucksack ready to swap for the ones in his water belt. When the runners had all headed off to the start pen I was left with quite a bit of time on my hands.

On a normal marathon day I’d have some kind of planned walk, a kind of whistle stop tour of the city. As this city was Southampton though, and I could see it any day uncluttered by thousands of runners, I just wandered through the crowds. With so many people watching, there was no chance of seeing Commando cross the start line, although I did see Kim and Vicky, the half marathon tailwalkers, waiting to set off.

There was a bit of strolling through the parks, a coffee stop in the London Road Starbucks and lots of chatting to friends, marshalling this part of the route. It seemed no time at all before the first runner came zooming past. After that I had to be on my toes trying to spot the Hamwic Harriers and keeping an eye out for Commando.

Steve and Ian, both pacers for the half marathon, were the first Harriers I saw. Not far behind them was Rob, looking set for the time he wanted despite still being broken from the bike ride.

Next up was pacer Luis, closely followed by Helen and Andy. Then there was Arron, heading for the 10k finish line and Sean at the end of his half marathon.

It was something of a relief to see Commando and Mark, not least because I could finally get rid of the water bottles. They were bang on their target time for the first half which was quite a surprise given that Commando had been limping from the outset. Unfortunately, the water bottle exchange meant I didn’t get any good photos of them.

After that there was a lot more waiting around, a coffee with my friend Kylie and some chatting until the next Harriers appeared. As it happened, Ian was the first I spotted heading for the marathon finish. He’d run the first lap as a pacer, then quickly changed into his Harriers shirt to run the second half alone and earn his marathon finisher’s medal. Only Ian could get away with such shenanigans, but race organiser Nikki Rees had agreed to it so he did get his medal.

Not long after Kate and Ian, the Harriers cheer squad, came past with their bikes, I spotted Rob heading for the finish line with Massi. The second half of his race hadn’t gone nearly as well as the first but he’d finished, even if he didn’t get a PB.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, Commando and Mark were still on their second pass of the Itchen Bridge at this point and not enjoying themselves in the slightest, even if they were waving for the cameras.

Once I’d seen Rob come past I headed down to Above Bar, hoping I’d get to see Commando cross the finish line. Helen and Andy came past, then Kim and Vicky, but there was no sign of Commando or Mark.

Pretty soon there was a little crowd of us waiting for Commando and Mark. Rob had got changed and joined me, along with Ian and Kim and a few other Harriers. Of course, as time went past I started to worry. He’d finished the first half so well, despite being injured, I began to imagine all sorts of horrible things. It was now clear a PB was out of the question, but I was getting worried about him finishing at all.

Eventually, just as my panic was rising to maximum level, Commando and Mark limped across the finish line. They were smiling, but that was mainly because they could finally stop running.

Later, in the VIP changing room, Commando told me the second pass of the Itchen Bridge had been where the wheels fell off his race. His hip had been hurting on and off since the bike ride, now it finally gave out. He kept going and, to his great credit, Mark stayed with him and gave up his chance for a good time, The rest of the race was a painful run walk affair, made worse by knowing this would be the slowest marathon ever. Most people would have given up but, of course, Commando is made of sterner stuff.

It had been a very long, painful day but there was still one thing left to do. Rob and Kim’s granddaughter, Emilia, was entered into the children’s mile race. Sammy Saint was there, victorious after running the 10k and the mascots race and still looking full of energy. Rob looked less than enthusiastic about running another mile but Emilia had enough energy for both of them.

It had been a long, tough day for two slightly broken runners. The only records they’d broken in the end were for their personal worst marathon times. On the long limp back up the Avenue to our car Rob and Commando both agreed this would be their last marathon. Of course, I’ve heard that before so I’m not entirely sure I believe them…

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Short and sweet

2 May 2019

May began with a short, sweet Wedding Anniversary walk around the Old Cemetery where the rhododendrons had painted the paths pink. The early evening light gave everything a slightly surreal feel and the fallen petals felt like a red carpet welcome.

The celebrations continued today with a short, sweet birthday walk. The brilliant blue sky was echoed by the ceanothus in the Millennium Garden where I met my walking companion, Rachel.

After our last adventure, getting lost in Westwood and walking much further than we’d planned, I had a much more straightforward walk in mind. A gentle stroll along the butterfly walk towards the shore seemed like the perfect way to spend the morning. Of course, nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems.

We set off along Portsmouth Road chatting away, putting the world to rights. When we reached the bottom of Wright’s Hill though, we found the gate locked. This put me in mind of a walk with CJ in the opposite direction a while back. That time we were trapped on the wrong side of the gate at the end of our walk. Luckily there’d been a gap in the fence so I managed to escape without any climbing. Today there was no gap.

We stood looking at the gate for a while, trying to decide what to do. Like last time, there were no signs to explain why the path was closed. We could climb the hill and take the high path through the park or we could risk climbing over the fence. After a bit of dithering we looked at each other, then at the fence, trying to decide if we could make it over without breaking either the fence or ourselves. Then, giggling like naughty schoolgirls, we climbed over.

The path was firm and dry. There were no fallen trees that we could see so it seemed very odd for the gate to be locked. We both knew we might find our way blocked further along but we kept on walking, enjoying the moment.

The path runs along the bottom of the valley. A stream runs beside it, mostly hidden by the trees. Its origins are somewhere in Bursledon but, as far as I know, it doesn’t have a name. In 1762, Walter Taylor built a wood working mill beside the stream here. Millers Pond, across the road, was built as a reservoir.

Walter and his father, confusingly also called Walter, had developed a revolutionary new method of mass producing wooden rigging blocks for the navy. When Walter senior died his son took out a patent on the machinery and built the sawmill at Mayfield. By 1781 the business had grown and Walter moved to Woodmill in Swaythling where the water supply was better and there was more room to power his steam engines and equipment. The mill at Mayfield was turned into a private house but, in World War II it suffered bomb damage and was abandoned. Today there’s nothing to show it was ever there.

1898 map showing the mill and Mayfield house

Of course, Rachel and I weren’t thinking about Walter or the mill. We were just enjoying the dappled sunlight and the fresh green leaves on the trees and maybe worrying a little about finding the reason for the locked gate. We passed the fallen tree CJ and I had found on our last ‘locked gate’ walk. It was now beside the path rather than across it and rotting away quite nicely. Then we crossed the steam to the part of the trail where mud is often a problem. This was, I suspected, going to be our undoing. Neither of us were wearing boots and I didn’t much fancy a swim if we slipped. Just after the bridge though, there is a side trail leading up into the Archery Grounds. This would be our get out clause, should we need it.

As it happened there was no mud. Not a bit. The powers that be have been busy laying down a new path of tightly packed gravel and dirt with wooden battens to keep it in place. CJ and I saw the work in progress last spring but whether the new path had survived a wet winter with water trickling down from the high ground remained to be seen. We needn’t have worried. Today Rachel and I discovered the whole of the trail had been completed and had survived the winter.

Not having to watch our feet meant we could appreciate our surroundings better, although chatting meant I didn’t take many pictures. There was one, taken in the general direction of the stream trying to capture the skunk cabbage we smelled rather than saw.

There was another of the fairy door. We almost missed it because the Ivy has become so lush and large it’s almost covered it over. The fairies that live in the tree are going to have trouble getting in and out if it gets much bigger.

We almost made it to the end of the trail on Archery Road before we found anything that could explain the locked gate. Right by the turning where the trail heads upwards some men were working laying down more gravel. They were happy to let us pass though and we made it back to the road without incident.

Our short but sweet stroll ended with a nice cup of coffee in Woolston, sitting outside what was once The Vosper Thorneycroft factory. It may not have been the longest walk in the world but, with good company and an air of adventure because of the locked gate, it was a very enjoyable birthday walk.

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Colour on the Common

27 April 2019

Because the fair has been on the Common for the last couple of weeks the parkrun start, finish and route has had to temporarily change. Last week, in an early Saturday morning haze, we totally forgot and ended up walking through the eerily deserted fairground.

Our mistake made for some interesting photographs of what would have normally been the finish funnel being set up. This week we remembered and took a more scenic walk to avoid disturbing the fairground workers sleep with our chatter.

This involved a longer walk than normal on the diagonal path from Bellemoor Corner towards the crossroads. It wasn’t what I’d call a hardship, especially crossing the little bridge and looking over the side at the Rollsbrook stream. Almost all the little streams hidden on the Common are tributaries of the Rollsbrook stream. It rises just south of Cuthorn Mound and runs under the Avenue then roughly south west across the Common to the southern side of the cemetery. One of these days I might try to follow its path to the Rollesbrook Valley Greenway and have another attempt at finding Conduit Head. Today was not that day though.

Today there were a thousand or so people gathered near the Cowherds Pub waiting for parkrun to start. Obviously my plans didn’t involve any running. Instead, as soon as the runners had set off I headed back towards the crossroads, keeping to the grass to avoid getting caught up in the run. About halfway between the finish funnel and the crossroads there’s a grassy trail running off into the trees. As soon as I reached it I turned away from the stream of runners.

Within moments the noise of the parkrun had faded away and I was alone. Birds were singing, the sky above was mostly blue and the bright spring green of the new leaves all around made me smile. I dawdled along the trail, stopping to watch a robin who didn’t want his picture taken, admiring the shapes of dead branches and enjoying the peace.

The trail crosses a makeshift wooden bridge and emerges from the trees just east of the artesian well. A little further west, at the crossroads, I could hear the marshal cheering the runners on. Turning west, I left the well and the runners behind and headed towards the faint hum of traffic on the Avenue.

