Flowers in the rain

18 May 2019

Another Saturday morning, another stroll through the Old Cemetery. As this morning was dull and drizzly, I was all too glad to get off the flats, where all the parkrunners were gathered, and into the relative shelter of the cemetery. There was no plan, no graves to search for, just a slow, peaceful wander with the pitter pattern of raindrops on leaves to keep me company.

The rhododendrons were putting on a beautiful show near the gate. A splash of pink to brighten the dullness. A solitary bee was slowly going from flower to flower, diving into the leopard spotted throats gathering pollen and nectar. Every time I raised my phone to take a picture though, he buzzed to the next flower, so I gave up and walked on.

A little way down the path I startled a squirrel. He froze mid bound, long enough to get a picture, but not a very good one. One slow step closer and he was off, shooting into the trees like a streak of lightning. On I walked, wondering how many squirrels were watching me from the branches?

Above me, through the leaves, there were patches of blue sky, but the drizzle kept falling all the same. A tunnel of hawthorn branches, bowed down with the weight of wet flowers, dripped gently on me as I passed. Hawthorn, the auger of spring, seemed to have somehow got it wrong because it looked and felt more like autumn. The flowers were pretty though.

The more open area beyond the hawthorn was dappled, not by sun, but by daisies. Each forgotten gravestone seemed to have its very own bouquet. Every flower was speckled with sparkling raindrops.

Off the main path, on a narrow trail, my feet brushed the wet flowers as I passed. Now and then I had to duck beneath low branches and sidestep precariously angled stones. Here I found buttercups, forget me nots and wild geranium, lapping up the moisture.

One section of the trail was all nettles to be carefully stepped over. The next all dandelion clocks, bedraggled by the rain. No amount of blowing would tell the time with these.

Further still another hawthorn grew so low across the trail I had to bend almost double to avoid it. The pretty white flowers, rimmed with pink dripped on me all the same but I forgave them because they were so lovely.

Heading back towards the gate now, the next hawthorn was brighter still. The branches arched across the trail were a mass of shocking pink. Each tiny flower seemed to shout, ‘look at me!’

Pink seemed to be the order of the day here. Even the horse chestnut had decided to get in on the act. Rather than glowing white, each candelabra of flowers was salmon pink, as if the flames were burning low.

Rain or no rain, I couldn’t wander amongst the graveyard flowers forever. The parkrun would soon be packing up and it was time to get back to reality. Spring maybe very late in coming this year and the rain just keeps on falling, but the flowers in the Old Cemetery know it’s May and summer will soon be on the way.

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Titanic Tales from Sholing

15 May 2019

Very few of the crew members aboard Titanic came from Sholing. Back in 1912, it was a rather isolated, largely rural area. Surrounded by the toll gates, at Northam Bridge, Lances Hill, Hedge End and Bursledon Bridge, the only toll free exit was the floating bridge, or a long, roundabout journey to Cobden Bridge. The one and a half thousand or so people who lived in Sholing were mostly involved in strawberry growing, market gardening or brick making, so there was probably less need to go to sea to earn a living. 

There were just six Sholing men working on Titanic and, of those, two did not give full addresses when they signed on to the ship. This made our task of finding crew houses more difficult than usual. The first of these was the aptly named Henry William Sparkman, a fireman, who lived somewhere along the mile and a quarter long Spring Road. Kelley’s directory told me there was a Jane Sparkman living at 282 Spring Road, and, as Henry’s mother was called Jane I guessed this was probably his address.

282 Spring Road

Unfortunately, when we found the house it was obvious it was built long after 1912. Perhaps the original was bombed? There were other houses nearby more in keeping with the date so I took a couple of photos, wondering what Henry’s house would have looked like?

Henry was born in St Mary’s in 1876. His father, also called Henry, was a mariner and he and his wife Jane had ten children, although only eight survived infancy. Henry was their second born son. When he was still a child the family moved to Hound and, by the time he was fifteen, he’d left school and was working as a telegraph messenger. Within a year he’d joined the Royal Navy. He served aboard the St Vincent, Australia, Grafton, Resolution, and Victory I.

He was a small man, just five foot one and a half inches tall, but, despite being invalided out of the navy in April 1897, obviously quite strong and fit. He later joined the merchant service as a fireman. Shovelling coal in hot, dirty boiler rooms was not a job for the weak and feeble. By 1901, Henry and his family had moved to Sholing and were living in Firgrove Road. They later moved to Spring Road and this was the address he gave when he signed on to Titanic as a fireman, earning £6 per month. He had previously been working aboard Olympic. 

Two days after he signed on to Titanic Henry married Londoner Ida Lilian Chambers in Christ Church, Norwood, London. He sailed just two days after the ceremony. Poor Ida must have been devastated when she heard news of the sinking. Thankfully, Henry was one of the lucky few to survive, although the details of how or in which lifeboat he was rescued are not clear. He must have been off duty at the time, as, once the ship began to list, getting up the steep ladder out of the boiler rooms would have been impossible. The chances are his muscles saved him. Like most of the firemen who survived, he was probably ordered into a lifeboat to help row. 

Undeterred by his experience, Henry continued to work at sea throughout World War I and beyond. In 1913, he and Ida had a son, Edwin. Tragically, three years later Ida died giving birth to their second child, a daughter called Lilian and little Lilian died aged just two. Henry remarried in 1927. He and his new wife, a New Forest girl called Olive Ward, went on to have a son, William, the following year. Poor Olive died when the child was just a few months old and Henry never remarried. He died in October 1947, after a long illness. He was 71. 

The next house on our list posed a bit of a puzzle too. We had two conflicting addresses and no idea which was correct. Some sources had George Edward Kearl living at 37 Botany Bay Road, while others had him living at 27 Bay Road and Kelly’s Directories had been no help. Luckily both roads are close together and near Millers Pond. CJ and I made our way to the end of Spring Road and sat by the Pond for a while peering at Google Maps and wondering if we’d be able to work out which was the right house just by looking at them. It seemed unlikely but all we could do was try. 

We crossed the nature reserve, emerging on the leafy part of Botany Bay Road. It’s quite an odd road in some ways, with one side filled with large expensive houses and the other with small mobile homes. The first people to live in this area, back in the 1790’s, were poor Romany families. They used bricks from the nearby brickworks to build little brick bungalows and kept their caravans in the gardens. In winter they lived in the houses and in summer they’d use the caravans to go fruit or hop picking. Things have changed a bit since those days but the descendants of those Romanies still live here. Sadly, the mobile homes are not quite as pretty as their old painted caravans.

It was clear fairly soon that number 37 was going to be at the far end of the road so we turned off onto Bay Road to check out the house there first. It was a pretty little bungalow with a very tall chimney and a well kept garden. Whether it had been standing since 1912 wasn’t clear but it was certainly possible.

27 Bay Road

The second possible house, 37 Botany Bay Road, was amongst the 1930’s built properties overlooking Sholing Common. The old maps told us there had been houses there back in 1912, just not these houses. My gut told me the house we were looking for was probably the first one we’d seen on Bay Road but there was no way of telling for sure.

OS Map From 1911
37 Botany Bay Road

Either way, one of these houses was once George Edward Kearl’s home. His parents, Courtney William and Isabella Maria Kearl, were both Hampshire born and were married in East Boldre in 1883. George was the second of their four children, born in Southampton in August 1886. The family lived in Kent Road, Freemantle, and Courtney was a coal porter. By the time George was 14 he’d left school and was working as a boiler sealer.

George Edward Kearl

When he first went to sea isn’t clear but he was absent for the 1911 census and was probably working aboard Olympic. This was certainly the ship he left to join Titanic as a trimmer. His monthly wages were £5 10s and the work would have been hard. The trimmers worked in the boiling hot coal bunkers, shovelling coal down to the boiler rooms. They also had to make sure the weight of the coal was evenly distributed or the ship would begin to list and to put out any fires caused by the unbearable heat of the boilers. They kept working even as the ship was sinking and only 20 of the 73 trimmers aboard survived. Poor George was not one of the lucky ones. His body was never identified.  