When you’re in the middle of the Common it’s easy to forget you’re also in the middle of a city. With trees, trails, lakes and nature all around the hustle and bustle and busy roads seem like another world. The traffic is never too far away though. The Avenue cuts through the Common, dividing the west side, with the parkrun, Cowherds pub and Old Cemetery, from the smaller east side where Cutthorn Mound is hidden. It isn’t easy to cross the road here, it’s one of the main routes in and out of Southampton and almost always busy. There is an alternative though, the subway otherwise known as the Beyond Graffiti tunnel. This was where I was heading.

Beyond Graffiti began in the late 1980’s as a youth project run by youth workers Mike Banks and Jacquie Lee, to help and inspire young artists, musicians, poets, writers and the like get together, harness their talents and express themselves. The Beyond Graffiti tunnel grew out of this project when, in 2004, graphic designers Corbin Adler and Michael Flibb were asked to spruce up the old paddling pool kiosk and got local youngsters involved. The murals were so poplar the council agreed to set up a permanent art project in the underpass, somewhere young graffiti artists could paint and be creative without getting into trouble. Walking down the slope towards the tunnel always give me a little tingle of anticipation. The artwork is ever changing so you never quite know what you’re going to find.

Good graffiti in the right place is a joy to behold, at least in my opinion. I’m not talking about mindless tagging, names scribbled on street furniture and private walls. To me that is just territory marking, like so many dogs cocking their legs to say they were there, the signature without the actual artwork. There’s been a lot of that about lately, especially from a complete moron calling himself cams wasp, who thinks it’s clever to paint his name everywhere, even over the real artwork on the painted shops in Northam.

The artwork in the Beyond Graffiti Tunnel is constantly evolving though. Of course there are scribbled tags but they don’t last long and some of the real artwork is stunningly beautiful, thought provoking or amusing. There were a few that caught my eye today and I stopped to capture them before they disappeared.

So I slowly walked the length of the tunnel, taking a photo here and there. Then I turned round and walked back, thinking about other dull areas of the city that could benefit from this kind of sprucing up.

Soon enough it was time to leave the vibrant colours of the tunnel and head back through the bright spring greens of the Common to the equally colourful sea of Lycra at the parkrun finish. Most Saturday mornings I’m on the opposite side of the Common, wandering around the Old Cemetery looking at graves and wild flowers. Today, thanks to the fair, I had a far more colourful morning walk.

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Walking with friends

23 April 2019

Walking is an everyday thing for me. Sometimes it’s just a march up the hill for supplies or a wander into town to meet a friend for coffee. Other times there is a real purpose to it, searching for boundary stones or Titanic crew houses, walking the walls or the Navigation, uncovering history. Some walks are filled with photo stops, others are about just drinking in the sights, smells and sounds. A lot of the time I walk on my own but CJ likes to tag along when he can. Today’s walk was completely different.

My lovely friend Rachel is recovering from major surgery. She can’t run like she usually does but she’s now allowed to walk. As I’d undergone something similar myself many years ago, I offered to join her for a walk. Kim said she was free, so then there were three. We agreed on a time and said we’d meet at The Feather.

When I left home it was all blue sky and the scent of Mexican orange blossom from my garden. The walk to Woolston was uneventful and unphotographed. As always, I was early so I sat in the Millennium Garden for a bit just enjoying the sun on my face. Kim was early too. She’d run all the way from the top end of the Avenue and been quicker than expected. Rachel was on time and looking very good all things considered.

We set off in the general direction of the Shore. None of us were sure how far Rachel would be able to walk and, if it turned out not to be very far, we could stop at Metricks for coffee. There were still no photos because we were so busy chatting.

We chatted our way past the coffee shop and on towards the Rolling Mills. We could stop at the café there if needs be. We didn’t need to though. Rachel was still feeling good and we kept on going, along the promenade past all the little beach shelters to the far end of the shore.

Of course we couldn’t not have an ice cream. It’s almost a rule to stop and sit on the bench by the no longer standing dead tree and eat ice cream, or, in Rachel and Kim’s case, ice lollies. Usually I take a photo of the sea and the tree. Today I took one of my friends enjoying their treat and then, because I am rubbish at selfies and hate having my picture taken, one of my friends and my ice cream, just to prove I was there too.

This was where I thought we’d turn back but Rachel was still raring to go. She wanted to walk in Westwood. I have been lost in Westwood more times than I care to admit but Rachel is a qualified run leader and she’s run in these woods many times. Perhaps, just for once, there would be no going in circles wondering where I was.

It started well. The first part of the path was awash with green alkanet. I even stopped to take photos. Rachel was confident she knew where she was going and we followed, chatting and laughing as we slowly wandered amongst the trees,

It all went a bit wrong when we got distracted by the bluebells. There were great drifts of them painting the woodland floor blue. We meandered down one path after another gasping at their beauty.

Then we realised we didn’t quite know where we were. After a bit of walking in circles (probably anyway), we found what looked like one of the main paths. We seemed to be close to the end of it. In theory the Shore should have been nearby. Westwood is a maze of paths though and it’s full of tricks. We kept walking but, just in case, I opened the map on my phone. It was a good thing I did. We were almost in Netley, heading away from the shore not towards it!

As we turned around and began walking back, Rachel admitted she’d regularly got her running group lost in these woods. I’m glad it isn’t just me Luckily the extra walking didn’t do Rachel any harm and we made it back to Woolston in one piece, laughing all the way. Next time I think I’ll plan a route I know won’t get us lost.

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Titanic tales the last Bevois Valley houses

10 April 2019

When we set out this morning we’d planned to find all the Titanic crew houses in St Denys but we’d kept on going. Now we’d found all but four of the Bevois Valley houses and one in Mount Pleasant too. The last houses on my list were all more or less on our way home but, whether any had survived the last century remained to be seen.

Back on Bevois Valley Road, near the Gurdwara Nanaksar, it was immediately clear that the first houses on this part of the list were long gone. There was nothing left of any real age on the odd side of the road where our houses would have been. All we could do was take a photo and tell the stories of the men who lived in them.

Number 45 Bevois Valley Road was once the home of Lorenzo Horace Mitchell. Known as Lawrence, he was born in Southampton in 1893. He was one of ten children born to Herbert, a joiner, and Sentina, also natives of Southampton, although Sentina had Italian ancestry, which could explain his rather exotic name. At the beginning of the twentieth century the family were living at 71 Mount Pleasant Road but, by 1911, they’d moved to 193 Northam Road and Lawrence was working as a hairdresser. 

What made him decide to go to sea is a mystery but, at some time in the next year he was working as a trimmer on Oceanic. It seems a giant leap from hairdresser to trimmer but the work obviously suited him because, in April 1912, he joined the crew of Titanic. As a trimmer his wages would have been £5 10s a month. When he signed on he gave his address as 45 Bevois Valley Road.

The trimmers worked in the dark dusty coal bunkers beside and above the boilers. It was hard work, shovelling tons of coal down the chutes to the firemen and moving it about in wheelbarrows to keep the weight evenly distributed. It was also unbearably hot, so much so, the coal often ignited and part of a trimmer’s job involved putting out these fires and shovelling already burning coal down to the boiler rooms. When the ship was sinking, the trimmers on duty kept shovelling coal to keep the generators running for the water pumps and lights. Of the 73 trimmers aboard, only 20 survived. Sadly, Lawrence was among those lost and his body was never identified. 

Trimmers on Titanic

His family must have been heartbroken and the money they received from the Titanic relief fund was scant consolation. Their grief was compounded when, just two years later, his elder brother Percival died, aged just 22. His mother died in 1917 and his father in 1950. What became of his other siblings isn’t clear, although his brother Norman continued to live in Southampton and died in 1981. 

The next house, number 69, was home to two crew members, father and son George Henry and Archibald George Chitty. George was born in Reigate, Surrey in 1862, the son of Thomas, a gardener and Ellen, both Surrey natives. He had seven known siblings. Before his tenth birthday the family had moved to Twickenham, Middlesex and later to Isleworth. At some point George joined the Army Service Corps and ended up in Hampshire. In 1890 he married Julia Walden from Southampton in Hound Parish church. They had three children, Jessie Selina, born in 1882 in Netley, Archibald George born in 1883 in Aldershot and Eliza May born in 1890 in Southampton. 

By 1891, the family were settled in Southampton living in the All Saints area of the town centre and George was working as a baker. Sadly, little Eliza died in 1899, aged just nine and, by 1901 they had moved to 66 Earls Road. Jessie was working as a domestic and Archibald had gone to sea so they had the house to themselves. 

In about 1909, Jessie married George Ernest Carpenter, a ship’s baker working for the American Mail Steam Ship Company. At around the same time Julia died and George and Archibald moved in with the newlyweds at Clovelly, Newton Road, Bitterne Park for a while. Archibald was working for White Star as a steward aboard Adriatic and it wasn’t long before George had also gone to sea. As George was already working as a baker, his son and son in law’s adventures at sea may have been the catalyst that led him to follow suit. 

Exactly when George and Archibald moved to 69 Bevois Valley Road isn’t clear but they were both living there when they joined Titanic. George left the Oceanic to become Titanic’s assistant baker, earning £4 10s a month and Archibald left Olympic to become a third class steward, earning £3 15s a month. 

Bakers in the Titanic galley

As assistant baker, George would have been kept very busy. Titanic’s kitchens, with their coal fuelled ovens, cooking tops, ranges and roasters were hot, noisy and bustling places. The kitchen staff prepared more than six thousand meals every day. Bread and other baked goods would have almost certainly featured in every single one.

Titanic third class dining room

Archibald would have been just as busy serving the third class passengers. The third class dining saloon was one hundred feet long and could accommodate four hundred and seventy three diners at every sitting. The Saloon was actually two rooms separated by a bulkhead and diners were segregated. The forward room was for families and single women, while the aft room was for single men. Unlike the first and second class stewards, it’s unlikely Archibald would have made much money from tips as most third class passengers had very little to spare.

Exactly what happened to George and Archibald on that fateful night is unknown but it would be nice to think they found each other somehow amongst all the mayhem. Both died when the ship sank and their bodies were never identified. They are remembered on a family grave in the Old Cemetery, oddly, one I stumbled upon very recently. Jessie and her husband continued to live in Newton Road until their deaths in the 1940’s. 

George and Archibald’s memorial

The next house, number 80, was on the even side of the road and, after a great deal of peering at the fronts of shops, we found it. This was where Andrew Simmons once lived. Not a lot is known about him. When he joined Titanic he gave his birth date as 13 June 1880 but later records give it as 1873. Perhaps he simply lied about his age for fear he wouldn’t get the job if they knew he was approaching forty? It was certainly easier to do such things in days before computers where records could not easily be checked. As far as anyone can tell he was born in Oxford but when he came to Southampton is a mystery, as is his early life. He had probably been working at sea for some time as he left the Philadelphia to join Titanic as a scullion. 

Scallions were basically the dogs bodies of the kitchen. They fetched and carried, cleaned pots and pans, dishes, chopping blocks and work stations. It was demanding work and the pay of £3 10s a month, with no chance of tips, was scant reward. 

Like almost all of his life, the details of Andrew’s escape are hazy. Unlike so many others he was saved but how and on which lifeboat is not known. It’s probable he was on either lifeboat 8 or lifeboat 11, but no one knows for sure. His life after the sinking is almost as much of a mystery. He continued to live in Southampton but whether he went back to sea or not isn’t clear. In 1915 he married Leah Barnard but, like so much else, whether they had any children isn’t known. He died in Southampton on the 36th anniversary of the disaster 15 April 1948 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Hollybrook Cemetery, as anonymous in death as he had been in life. 

Andrew Simmons from Encyclopedia Titanica

From the outset we knew our next house 5 Marine Terrace no longer existed. In fact, when I was researching these crew members, I’d had a hard time even finding out where Marine Terrace was. It wasn’t on the modern map or on the 1910 version. It took a few pointers from the kind people on the Hampshire Heritage and Southampton and Hampshire Over The Years Facebook Pages and the 1869 map before I worked it out. Originally the little terrace would have had enviable views across the Itchen but, as more and more houses were built in the area, it became hidden behind them and was demolished in around 1940, after being bombed. 

The 1869 map showing Marine Terrace

The terrace was situated roughly behind the modern day Hobbit pub so CJ and I took a couple of photos of the pub as there was nothing else left to see. Once 5 Marine Terrace was home to William Long. He was born in Southampton in 1876. His father, George, a general labourer, was born in Wiltshire and his mother, Fanny came from Eling, Hampshire. They had six children and lived in Queen Street, St Mary’s, then later in Hill Street. 

William married Ethel Eunice Abbott in 1897 and they had six children, five of whom survived infancy, Ethel, Edith, William, George and Jack. Exactly when William joined the Royal Navy isn’t certain but, by 1901, he was at sea and Ethel was working as a domestic servant. By 1911 the family were living at 5 Marine Terrace, although William was at Thames Berth 7 at the time of the census, working as a coal trimmer, probably for the Royal Navy.

Both William and his brother Frank joined Titanic as coal trimmers. Frank had previously been working on Olympic but it isn’t clear whether William joined straight from the navy or if he’d been in the merchant service. Neither survived the sinking. In all probability they were both shovelling coal to the bitter end. Neither of their bodies were ever identified. Ethel never remarried and died in Winchester in 1940. What became of their children isn’t known. 

And so our adventures in St Denys, Mount Pleasant and Bevois Valley finally came to an end. We’d had some successes and some disappointments but we’d found all the houses there were still to be found and remembered the lost and the saved. Much has been written about the passengers who lived and died on Titanic but the crew are often forgotten. Southampton lost so many on that fateful night and it’s good to be able to tell their stories.

Titanic tales from Bevois Valley

10 April 2019

Engraving by Willy Stöwer: Der Untergang der Titanic

We were close to the railway crossing at Mount Pleasant, just a stone’s throw away from Northam Bridge. Tempting as it was to head for home and leave the rest of the Bevois Valley houses for another day, we decided to head back towards Bevois Valley and keep searching, at least for a while. Our next house was on Rockstone Lane.

Rockstone Lane

The terraced houses of Rockstone Lane look as if they haven’t changed much since Titanic sailed so I was confident we would find the house where the unimaginatively named Humphrey Humphries once lived. Humphrey was born in Southampton in 1880, the second son of Henry and Emma Humphries. Henry, was a gardener, originally from Devon and Emma was from Herefordshire. They married in Worcestershire in 1879  and moved to St Mary’s in Southampton shortly afterwards. By 1891 Emma had been widowed and the family were living in the St Michael’s area of the town centre. Emma was working as a charwoman to support her family, but, in 1892, she married widower, John Toms, who was an ironmonger and coppersmith. 

By the turn of the century Humphrey was working as a night porter at the South Western Hotel, where so many of Titanic’s wealthy passengers would spend their last night on land. It isn’t clear when he first went to sea but the hotel was popular with steamer passengers so perhaps this was where the idea came from. 

Poor Emma didn’t have much luck with husbands. By 1906, she’d been widowed again and by 1911, was living at 10 Rockstone Lane with Humphrey’s widowed brother Harry and his two young children, Harry and Stanley. Humphrey was already working at sea but 10 Rockstone Lane was the address he gave when he signed onto Titanic so it’s likely he was living there between voyages. He’d previously been working as a steward on Oceanic. 

10 Rockstone Lane

As a second class steward, Humphrey would have earned £3 15s a month and supplemented this with tips from passengers. A good steward could do very well from tips, although the stewards in first class obviously got the lion’s share as their passengers were often extremely wealthy. Poor Humphrey never got to spend his wages or his tips though. He was lost with the ship and his body was never identified. His heartbroken mother posted an announcement in an unidentifiable newspaper.

HUMPHREYS–April 15th, at sea, on s.s. Titanic, Humphrey Humphreys, the beloved son of Emma Toms, of 10 Rockstone Lane, Southampton, aged 31 years. May his dear soul be at rest. “Nearer my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.”

She died in Southampton in 1928 and Humprhey’s brother, Harry, died in 1932. What became of Harry’s sons isn’t known. 

The next house on our list was in Cedar Road, which meant retracing our steps back to Bevois Valley Road. We stopped for a moment to admire the golden dome of the Gurdwara Nanaksar on the triangle of land between Bevois Valley Road and Peterborough Road. This was once the Bevois Town Methodist Chapel, built in 1861 and enlarged in 1906. After the church was damaged by wartime bombing it remained empty for many years and was even used as a furniture store at one point. In around 1970, the Sikh community purchased the building and turned it into a temple.

Now we were in for a bit of a climb. Peterborough Road led us up the hill towards Cedar Road. This was where Thomas Holman Kemp once lived. Thomas’ father, John, was from Southampton and his mother, Sarah was born in County Cavan, Ireland. John was a master mariner and he met and married Sarah, who had emigrated to Australia, in Brisbane in 1865. Their first child, Matilda, was born in Australia but, shortly afterwards, they returned to Southampton and this was where Thomas was born in 1869. 

Thomas Hulman Kemp From Encyclopedia Titanica

The family settled in the St Mary’s area and, when he left school, Thomas followed in his father’s footsteps and went to sea as a marine engineer. In 1893, he married Southampton girl Kate Feilder and they set up home in Forster Road Bevois Valley. Their daughter Kate Evelyn was born the next year. By 1911, the little family had moved to 11 Cedar Road and young Kate was working as an apprentice milliner. This was where Thomas was living when he left the White Lady to join Titanic as Extra Assistant 4th Engineer. His wages were £10 10s a month.

We climbed the hill feeling fairly sure we’d easily be able to find Thomas’s house but, of all the old terraced houses in the street, the terrace including numbers 9 to 11 were obviously modern houses, probably the result of wartime bombing. We took a photo anyway and, for good measure, took another of the older houses a few doors away to give an idea what Thomas’s house would have looked like.

9 – 11 Cedar Road
The older Cedar Road Houses

The engineers on Titanic took turns to keep watch in the engine and boiler rooms and supervise the firemen, greasers and trimmers. The Extra 4th Engineer was also known as the Refrigeration Engineer. Titanic had a huge self-sustaining brine refrigeration system throughout the ship, to keep the provision rooms cool. There were separate cold rooms for mutton, beef, cheese, mineral water, fish, game, poultry, flowers, wines, spirits and champagne. Each was maintained at the optimum temperature for the goods stored there. There was also a chilled compartment at the aft of the ship on the starboard side to store perishable freight. Thomas wold have been involved in making sure the refrigeration system kept working and, if anything was to go wrong, to fix it. 

Exactly what his role was when the ship was sinking isn’t clear but, none of the engineers survived and Thomas’ body was never identified. Kate never remarried and died in Southampton in 1951. Kate Evelyn married William Claud Stent in 1918. She had two daughters, Joyce and Beryl and died in Winchester in 1985. 

Our next houses were on Forster Road and Earls Road. Rather than go back to the bottom of the hill and climb it again one street further along, we decided to climb to the top and work our way back down. It was a sensible plan, although it didn’t seem like it when we were trudging upwards. From the top of Earls Road we were rewarded with a wonderful view across Northam, including the huge gasometers next to the football stadium.