Trimmers at work

George was unmarried, so the only ones to mourn his loss were his parents and siblings. It seems so sad that we couldn’t even find out for sure where he lived but at least we could tell his story.

We were now almost in the middle of South East Road, where our next house was. South East Road is three quarters of a mile long and includes the calf busting Bunny Hill. Luckily for us, a quick look at the house numbers told us we were quite close to it. Counting the numbers as we climbed the hill we soon discovered number 140 was another 1930’s built house, close to the junction with Kathleen Road. This may have been the spot where George Henry Cavell once lived but it certainly wasn’t the same house. There are plenty of others nearby dating for earlier times though so I took a photo to give an idea what the house might have looked like.

140 South East Road

George was born in December 1889 in Southampton. His parents, George Henry and Alice had only been married a year but at least one of their five daughters was born long before their wedding. George was the first of their two sons. By the time of the 1901 census the family were living in Chantry Road in the town centre and George Senior was working as a general labourer. Ten years later the family had moved to Russell Street and George was already at sea. When he signed onto Titanic he’d already worked on Adriatic, Oceanic, and Olympic and, while not at sea, was living with his family in South East Road. Like George Kearl, George was a trimmer and like Henry Sparkman, he was not a tall man, standing at just five foot one.

George Henry Cavell from Encyclopaedia Titanica.

On 14 April 1912 he was on the 8 to 12 watch and alone in the coal bunker by boiler room 4. He felt the shock of the iceberg hitting the ship, then the coal collapsed on top of him. Somehow he managed to dig himself out and emerged into the stokehold just as the lights went out. Not knowing what had happened but aware something was badly amiss, he climbed up to the port alleyway on E Deck, known as Scotland Road, and found the lights there still burning. Some third class passengers heading aft told him the ship had hit an iceberg. A lesser man might have joined them and tried to save himself but George did not. He found some lamps and returned to the stokehold, where, it transpired, the lights had already come back on. For some time he helped the firemen keep the boilers alight, although water was soon coming over the floor plates. 

When the water was about a foot deep he finally climbed the steep escape ladder. Had he left it any longer he’d almost certainly have been trapped there as, once the ship began to list, the ladder would have become virtually unclimbable. He eventually emerged on the boat deck on the starboard side where he found two lifeboats, one, probably number 13, in the process of being launched. He was ordered into the other, lifeboat 15, by an officer, along with three other trimmers and a fireman, Frank Dymond, who took charge. 

The boat was lowered to A deck and, according to George, they called out for women and children to board but only five got into the boat. The boat then descended to B deck where there were crowds of people, mostly from third class. George later testified that around sixty people got into the boat and all were women and children, mostly third class and Irish. He said there were men on the deck but they stood back and did not try to board, despite there being no one to stop them. Records show this was not the case. The majority in the boat seem to have actually been men, although the testimonies from other crew members mostly overestimate the number of women aboard and underestimate the number of men. Whether this is down to the darkness and confusion or the crew telling the enquiry what that wanted to hear isn’t clear. The one crew member who testified that the boat was mainly filled with men was called back the next day and more or less forced to change his story. By all accounts, lifeboat fifteen was one of the few to be filled more or less to capacity.  

The boat was the eighth lowered from the starboard side and almost landed on top of lifeboat 13, which had become entangled and was unable to get away from the ship. Luckily, someone in lifeboat thirteen managed to cut the falls, the ropes used to lower the boat, at the last moment and disaster was averted. Sitting in lifeboat 15, George seems to have been unaware of the drama and didn’t mention it in his testimony. Once on the water the crewmen, including George, rowed as fast as they could. It took them between fifteen and twenty minutes to get away from Titanic and they did not go back or pick anyone up from the water. They were the tenth or eleventh boat to be rescued by Carpathia. 

After testifying at the British Inquiry into the sinking, George went back to sea, later serving on Olympic, Braemar Castle, Carnarvon Castle, Armadale, Warwick Castle and Rothesay Castle. In 1919 he married local girl Kate Barber. As far as I’ve been able to tell they did not have any children and George died in Winchester in 1966. His wife died a year later.