The top of the hill

Number 20 Forster Road was the highest house on our list today. It was where Thomas Henry Edom Veal once lived. Henry was born in Sholing in 1874. His father, John, was a carter and his mother, Ann, was a laundress. They had five children. John would later open his own grocer’s business but, whether he was related to Alan Veal who opened the very popular cash and carry superstore in Sholing in the 1980’s, isn’t clear. 

Thomas was brought up in Botany Bay, Sholing and appears to have gone to sea in the 1890’s. In 1902, he married Agnes Leonora Veal, the daughter of Ernest Veal, a joiner, and Sarah Hibberd. They had one son, Leonard, born in 1903. 

In 1911 the family were living in Hartington Road and Thomas was working as a steward on Olympic. By the time he joined Titanic as a first class saloon steward, they had moved to 20 Forster Road. We were pleased to find the house still standing, just before the junction with Clausentum Road. Apart from the row of wheelie bins outside, a satellite dish and a parking sign, it looked much as it must have done in 1912. We could almost imagine Thomas walking out of the front door and heading off towards the ship.

20 Forster Road

As a saloon steward, he’d have been responsible for serving food and, between meal sittings, clearing the tables, changing the linen, dealing with spillages (a common event on a moving ship) and preparing the tables for the next meal.  It would have been a busy job but there were plenty of opportunities to earn tips from the rich and famous passengers and boost his £3 15s wages.

Tragically, Thomas did not survive the sinking and his body was never identified. Agnes remarried in late 1913. She and her new husband, Wynhall Richards, did not have any children and died within weeks of each other in 1942. Thomas’ son Leonard never married and died in Southampton in 1985. 

Slowly we retraced our steps back to Earls Road where we hoped to find our next three houses. A look at the house numbers told us we had quite a bit of walking before we found number 49. At least it was all downhill.

Earls Road

We last walked this way on CJ’s birthday a couple of years back so we were in fairly familiar territory. That day we’d been looking for graffiti and we’d stumbled upon an interesting building on Ancasta Road. What we thought might have once been a church, turned out to be St Faith’s Mission Hall, now used as the Southampton Chinese Christian Church Centre. Just after we passed it today we found the house we were looking for, or where it once stood.

Although many of the houses in Earls Road are much as they would have been a hundred years ago, the area did suffer during the Southampton Blitz. During the climax of the bombing on 30 November and 1 December 1940, three bombs fell on Earls Road. Sadly it seems they destroyed our next three houses as all three were modern buildings standing amid the old.

Bombed houses in a Earls Road

Isaac Hiram Maynard lived at 31 Earls Road. He was born in Shoreham, Sussex in 1880. His father, Hiram, was a master mariner, once coxwain of the Shoreham Lifeboat and a pilot at Shoreham Harbour. He and his wife, Catherine, had ten children. When Isaac was eight his mother died, aged just 44, and, within three years, his father had remarried. He and his new wife, Eliza, went on to have two more children. 

Isaac followed in his seafaring father’s footsteps and joined the merchant service. By 1901, he was living with his married sister, Catherine, in Portswood Road. A year later he was working for White Star as a ship’s cook. Three years later he married Southampton girl, Ethel Louise Gookey, the daughter of a house painter. They had no children. 

Isaac Hiram Maynard from Encyclopedia Titanica

Isaac was no stranger to disaster at sea, he’d been working on Olympic when she collided with Hawke. Perhaps he thought lightning wouldn’t strike twice when he transferred to Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast or maybe he just fancied a change? At the time he was living at 31 Earls Road. As a cook he would have earned £7 10s a month. 

31 Earls Road Today

Isaac was still aboard Titanic as she sank. He later recalled seeing Captain Smith standing on the bridge, fully dressed with his cap on. He saw the water rush over the top deck and the unlaunched collapsible lifeboats A and B swept away. The next rush of water washed him overboard and, by chance, he managed to catch hold of one of the upturned boats and cling on. There were around six other men clinging to the boat in the freezing water. Later they said they saw Captain Smith washed from the bridge into the sea. Somehow he managed to keep his cap on his head and the men saw him swimming. One man reached out his hand and tried to save him but the captain refused to be rescued. He swam away calling to the men ‘look after yourselves boys.’ Isaac soon lost sight of him. There have been several different accounts of how Captain Smith met his end so this story, while interesting, may be apocryphal. He certainly later saw the chief baker Charles Joughin, from Shirley, swimming around the upturned boat. He put out his hand and held onto him. This was corroborated by Joughins testimony at the later inquiry. The men continued to cling to the collapsible lifeboat while some twenty or so men stood on top. Amongst them was Second Officer Charles Lightoller.

When it began to get light Frederick Clench in lifeboat 12 realised that the floating debris he’d initially thought was one of the ship’s funnels was actually collapsible lifeboat B, upside down and slowly sinking with about 28 men standing on or desperately clinging to it. The men, who must have been half dead from the cold, were transferred into lifeboats 12 and 4. Issac was amongst those taken into lifeboat 12. It was severely overloaded by this time, with about 69 people aboard, and was the last to reach Carpathia, some time after eight in the morning. 

Isaac Hiram Maynard from Encyclopedia Titanica

Despite his ordeal, Isaac carried on working at sea into the 1920’s. His wife Ethel died in 1933 and, after he married Mary Annie Henry in 1941 they moved to Portswood Road. Isaac died in the Borough Hospital Southampton in January 1948. He is buried in South Stoneham Cemetery. 

Another crew member lived two doors away at 29 Earls Road, very close to one of the graffiti murals we’d been looking for on our last visit. Lewis Owen was born in Llandudno, Wales in 1862. His parents, Richard and Ann, were natives of Caernarvonshire and Denbighshire, respectively and Richard was a plasterer. They had five children. Lewis was brought up in Wales but, by 1881, the family had moved to Tranmere, Cheshire and Lewis  was working as a plasterer like his father. It isn’t clear how long the family stayed in England but, by 1891, Lewis’ parents and siblings were back in Wales. Lewis was, it seems, at sea. He’d been a general servant aboard Liguria since at least 1888, earning £1, 10s per month, but where he was living when on land isn’t clear. 

Lewis Owen from Encyclopedia Titanica

By 1903 he was in Southampton, where he married Maud Louise Young, the Southampton born daughter of another seaman. They had no children and, by 1911, were living at 29 Earls Road. Lewis left Oceanic to join Titanic as a second class steward. His brother in law, Francis Young, was also aboard as a fireman. Both were lost when the ship sank and neither was identified. 

29 Earls Road

Poor Maud, who’d lost both a brother and a husband, remarried in 1913. She and her second husband, Herbert J. Slatter, a ship’s chef from Kent, went on to have children, although how many isn’t known, they moved to Kent where Herbert died in 1964. Maud went on to reach her 103rd birthday. She died in 1985. 

John Stewart was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1883. Little is known about his parentage or childhood but, by the first decade of the twentieth century, he was living in Southampton and working as a ship’s steward for White Star. Living with him was Mabel Annie Blyth, a tobacconist Assistant and their daughter Gwendoline Ethel, who’d been born in 1909. The couple finally married in 1911.

When John left Olympic to join Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast Mabel was probably already pregnant with their second child, Florence Mary, known as Mollie, who was born in late 1912. When he signed on again on 4 April, he gave his address as 7 Earls Road. He was a first class verandah steward, earning £3 15s a month, which he could likely double with tips from the wealthy passengers. 

7 Earls Road is the modern house in the middle

John waited on passengers in the Verandah cafe, one of two separate rooms on either side of the ship on A Deck behind the First Class smoke room. The Verandah and Palm Court were beautifully light and airy rooms with a trellised decor and cane furniture. The large windows looked out to sea. The Palm Court, on the port side, had a revolving door leading to the smoke room and was very popular. The Veranda was quieter, often empty, or used as a play room for the first class children. It may not have been the best area as far as tips were concerned but it sounds like it was a very pleasant place to work, serving drinks and light refreshments to the occasional first class passenger and looking out over the sea.

The Verandah Cafe

Exactly what happened on the fateful night of the collision isn’t clear but, somehow, John managed to get onto lifeboat fifteen, the last large lifeboat to be launched. The boat was at the far end of the boat deck on the starboard side and, by all accounts, was the only one launched full. It’s occupants were a mixture of women and children, many from third class, some third class men and several members of the crew. There were certainly between 60 and 80 people aboard and fireman, Frank Dymond, appears to have been in charge. 

Lifeboat 15 was lowered shortly after lifeboat 13, which had become entangled after being caught up in a huge amount of water pouring out of a condenser exhaust. The occupants of both boats shouted out for the lowering to stop but no one above heard. Luckily, someone managed to cut the falls of lifeboat 13 at the last moment and disaster was averted. 

It took them some time to get away from the sinking ship, perhaps because the lifeboat was so heavily laden. It was the tenth or eleventh to reach Carpathia and was the only wooden boat left behind when Carpathia left for New York. Later John discovered that, in all the mayhem of the sinking, he’d inadvertently put the Verandah cafe keys in his pocket. What became of them is a mystery but I imagine they’d fetch a pretty penny today as a small key which opened a life-jacket locker on the Titanic was sold for £85,000 in 2016.

John continued to work for White Star for a short while after the disaster but, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before he left the sea for good and found work as a driver. During World War I he enlisted in the Army Medical Corps and he and Mabel later ran the Richmond Inn in Portswood Road. John died, after a long illness, in 1946 and was cremated at Southampton Crematorium. His ashes were scattered in the garden of rest at South Stoneham Cemetery. Mabel died in 1978. His daughters Gwen and Mollie both married and remained in Hampshire until their deaths. 