Our next three houses were all somewhere on the almost mile long Middle Road. We had numbers for two but not for the third and, as both with numbers were on the southern part of the road, nearest Millers Pond, we turned into Kathleen Road and began to head in that direction. As we walked we wondered if any of the Middle Road houses would still be standing. Kathleen Road merges seamlessly with St Monica Road. Here we passed St Monica School and St Mary’s Church, both places we’d have liked to explore further if we’d had the time.

On Station Road a house with a beautifully graffitied front wall and an interesting garden sculpture lifted our spirits a little but it still felt as if our mission was doomed. My senior school was on Middle Road so it’s an area I know fairly well. The houses are a mixture of pre World War I and post World War II with a few modern ones thrown in for good measure. We took photos of some of the older ones at the beginning of the road just in case. Perhaps one of them was once home to Henry Dorey Stocker, the Middle Road crew member who didn’t give a house number when he joined the ship?

Henry was born in Highfield in 1892. His father George and mother Mary, were both Hampshire natives and had at least eight children. By 1901 the family had moved to Commercial Street in Bitterne and George was working as a gardener. George died in 1904 and Mary became a live in domestic servant in Battenberg House, St Georges Place. The younger children seem to have all gone off to live with different relatives. Before Long Henry had gone to sea. He left Olympic to join Titanic as a trimmer. Exactly what happened to him on the night of the sinking isn’t clear but he was lost with the ship and his body was never identified. His poor, heartbroken mother continued to live in Southampton until her death in 1921.

Middle Road

The next house on the list was number 19 and, true to form, it turned out to be one of the post war houses. Even so, this was the spot, if not the house, where Thomas Moore Teuton once lived. Thomas was born in Blackburn Lancashire in February 1877, the son of Irish immigrant parents William Teuton and Mary Jane Moore, both from Belfast. The couple married in around 1870 and came to England six or so years later, probably so William could get work as a driller and general labourer. They had at least five children. For a while the family lived in Barrow in Furness but soon moved back to Blackburn and it was there that Thomas had his first job as a cotton weaver at the tender age of fourteen. He later joined the British Army with the First Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was at the relief of Ladysmith during the Boer War and in China during the Boxer Uprising. He left the army as a colour sergeant. Back in England he was presented with the Royal South African medal.

19 Middle Road

In October 1910, Thomas married Ada Mary Swain, a Sholing girl, and they set up home in North East Road, Sholing. For a while he worked as a dock labourer and later went to sea on Oceanic. A year after their marriage the couple had a son, William John. By the time Thomas signed on to Titanic as a second class steward the little family had moved to 19 Middle Road. His monthly wages would have been £3 15s, but he could easily have doubled this with tips from grateful passengers.

Tragically, Thomas died in the sinking. His body was recovered by the Mackay Bennett and numbered 226. Records describe his remains as having light hair, a moustache and two tattoos, a Japanese woman on his left arm  and a snake on his right. He was wearing a steward’s coat, singlet and flannel shirt and had an army discharge book, papers, a corkscrew, razor, keys, knife, brush and soap about his person. The presence of the papers seem to indicate he knew he might not survive and put them in his pocket so his body would be identified. He was buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 10 May 1912. 

Ada and her son William benefitted from the Titanic Relief Fund as did Thomas’ parents. When Ada gave birth to a daughter over a year after the disaster though, the fund administrators, the Mansion House Committee, suspended her claim. The child, Elizabeth, died within the year and it isn’t clear who her father was. In 1918 Ada married George C Bryant and had two more children, Norman and Ruby. She died in Southampton in 1972, aged 90. Thomas’ son, William married and had a family but nothing further is known about them. He died in Plymouth in 1983.

We carried on up Middle Road, past Sholing Baptist Church, looking at the house numbers and searching for the last house on our list. After a whole morning without finding a single original crew house we finally struck lucky with our very last one. Number 81 Middle Road was an older style house and, although it looked to have had a lot of work done to it, had almost certainly been standing in 1912. This was where Thomas Ranger, the last of our Sholing crew, once lived. 

81 Middle Road

Thomas was born in Northam in December 1882. His parents, George and Ann, were originally from Salisbury and had nine children. George was a general labourer. At some time in the first ten years of Thomas’ life the family moved to Whites Road in Sholing and George got a job as a coal Porter at Southampton Docks. By 1901 the family had moved to Church Road in Sholing and Thomas had joined the Royal Navy as a stoker. He served aboard the Duke of Wellington, Formidable, Caesar, Vivid II and Firequeen II. He was discharged in 1994 when he was described as being five foot three and a half, with brown hair and of very good conduct. He then worked as a bricklayer building houses before going back to sea in the merchant service.  

Thomas Ranger

In 1906 he married Isabel Pendry, a domestic servant and moved to 81 Middle Road. This was where he was living when he left Oceanic to join Titanic as a greaser, earning £6 10s a month. Greasers were very skilled men, basically mechanics, who maintained and ran the ship’ machinery supervised by the engineering officers. Most stayed below with the engineers when the ship was sinking and, of the 35 aboard, only 4 were saved. 

When Titanic collided with the iceberg Thomas was working with Chief Electrician, Peter Sloan, in the electrical store room repairing the electric fans. The men felt a slight jar that briefly lifted them off their feet and both knew the ship must have hit something. Even so, they carried on working but, a couple of minutes later, noticed the turbine engine had stopped. Sloan ordered Thomas to stop all the electric fans and went down to look at the main lighting engines. There were 45 fans and the process took Thomas about three quarters of an hour. The last four fans were in the dummy funnel, used for ventilation. Thomas then went onto the boat deck and down to the second class section of B deck where he found a group of around twenty firemen standing and chatting. They told him all the lifeboats had left. 

Although all the crew must have known something was badly wrong there seems to have been little panic. Thomas left the firemen and made his way to the port side of the boat deck. Here he met up with another greaser, Frederick Scott. By this time the ship was beginning to list to the port and was badly down at the head. It must have been obvious it was sinking but the deck was empty apart from the two greasers. When they looked down into the water they saw a lifeboat below and, with very little thought for the consequences, both men climbed the davit and slid down the falls towards it. Thomas landed in the boat but poor Frederick ended up in the icy water. Thomas hauled him into the ship, undoubtedly saving his life. 

The lifeboat was lifeboat 4. It had been the eighth boat lowered from the port side but, when it reached A deck, there was a delay. Those waiting to board were some of the most important and influential passengers aboard, including the Astors, the Carters, and the Thayers. John Jacob Astor pleaded to join his pregnant wife in the boat. Second Officer Lightoller, who took the order ‘women and children first’ to the extreme, refused. Lightoller even tried to stop 13 year old John Ryerson from joining his mother in the boat, although he did eventually relent. The boat finally left with about thirty female passengers aboard, mostly from first class. There were just two, or possibly three crew members aboard, with Quartermaster Walter Perkins in charge. 

According to Thomas’ testimony to the British Inquiry, there were not enough men to successfully row the boat and it had either returned to the ship, or been unable to get away from it. With Thomas and Frederick now onboard manning the oars the lifeboat finally moved away from the sinking ship. They made it in the nick of time. Thomas described watching the forward section of the ship sink beneath the water then break off from the stern. He remembered hearing the band playing. The stern then seemed to right itself momentarily before the propellers slowly rose into the air as it slipped beneath the water. The stern gradually sank with the lights going out one by one as the water got into their wiring. 

They managed to pull seven more crew members from the sea, Alfred White, Thomas Dillon, Samuel Hemming, Frank Prentice, Andrew Cunningham, William Lyons and Sidney Siebert. The frozen men were semi conscious and had to be rubbed and warmed to bring them round. Sadly, William Lyons and Sidney Siebert were too far gone and died shortly after being rescued. They later took around five or six people from lifeboat 14, which then left in search of survivors in the water. Then, along with lifeboat 12, they went to rescue the handful of people from the overturned collapsible lifeboat B. They reached Carpathia with around 55 survivors aboard. This was in no small part due to the courage of the two greasers who’d slid down the falls at the last moment. 