Our last Bevois Valley houses were on Bevois Valley Road, which, coincidentally, would take us back towards home. Whether we’d find any of them still standing was another matter altogether though…

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Titanic tales from Bevois Valley and Mount Pleasant

10 April 2019

There were fourteen Titanic Crew houses in Bevois Valley and, as far as I could tell, many of them were still standing. When we set out this morning, 107 years to the day after Titanic set sail, the plan had been to find the houses in St Denys. Even so, I’d brought the Bevois Valley addresses with me because some of them were so close to where we’d be walking it seemed silly not to tick them off the list. The first few were in Empress Road, once a little terraced street overlooking the railway line and the river. In my imagination, they were much like the houses we’d already seen in Priory Road and an old photo I found later proved me correct. Sadly, they are all gone now. Many were lost to bombing and the last three terraced houses were demolished a couple of years ago. 

Empress Road 1900’s

Today the area is an industrial estate with a giant bus depot, lots of modern shed like units, a supermarket and a few small businesses. There was no chance of finding any of our crew houses but we walked along the road anyway, thinking about the men who once lived here. 

One was George Walter Nettleton. He was born in St Denys in 1882 and his mother, Caroline, was a Hampshire lass. His father, Frederick, a tram driver, was originally from London. Frederick and Caroline had seven children.

George spent his early life in Portswood. When he first went to sea is unclear but he had previously worked for some time as a labourer. When he left Oceanic and joined Titanic as a fireman he was living at 23 Empress Road, presumably with his parents. He was unmarried. 

Empress Road today

Outside of the officers, Titanic’s firemen were paid some of the best wages on the ship, and rightly so. It was their muscle and sweat that kept the ship running. Unlike the stewards, in their starched white jackets, the firemen were hidden away in the bowels of the ship. They had no chance to supplement their £6 a month with tips from rich and grateful passengers and it’s doubtful any of those above decks gave them a single thought. When Titanic sank the majority of the firemen sank with her, shovelling coal to the bitter end in a desperate attempt to give others the best chance of escape. George was probably among them. He did not survive and his body was never identified. 

Empress Road today

The aptly named Joseph Henry Bevis was born in 1890 in Hastings, the youngest of Albert and Julia’s two children. The family moved from Hastings to 70 Empress Road in about 1911 and Joseph was soon working as a labourer. When he signed on to Titanic as a trimmer he gave his address as 171 Empress Road. He’d never worked at sea before but the wages of £5 10s a month were probably an enticing prospect, especially as the city had been hit badly by strikes and unemployment was rife. 

Empress Road today

A trimmers job was physically hard, hot and dirty work. They loaded all the coal onto the ship and then worked inside the bunkers with shovels and wheelbarrows moving coal around to keep it level and stop the ship listing. They also shovelled coal down the cute to the firemen in the boiler rooms. Because of the heat, the coal would often spontaneously combust and trimmers were also responsible for putting out any fires in the bunkers. When the ship left Belfast there was a fire burning in one of her bunkers. It continued to burn for most of the journey and Jospeh may have been one of the trimmers trying to fight it.

Sadly, wherever he was and whatever he was doing when Titanic hit the iceberg, Joseph never lived to tell the tale. Like so many of the engineering crew, he was lost with the ship and his body was never identified. His family remained in Southampton. His mother died in 1931 and his father in 1935. 

The next house on our list wasn’t actually in Bevois Valley but it didn’t really fit into any other area and was so close by it seemed silly not to try to find it. Empress Road leads to Imperial Road and, at the bottom corner, there is a leafy cutaway leading to Mount Pleasant Road, this was once the home of George Terrill Thresher.

A Southampton native born in 1886, George was one of at least ten children born to George and Catherine Thresher. His father was an engine fitter and the large family lived in Mount Pleasant Road. In the final decade of the nineteenth century the family moved from number 50 Mount Pleasant Road to number 36 and, by 1901, young George was working as an errand boy. A decade later George was working at sea for White Star. He was unmarried and still living with his, now widowed, mother at 36 Mount Pleasant Road.

CJ and I left the cutway with high hopes of finding at least one of the houses George had called home. Unfortunately, although we walked all the way to the railway crossing, we had no luck. The house numbers were more than a little erratic, mainly because many of the houses seem to have disappeared and been replaced by a row of ramshackle garages. Whether this is the result of war time bombing or something else we couldn’t tell. In the end, all we could do was take photographs of the houses that were still standing and try to imagine them as they had been back in 1912.

Garages in Mount Pleasant Road
Approaching the level crossing
Mount Pleasant Road

When Titanic hit the iceberg luck was on George’s side. Due to the terrific heat in the boiler rooms and the physically exhausting job of shovelling tons of coal, the firemen worked four hour shifts with eight hours off duty to recover. George must have been off duty when the collision happened. Exactly how he managed to get on a lifeboat and which one isn’t clear but the chances are his muscles were what got him a place. Each boat needed strong men to row and an officer or able seaman to take command and navigate. In all probability, George was just in the right place at the right time and he survived. 

Despite his narrow escape, George continued to work at sea. At some time in the 1930’s he relocated to Gateshead and it was there, in 1937, that he finally married. He was 51 and had his wife, Jane Fawcett, was just two years his junior.  Marriage didn’t change him. He carried on working at sea in the  Merchant Navy. On 18 November 1939 his luck finally ran out. He was working as a fireman aboard the cargo ship SS Parkhill when she was torpedoed off the coast of Aberdeen. The U-boat, U-18, had already fired one torpedo but the Parkhill had managed to avoid it and steamed on. Less than an hour later they were hit by the second attack and George was one of nine seamen killed. Poor Jane, who had waited so long to become a wife, was widowed within two years. She never remarried and remained in Gateshead until her death in 1964. 

The first of our Bevois Valley houses were long gone and our detour to Mount Pleasant had proved to be fruitless. Now we had to decide whether to head for home or continue our Bevois Valley search.

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Titanic tales from St Denys part two

10 April 2019

Many years ago I lived in Portswood in a little flat a minute’s walk or so from St Denys Station. In 1989, the Portswood bypass was built and cut a swathe through the area I knew so well. The new road was named Thomas Lewis Way after Tommy Lewis, a St Mary’s lad and son of a dock labourer, who became a prominent trade unionist, local councillor and, in 1929, Southampton’s first Labour MP. The streets I knew so well were soon unrecognisable and many houses disappeared. The last five St Denys crew members all lived on Dukes Road, one of those swallowed up. We might not have been able to find their houses but we could still find what little is left of Dukes Road and tell their stories.


The walk from Priory Road to the remains of Dukes Road was once part of my walk to work but, even in the short time since my Bus Mine days, things have changed. One of the highlights of my walks used to be the path behind the Millennium Flats where boats were tied to little jetties and swans and ducks made me smile each day. The path led to some steep steps and Horseshoe Bridge. The gate at the top of the steps is now locked. The people living in the flats don’t like unsavoury characters like me walking near their nice homes, even though there is a steep bank and a high metal fence between the path and their property.

So we walked the long way round. Both of us feeling quite miffed. A train going under Horseshoe Bridge did cheer us up a little and I was even more cheered knowing I didn’t have to go inside the bus depot and spend ten hours being moaned at by angry passengers.

Almost opposite the bus depot, squashed between the big metal units of the industrial estate and the new road, is a tiny stretch of service road. This was once Dukes Road. In fact it’s still called Dukes Road even though there is no longer a single house on it. Still, we went to what was left of it and took some photos of the road sign.

The first of the Dukes Road Titanic crew was John Bertie Ellis, born in Southampton in 1883. His father, also called John, was a naval seaman from Manchester and his mother, Emma, was from Cornwall. John and Emma had nine children and moved to Southampton just before John was born. John began his working life as a cellarman. In 1905 he married Ethel Amelia Brooks. Ethel was also born in Southampton but was of exotic heritage. Her father, Addison Taylor Brooks, was born in Washington DC, of mixed African-American and European heritage. He’d seen service in the US Military before moving to England. John and Ethel had three children, Mabel Ethel, Bertie Alec and Frank.

When John joined Titanic as a vegetable cook the family were living at 30 Dukes Road. He’d previously been working on Oceanic as assistant vegetable cook so the job on Titanic was something of a promotion and his wages of £5 a month were probably very welcome. John escaped the sinking ship in emergency lifeboat 2, the seventh boat loaded from the port side. Fourth Officer Boxhall was in charge of the boat and took Steward James Johnstone, able seaman Frank Osman and John to assist with rowing. The boat had only eighteen or so people in it, mostly women and children. It was lowered, half empty, to A Deck to pick up more passengers but found nobody there. It was the first boat to reach Carpathia. 

John was not called upon to give evidence at any of the Titanic inquiries and returned to Southampton. In October 1912, his fourth child, Archie, was born. John went back to sea but, a few months later, jumped ship in America and was never heard of by his English family again. Ethel and the children carried on as best they could. Mabel became a cook and live in domestic to a sales executive in Enfield, Middlesex. She never married. Bertie married Annie Maria Corbishley and settled in Staffordshire to raise a family. He served as a Royal Artillery gunner in WWII and was killed in 1945 in Burma. Frank moved to Biloela, Queensland and died in 1991. Archie served in the Merchant Marine and Royal Navy Reserve as a quartermaster. He married Robbia Stewart and moved to Staffordshire to raise a family. He died in 1964. Poor deserted Ethel, with her family scattered, remained in Hampshire where she died in 1931. She never heard from John again. 

Having left his family in England, seemingly without a second thought, John he moved to New South Wales and began a new life. He bigamously married Isabella Towers in 1914. The couple had two sons, John and William and set up home in Sidney. It is unlikely that Isabella ever knew of John’s previous life. In 1916, John enlisted with the Australian 19th Infantary Battalion. He ended his days in Sidney as a war pensioner. He died in Sidney in 1932 and is buried in the Randwick Cemetery.