When Thomas was called to testify at the British Inquiry on 9 May 1912, he and the other crew members were given quarters to stay in throughout the inquiry. They were so rat infested and filthy that Thomas chose to sleep rough instead. He carried on working at sea until the 1920’s and then found work as a plumbers assistant. 

Thomas Ranger during the inquiry

After Isabel died, in 1947, he married Emma Elizabeth Prince Elderfield, a Southampton born widow. He died in Southamptin in July 1964, aged 81 and is buried in South Stoneham Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Emma died in 1972

All in all our search for crew houses in Sholing had been pretty unsuccessful. Conflicting information and modern houses meant we only found one house still standing that we could be certain of. Even so, we’d uncovered some interesting stories of the men who worked aboard Titanic and gained an insight into what it must have been like on that fateful night.

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Light and shade

11 May 2019

Wandering aimlessly around the Old Cemetery is one of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday morning, especially when the sun is shining and the sky is blue. This morning the light was perfect, bright sun and deep shade to create wonderfully atmospheric photos and spring flowers to add splashes of colour. The bees were buzzing, the birds were singing and there wasn’t anywhere else I’d rather have been.

The graves, many overgrown and forgotten, impart a tinge of sadness but there is also serenity here. The dead may be long gone but nature is everywhere in rich abundance rambling over the stones as if to say ‘life always goes on.’

The ordinary lay side by side with the extraordinary here. Graves with names worn away, small stones tumbled and fallen beside the rich and famous. Today I stopped for a moment beside a monument to Henry Bowyer, Southampton’s mayor in 1912, when the Titanic sank. The white cross and anchor caught my eye. Henry was a Justice if the Peace, Lieutenant Commander of the Royal Naval Reserve, a Pilot of the port and a man of compassion. After the tragedy he organised the Titanic Relief Fund, the charity that helped all the widows and orphans of lost crew members. He died in 1915, aged just forty eight.

On I walked, one moment in sunshine, the next in deep shade. One step in any direction and the light changed completely, creating a different scene with every turn.

Ironically for a place dedicated to the dead, every corner of the cemetery is bursting with life right now. Pink hawthorn flowers tumble across the paths and branches form green tunnels dappled with sunlight.

There are those who feel this Cemetery is too wild and overgrown. They would prefer neatly clipped hedges and manicured grass. Personally I feel the wildness is an asset. The keepers of the cemetery clear and mow on a rotational basis, keeping nature in check to some extent but letting it have its way at the same time. This makes for some interesting walks with graves, hidden by the greenery, suddenly reappearing when their turn to be cleared comes along. Even though I walk here often and some of the stones feel like old friends, there is always something new to see.

Today the grass was high and sprinkled with wildflowers. The old trees, some ivy covered, some no longer living, cast long shadows and echoed the wild common outside the cemetery walls. My morning wandering took me on a wide loop around the perimeter of the cemetery, although I wasn’t really thinking too much about where I was going, just following the path thoughtlessly watching squirrels dashing up trees and admiring flowers. The sight of the chapel gave me my bearings but there was no hurry to get back.

Instead I kept on wandering, not really looking at the names on the graves, just enjoying the calm and the greenery. I took a path I rarely walk and stumbled upon the grave of another Southampton mayor, Hector Young. He was mayor between 1929 and 1930 and, in 1962 he commissioned a new west window for St Michael and All Angels Church In Bassett in memory of his wife Ethel who died in the Southampton blitz.

By now I had completely lost my bearings again but I didn’t much mind. I kept on walking enjoying the changes from light to shade and back again. Today the graves and their stories were secondary, extra adornments to the bounty of nature all around.

Somehow I found myself back at the place where all the rhododendron petals had fallen, creating a pink carpet. A woman walking her dog had stopped to admire them too and we exchanged a few words about the beauty of this place and the joy of walking through it.

It was hard to tear myself away but I knew I had to head back so I slowly strolled towards the gate, stopping every now and then to look at a flower. The wildness of this place is a joy to behold and I’m glad nature is given free reign here. If I had to lay in a cold grave I couldn’t think of a better place to spend all eternity.

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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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