Dukes Road today

Charles Augustus Coombs was born in Wimborne Dorset in 1867. He was the second of two sons born to Mary Jane and George Edwin, a master butcher. Charles, better known as Augustus, was brought up in Wimborne and when or why he ended up in Southampton is a mystery but it’s probable he moved to get work at sea. He was certainly living in Southampton when he married Annie Amelia West in 1891. They had three children, Elsie Annie, Gladys Kathleen and Norah Georgina. On the 1901 census Augustus was working as a ship’s baker and living with his family, including his father, George, at 9 Ivy Road, Itchen.

George died in 1902 and at some time after this, the family moved to 78 Dukes Road. By 1911, Augustus was working as a cook for the White Star Line. He left Olympic to join Titanic as assistant cook, earning £4 10s a month. 

It was not the good career move he’d hoped for though. Augustus died when Titanic sank and his body was never recovered. What became of Annie isn’t clear but neither Elsie or Norah ever married and both died in 1970. Gladys married Robert Dyer and continued to live in Southampton until her death in 1976.

Titanic cooks from Pintrest

John Henry Jackopson was born in Liverpool in 1881. His father, Charles Ludwig Jackopson was probably Norwegian, although this is not certain. His mother, Sarah Ann, was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland. The couple married in Liverpool and had five children. Very little is known about John’s early life, mainly because his surname was frequently misspelled so records are hard to identify with any certainty. 

When John’s father died, in 1896, his mother went to live with her married daughter, Mary Thalia Gibson in Kirkdale, Lancashire. John probably also lived with her but, by this time, he was already working at sea so doesn’t show on any census. In 1903, John married Catherine McCabe in Liverpool and, in 1907, moved to Southampton. They had four children, the first two, Charles and Thomas, born in Liverpool and Cornelia and Catherine born in Southampton. Tragically, Catherine died within a few weeks of her birth. 

The move to Southampton was most likely prompted by John’s work as a ship’s fireman. His last ship before joining Titanic was the merchant steamer Highland Brae, a far smaller ship than Titanic, carrying around sixty or so passengers. When John signed onto Titanic the family were living at 97 Dukes Road. His wages would have been £6 a month.


The firemen on Titanic had a relentless job. The ship had twenty-four double-ended boilers and five single-ended boilers. They consumed around eight hundred and fifty tons of coal every day and all this coal had to be shovelled from the coal bunkers into the boilers. Every two minutes the boilers needed a ton of coal to keep working. Each boiler had a team of ten firemen and four trimmers, working in four hours shifts. Four hours was the maximum time a man could deal with the exertion and the incredible heat. Even while the ship was sinking, the men on duty kept shovelling coal to keep the pumps working and the lights shining. Of the 176 firemen on board just 48 survived.

For the firemen, survival was a matter of luck. Those on duty stood no chance. As soon as the ship began to list they would have been trapped in the boiler room, unable to climb the steep ladder out. Those off duty lived or died depending on whether or not they were ordered to man the lifeboats and use their muscles to row passengers to safety. John was not one of the lucky ones. His body was never identified. 

Catherine must have been devastated by the news. She was pregnant at the time and gave birth to a son, named John after his father, just a few weeks after the sinking. Baby John only lived a few months, adding to the tragedy. In late 1913, Catherine married Charles George Hatcher and went on to have two more children. She lived in Southampton until her death in 1951. John’s children also remained in Southampton. Thomas married Florence Spencer in 1946 but had no children. He died in 1974. Charles married Doris Glasspool Plummer and had five children. He died in 1942. Cornelia married Robert Fuller and had four children. She died in 1991. 

Dukes Road today

Robert Frederick William Couper was one of eight children born to engraver Robert and his wife Stirling in Southampton in 1883. The family lived in Kingsfield Road, All Saints. Robert was just ten when his mother died and, by the time he was eighteen, he and his younger brother Leopald were boarding in a house in York Street, St Mary’s working as boilermakers. What became of the rest of the family is unclear.

In 1910 Robert married Emily Alice Westbury and the couple soon moved to 101 Dukes Road with Emily’s mother, Alice. At some time in 1911 they had a child but it died soon after birth and there is no record of a name or even if it was a boy or a girl. As Robert was almost certainly working at sea aboard Olympic by this time, it must have been a difficult time for poor Emily. They would have no more children. 

Robert Frederick William Couper From Encyclopedia Titanica

Robert signed onto Titanic as a fireman. When Titanic sank luck was on his side, unlike so many of his colleagues, he survived. Few exact details are known but he was almost certainly in lifeboat 3, the third to be lowered on the starboard side. Officer Murdoch directed the procedure and when all the passengers had boarded and there were still empty seats, he directed nearby crew members into the boat. There were several other firemen aboard the little lifeboat and their muscles were undoubtedly welcomed when it came to rowing. Lifeboat 3 was the fifth or sixth to reach Carpathia. 

Despite his experience, Robert continued to work at sea. He died on 31 December 1941 at Southampton Docks. Exactly how isn’t clear but it may well have been during a bombing raid. He was buried in Hollybrook Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Emily survived him and continued to live in Southampton. She died in 1963.

Dukes Road today

Sidney Humphries was born in Wimborne, Dorset in 1859 to William, a publican, and Elizabeth. He had one sister, born the year before him. By 1861 the small family had moved to French Street, Southampton and William was working as a ship’s steward. 

Sidney followed in his father’s footsteps and went to sea at an early age then, in 1874, he joined the Royal Navy. His first ship was the St Vincent. He went on to serve on Excellent, Rover, Euphrates and Duke of Wellington but was invalided out of the service in 1882. For the next ten years it isn’t clear what he did but it’s probable that he joined the merchant service. In 1892, he rejoined the navy, serving as an able seaman on Trincomalee. 

Sidney left the navy and married Annie Rosetta Snead in 1895. They already had two children, Catherine born in 1892 and Frederick, born in 1894, and went on to have six more, Sidney, Horace, Leslie, Hetty, Arthur and Joan. They lived at various addresses in Shirley and Sidney is described on the 1901 and 1911 census as being a seaman so it is likely he’d rejoined the merchant service. 

In 1886 Sidney witnessed a young woman, Minnie Whitehorn, throwing herself into Shirley Pond. Poor Minnie, a domestic servant, was trying to kill herself but Sidney intervened. Without a thought for himself, he dived in and saved her. His efforts were recognised by a medal from the Royal Humane Society. 

Dukes Road today

Annie had just given birth to their youngest daughter when Sidney signed onto Titanic as Quartermaster. He and his family were living at 113 Dukes Road. His previous ship had been Olympic. Titanic had six quartermasters, each acting as helmsman, in charge of navigating the ship, when on duty.

Stanley wasn’t on duty when the ship hit the iceberg. Whether he’d have done anything differently if he had been is anyone’s guess. He was on A deck though, helping to load the lifeboats. He watched the youngest crew members, the bellboys, being taken to their posts in the main cabin entry by their captain, a steward. The fifty lads, some as young as fourteen, were told to stay in the cabin and not get in the way. It’s hard to imagine what the poor boys must have been thinking but they all sat quietly on their benches and did as they were told. When it was clear the ship really was going to sink and the order was given that every man was free to save himself so long as he kept away from the lifeboats, these lads scattered to all parts of the ship. Sidney saw several of them standing around smoking cigarettes and joking with the passengers, as if they didn’t have a care in the world. In fact they seemed quite gleeful to be breaking the rule against smoking while on duty. Not one of them tried to get in a lifeboat and not one was saved. 

Sidney Humphries from Association Francaise du Titanic

Sidney took command of lifeboat 11, the sixth to be lowered from the starboard side. Several stewards were ordered into the boat to help the passengers over the railing. It was one of the most heavily loaded lifeboats, with between sixty and eighty people aboard, mostly women and children. Miss Edith Rosenbaum brought a toy, a musical pig with her and entertained the frightened children with it. Several people later said a baby was thrown in at the last moment without its mother.  

There was some difficulty when the boat was launched as the crew were unable to release her from the falls, the ropes and blocks used with davits for lowering the boats. When the boat finally reached the water it was discovered there was no lamp aboard and a sailor lit a piece of rope to use as a signal. The boat was so heavily loaded those manning the oars had difficulty actually rowing. Even so, lifeboat 11 was the sixth or eighth to reach Carpathia. 

Sidney returned to England and was not called to give evidence at either the American or British inquiries into the sinking. He carried on working at sea, even throughout World War I. Later, as his health began to fail with age and he developed a heart condition, he worked as a stevedore in Southampton Docks. He died in 1919, aged 60, and was buried in Hollybrook Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Annie died in 1936. 

We might not have found a single house still standing on the second half our our St Denys search but we had at least accounted for all the St Denys crew members. Now we had a descision to make. We were more or less in Bevois Valley and I’d brought the list of Bevois Valley crew and their addresses with me just in case. Time was getting on though. It was almost midday and we were both getting a bit hungry and thirsty. Should we cut our losses and head for home or carry on searching?

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Titanic tales from St Denys

Titanic Lifeboats in New York

10 April 2019

As today was the anniversary of the sailing of Titanic it seemed a good day to continue our search for Titanic crew houses. Our objectives were the houses in St Denys and, as we walked across Cobden Bridge, it looked as if it was going to be a beautiful, if chilly morning. Being pretty familiar with the streets of St Denys, I was well aware several of the houses were no longer standing but I had high hopes of finding most of them.

The first house on our list was on the north side of Priory Road, not too far from the remains of the old priory that gives the area its name. Today, all that’s left is an archway, overgrown with ivy in a back garden. Even so, we stopped to take a quick photo as we passed.

A few doors along we found 270 Priory Road still standing. At least we think it was still there. A huge overgrown tree in the front garden almost hid it from view and it took us a few moments to work out this was actually the house Jack Butterworth gave as his address when he signed on to Titanic as a Saloon Steward to earn just £3 15s a month.

270 Priory Road

Jack was born in Manchester in around 1889. Little is known about his early life and when he came to Southampton isn’t clear but it was almost certainly connected with his seafaring career. Before he joined Titanic he’d been working on the New York, which sailed the same route as Titanic would have. In fact, New York was berthed beside Oceanic when Titanic set sail and the suction of her passing caused the three inch steel hawsers securing the smaller ship to be torn from their moorings. There would have been a collision if Captain Smith hadn’t ordered Titanic’s port propeller to be reversed and turned the gigantic liner. Meanwhile a tugboat towed the New York in the opposite direction. Had the two ships collided, history may have been very different. 

Jack was obviously settled in Southampton. He’d recently got engaged to a local girl, May Hinton of Woolston. When the ship was in Queenstown he sent her a letter describing the near collision. 

RMS Titanic. Queenstown. 12th April 1912

My Darling Girl,

We have been having a very fierce time in this steamer. I suppose you heard of the accident that occurred to the New York as we sailed this ship carried so much water between the Oceanic and New York that the York broke all her ropes and sailed all on her own, you could have tossed a penny from our ship to her she was so close, it was a good job she did not hit us as it would have been another case of the Hawke collision.

Well, dearest how do you feel? pretty lonely I guess after me being home for so long, but still we cannot grumble my dear as we have had a real good and happy time and I am so happy to think everything is all right. Well there is one consolation about it I shall soon be with you again all being well.

We do really enjoy ourselves when I am home, well I do not see why we should not anyhow, and again I think it does us both good for me to go away for a little stretch don’t you dear? There are quite a lot of American Line men here so it is a little better for us to see a few old faces.

Our shore steward was aboard yesterday before we sailed and he saw me, so he said ”hello have you signed here?” so I said ”yes!” and then he said ”see you come back in time for your own ship”, so of course I thanked him and said ”yes”, which I may do if things do not turn out good here.

Will now close sweetheart take care of yourself dear, love to all at home and fondest love to yourself dearest.

Yours always – Jack
PS Don’t forget to get me a Plymouth football paper.

Tragically, the letter reached poor May on her twenty first birthday, 20 April, the same day she learned he would not be returning. Jack’s body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennet and numbered 116. He was described as having red hair and was wearing dark clothes, a white stewards jacket and black boots. In his pocket was a cigarette case. He was buried at sea. 

Jack Butterworth, photograph from Findagrave.com

Our next house, 64 St Denys Road, was also still standing. The little end of terrace house close to the railway bridge looks to have been renovated fairly recently and has now been divided into two flats. It was once the home of George William Feltham, born in 1870 in Bermondsey, Surrey.

64 St Denys Road

George was the son of George, a warehouseman and Elizabeth, both Wiltshire Natives. He was the middle child of three, with an elder sister and younger brother. In the first few years of his life his family moved from Bermondsey to Bromley, London and his father became a seed warehouseman. George began his working life as a baker and confectioner, lodging at various addresses in London and Middlesex. By 1901 he was lodging in London with a Mrs Francis Emma Mayley and her six children. In around 1907 George, along with Francis and three of her children, had moved to Southampton and were living at 64 St Denys Road. George was now working aboard Majestic as a confectioner. What became of Francis’ bricklayer husband, Alfred, isn’t clear but, in 1908 George and Francis had married, despite her being fourteen years his senior. 

George left Majestic to join Oceanic and then signed on to Titanic as a Vienna Baker, earning £4 10s a month. He did not survive the sinking and his body was never recovered. Poor Francis never remarried but stayed in Southampton. She died in 1939. 

Our next houses were in the warren of narrow streets crowded around the railway line and the river. We crossed St Denys Road near the church and set off in search of 37 North Road, where Edward Castleman once lived.

Edward was one of Henry and Elizabeth Castleman’s seven children, born in 1874 in Littleton, Hampshire. His early life was spent living at Harestock Farm, where his father was an agricultural labourer and his mother a dairywoman. When Edward left school he became a farm servant but, after his father’s death, his mother moved to Shirley Southampton to live with her married daughter, Martha Dabell. It’s probable that Edward joined her when she moved but he is not listed on the 1901 census and was most likely already working at sea. 

In 1905 Edward married Kate Amy Marchant in South Stoneham. When he joined Titanic the couple were living at 37 North Road and had no children. He signed on as a greaser, earning £6 10s a month. His brother in law, Martha’s second husband Walter Alexander Bishop, was also working aboard as a bedroom steward. Both men were lost in the sinking and their bodies were never identified.

37 North Road

A death notice was posted in The Echo on 30 April 1912. 

Castleman–April 15th 1912 at sea, through the foundering of the S.S. Titanic, Edward Castleman, aged 37, the devoted husband of Kate Amy Castleman, of 37 North Road, St Denys, Southampton.  “In the midst of life, we are in death.”

Two years later Kate married Frederick Stevens. She remained in Southampton and died in 1948.

Now we had to cross the railway line that runs along one side of North Road. There were two choices, the bridge on Priory Road or the level crossing on Adelaide Road. Past experience told me to avoid the latter so we decided to head for Eastfield Road. We found the house of John Davis close to the corner of South Road.

John was the son of retired Royal Marine Corporal turned publican, George Davis and his wife Rebecca. He was born in Gosport in 1884 and had nine siblings. His first years appear to have been spent living at the George Inn, Melcombe Regis, Weymouth. Around the turn of the century the family moved to Landport, Hampshire. In 1902 John turned eighteen and left the Third Hampshire Regiment Militia to join the Army Service Corps. He was just five foot two, had blue eyes, brown hair, decayed lower molars and a burn scar under his right arm. The last two things may have been connected with his previous job as a baker. 

John served as a driver for the regiment in both Aldershot and Chatham but his conduct was not good. He was thrown in the cells for falling asleep at his sentry post, and reprimanded for other minor offences. Eventually, after failing to report for duty twice, he was dismissed in 1908. He then found work at sea as a baker. Two years later he married Eliza Blanch Hunt, known as Lily and moved in with her parents at 19 Eastfield Road, St Denys . A year later their son John Samuel was born. 

19 Eastfield Road

John was on Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast. He’d left Olympic to join the ship as extra second baker earning £5 a month. His elder brother Stephen James Davis was also aboard as an able seaman. Neither brother survived the sinking but John’s body was recovered by the Mackay Bennett and he was buried at sea on 24 April 1912. He was wearing white trousers, a blue coat and apron marked JD and a white outer coat. In his pockets were a Post Office savings account book, 3s 6d, keys and union books, suggesting he’d had time to collect his important belongings before the ship sank. Perhaps he believed he would be saved, or maybe he picked up the books because he knew they’d help identify his body?

A death notice was posted in the Hampshire Independent. 

DAVIS–April 15th 1912, at sea, on s.s. Titanic, John Davis, aged 27, the beloved husband of Eliza Davis, of 19 Eastfield road, St Denys, Southampton. Deeply mourned by his sorrowing wife and child. “God be with you till we meet again.

Poor Eliza seemed to be unlucky in love. She married Harry Atkinson in 1915 but was widowed again two years later. In 1918 she married for the third time but her husband, Albert E Young, died in 1927. Her final marriage, to Frank Ernest Colverson in 1928, was her last. She died in Southampton in 1973, Frank survived her and died three years later. 

Adelaide Road was the furthest west we had to go so, now we’re were safely on the right side of the tracks, we made it our next target. When we got there the train gates were down, as they so often are. Had we walked the other way earlier we’d have been in for a long wait. This was something Arthur Peckham Burroughs would have been all too familiar with. He lived at 73 Adelaide Road, between the level crossing and the entrance to St Denys Station. 

Arthur was born in Lewisham, London in 1877 to Mary Jane Agnes Peckham from Lymington and Arthur Burroughs, a draughtsman from Lewisham. His parents never married, which must have caused quite a scandal at the time. Later that year Mary married Tom Rickman, a carpenter from Lymington. Mary and Tom married in Southampton and set up home in Bullar Street. They had two more children in quick succession. The little family lived at various addresses around St Mary’s and Northam during Arthur’s childhood and, by 1901, Arthur appears to have found work at sea, probably as a fireman. Two years later he married Harriett Jane Howells, a Lymington girl like his mother. The couple married in St Denys, perhaps in the church we passed earlier, and soon moved into 73 Adelaide Road. Over the next seven years they had three children, Arthur John, Harry and Gwendoline Agnes. 

73 Adelaide Road

Arthur left the Philadelphia to join the firemen on Titanic. He would have earned £6 a month for the hard, hot and dirty work of shovelling coal into the ship’s boilers. Like the majority of the firemen on board, Arthur was lost when the ship sank. It’s likely he was still down in the boiler room trying to keep the pumps and lights working so more passengers would have the chance to escape. His body was never identified but he is remembered on a family headstone in the Old Cemetery, one I have found and photographed on one of my Saturday morning wanderings there. 

Harriet remarried in 1915. She and Albert Edward Mullins, a dock policeman, had two children, Edward Ernest and Edna. She died in Southampton in 1949. All of Arthur’s children remained in Southampton, married and had families. 

As we retraced our steps along South Road towards our next house the train finally rattled across the crossing. This would have been a familiar sound for Walter Thomas Boothby who lodged in Ivy Road. Walter was born in Docking, Norfolk in 1874, the eldest of Norfolk natives John Aubin and Charlotte Boothby’s eleven children. Walter’s early life was quite unsettled as his father changed careers with monotonous regularity and each job brought a change of address. When Walter was born John was a crew member on a lifeboat in Hunstanton, he then became a grocer’s Assistant in Docking, a gamekeeper in Alconbury, Huntingdonshire and a domestic gardener for Mr Fenwick of Luffenham Hall, Rutlandshire. 

This disjointed childhood may have influenced Walter’s later choices. His first job was as a butler and valet to a Captain Shipley but, by 1897, he’d gone to sea, working for the Orient Line, presumably as a steward, and was based in Australia. He then moved to the Union Castle Line and with them visited South Africa at the height of the Boer War.

His seafaring career was beset with disasters. He was on the Dunottar Castle when a navigational error saw the ship missing for quite some time. In April 1908, while he was working for the Hamburg-America Line aboard the St Paul, she collided with the Gladiator during a snowstorm off the Isle of Wight. St Paul struck Gladiator a glancing blow just aft of her engine room ripping open both ships. Gladiator sank but St Paul remained afloat and launched lifeboats to rescue those in the water. Twenty seven sailors were lost. Walter was also aboard Olympic in September 1911 when HMS Hawke collided with her in the Solent. Hawke’s bow rammed Olympic’s starboard side near the stern and tore two large holes in the hull. Two of her watertight compartments flooded but she managed to limp back to Southampton with no loss of life. Although Walter didn’t know it at the time, his brother, Alfred, was aboard Hawke. 

Walter Thomas Boothby from Encyclopedia Titanica

Had all these disasters put Walter off going to sea, his story might have been very different but, in 1912, he signed on to Titanic as a bedroom steward. By this time he had been married to Caroline Annie Tunnicliffe, a lady’s maid from Rutland, for eight years but the couple had no children. When he joined Titanic he was lodging with a Mr and Mrs William Philpott at 50 Ivy Road but it isn’t clear if Caroline was also living there or if she had remained in Rutland where the couple married.

50 Ivy Road

Walter’s in law, John Puzey, of Manor Road, Itchen, was also a steward on Titanic. For Walter, the collision must have felt like a very familiar story, but, having survived so many disasters, he probably didn’t believe the ship would sink. Both men were lost and only Walter’s body was recovered by the Mackay Bennett on 24 April. His body, numbered 107, was described as having fair hair and prominent teeth. He was wearing a uniform jacket and vest, a White Star belt and pyjamas, suggesting he had been asleep when the ship hit the iceberg. In his pocket he had a pouch, pipe, knife, key, 2s 3 1/2d and 1 French franc.  He was buried at sea. 

A memorial was posted in the Portsmouth Evening News on 14 April 1913. 

BOOTHBY AND PUZEY–In loving memory of our dear brothers, Walter and Jack, who was drowned in the terrible Titanic disaster, April 14th, 1912. Sadly missed by Ada and Will.

Caroline never remarried and settled in Edmonton, London. She worked as a school nurse and health visitor and died in 1953. 

As we walked down Ivy Road towards our next house on Priory Road, we stopped to look at the curious little church building that seems to straddle the two roads. This church was originally built in 1866 on Priory Road to house the Methodist congregation who’d been meeting in an upstairs room of a Priory Road house. Methodism was obviously popular in the area because the church was soon extended into Ivy Road. By 1969 though, that popularity had waned and the church closed down. These days it is the New Testament Church of God. Whether Harold Charles William Phillimore ever worshiped here or not remains to be seen but he undoubtedly knew the building well. 

Harold was born in Shirley Southampton, in 1883. He was one of eight children born to mariner Henry Charles Phillimore from Shirley and his wife Caroline who originated from Corfe Castle in Dorset. Harold was brought up in Shirley and Portswood. He began his working life as a grocer in London Road in the city centre but, at the age of twenty, he followed in his father’s footsteps and went to sea on the Majestic. He later served aboard Adriatic and Olympic. At some point in the first decade of the twentieth century the Phillimore family moved to 73 Priory Road and this was where Harold was living when he joined Titanic as a first class saloon steward. 

73 Priory Road

When Titanic sank Harold was still aboard. Somehow he managed to clamber onto some flotsam from the ship and cling there. Another man was with him but the freezing water overcame him and he died. Harold kept clinging on. If it hadn’t been for lifeboat 14 he would have surely perished too. Fifth Officer Harold Lowe was in command of the only lifeboat to go back to the place where Titanic had been and attempt to pull survivors from the water. He distributed the passengers aboard his lifeboat into other boats and, along with his crew, rowed back into the sea of floating bodies. Sadly he found very few alive. Harold saw the lifeboat approaching and managed to call out. When the little boat reached him someone held out an oar for him to grasp but he was so frozen by this time he couldn’t hold on. Eventually though, he was hauled into the boat, the last person to be rescued from the water. Of the four people Lowe managed to rescue from the water, only two survived, Harold was one of them. 

Harold Charles William Phillimore From Encyclopedia Titanica

After such a narrow escape, most people would give up on going to sea but Harold was made of sterner stuff. He married Mabel Podesta in 1913 and carried on working as a steward. During World War I he even volunteered to work on the transport ship SS Royal George and was awarded the General Service and Mercantile Marine War Medals for his efforts. When the war ended he went back to working as a bedroom steward on ships such as the Queen Mary and Berengaria. This work saw him rub shoulders with many of the rich and famous, including the Duke of Windsor (later Edward VIII) and music hall star Marie Lloyd. 

Harold and Mabel had no children and, sadly, Mabel died in 1933. Two years later, Harold married Annie Carver. He was, by this time, in his early fifties and the couple did not have children. Harold finally retired, aged 68, in 1956 and settled into a life on land at his home in Nutbeam Road, Eastleigh. He died on 26 April 1967, aged 79 and was buried in South Stoneham Cemetery. Annie survived him. 

Harold in later life from Encyclopedia Titanica

We were now at the far end of Priory Road, heading towards Horseshoe Bridge. Our next St Denys houses were all on the far side of the bridge on the edge of Bevois Valley and Mount Pleasant. Unlike Harold, I was pretty sure none of them had survived…

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Parkrun tourism Southsea

6 April 2019

This week we decided to go for another spot of parkrun tourism. There are eighteen different parkrun venues in Hampshire to choose from but our rather random choice for this week was Southsea, around twenty miles down the motorway.

Obviously, it was an earlier than usual start and a rather crowded car, as we picked up Rob, John and Ian on the way but we arrived in good time, parked up in the Pyramids car park and quickly found the start on the far side of the Rock Gardens. Although the Southsea course, along the seafront to Eastney and back, was pretty familiar, being part of the Great South and Portsmouth Coastal routes, only John had actually run the Southsea parkrun before. It was also the first spot of parkrun tourism for Rob and Commando’s new running group, the Hamwic Harriers. Commando was even wearing his shiny new Hamwic Harriers shirt!

It was a touch on the chilly side on the seafront and, even in my warm coat, I was shivering. The runners in their shorts and thin shirts looked positively frozen. As it happened, we weren’t the only ones trying out the relatively flat, fast Southsea course. While we were waiting for the start, we bumped into Gerry.

The first ever Southsea parkrun was held on 5 October 2013, with 276 people taking part. These days it averages around theee hundred runners each week, a touch smaller than Southampton, but then almost every UK parkrun is. Weather plays an important role in the number of PB’s here. The course may be more or less flat but a windy day can make running one half a little tricky. Luckily today was relatively calm, if cold, but then, as all of our group were in the final stages of marathon training, none of them was planning on going flat out. Well, that’s what they told me anyway!

Frankly, it was quite a relief when everyone set off along the Esplanade and I could finally warm up with a little walk. As I’ve spent quite a lot of time wandering around Southsea while Commando has been running various events, my main plan for the morning was to dash to grab a coffee and dash back. Unlike most of the other races, parkrun doesn’t really leave much time for wandering anyway, even on a slow day Commando was likely to finish in twenty five minutes or less.

Although there are coffee shops on the seafront, past experience made me wary of trying any of them. The last time I tried that the coffe was so bad I threw it in a nearby bin after just two sips. There is only one Costa in Southsea and I reckoned, if I walked fast, I’d be able to get there, get a coffee and get back before any of the runners crossed the line. As plans go it was fairly unambitious. The most direct route is just over a mile there and back. Of course, I was starting off from a slightly different place than normal and, in typical fashion, managed to take a wrong turn which added a few extra minutes but did show me a rather interesting piece of graffiti I’d not encountered before.

For a moment I thought I’d stumbled upon a crowd of strangely dressed locals queueing outside a building. Closer inspection told me they and the building windows were all painted, along with a map of Southsea. Given that I was now technically lost, the map was quite handy.

The mural, near the roundabout between Clarendon Road and Granada Road, is the work of The Lodge Arts Centre, overseen by Mark Lewis. It’s constantly being updated with new characters so I may return another time for a closer look.

In the end, my coffee was not to be. I made it to Costa but found a rather long queue. There was no time to wait so I simply turned around and headed back towards the parkrun finish line. As walks go it wasn’t one of my most interesting and there wasn’t much time for photographs, although I did snap the slowly rising sun over Southsea Common.

My timing was impeccable. As I walked towards the finish line I could see the first finishers approaching. Moments after I reached the end of the funnel I spotted Commando, Rob and John heading along the Esplanade together. They’d obviously stayed true to their word and had a fairly gentle run. Ian, however, was nowhere to be seen. This was puzzling, as he is the fastest of the group.

Just as I began to worry that something had happened to poor Ian, someone tapped me in the shoulder. When I turned around, there was Ian grinning like a Cheshire Cat and holding up his finish token. He’d actually crossed the line first!

None of the Hamwic Harriers got a PB today and there are no prizes for being first finisher at parkrun but, all in all, I’d say our parkrun tourism adventure to Southsea was a success. The only downside was the distinct lack of coffee. Next time I think I’ll take a flask!

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