A Thunder Run disaster

20 July 2019

The rain held off for parkrun but, by the time we got back to Catton Park it looked as if the clouds were gathering. This was not good news for the Thunder Runners or for Kim and I who’d been planning to walk a couple of laps of the course for our Clarendon training.

It was still dry when midday came around and the twenty four hours of running began but the sky told us the rain would fall sooner or later. Rob and Commando set off in good spirits all the same. They were still adamant they weren’t going to take things too seriously this year. They swore there would be no back to back laps and no running all through the night. Kim and I weren’t convinced, we’d heard it all before. Once they got going we were sure they’d get caught up in the atmosphere and just keep going.

We saw them pass by at the beginning of their first lap looking happy and confident. We cheered them until they were out of sight then we sat in the gazebo and looked at the sky. We were both itching to get out on the course ourselves and start walking our two laps but, as were weren’t official Thunder Runners, we knew we’d have to wait until the fanfare of the first lap was over.

We expected them back within the hour but one o’clock came and there was no sign of them. Time passed and we began to get a little concerned. By ten past one we were standing at the barrier scanning the runners in the distance trying to spot them. Almost ten minutes later they finally appeared. Rob looked as if he was limping and Commando looked quite pale under his tan.

After they limped back into the camp and sat down they told us the whole sorry tale. They hadn’t got very far when Commando started having stomach issues. In fact, he said his stomach hadn’t felt right when he set off but he thought it was just the usual runners nerves and would settle once he started running. Then, somewhere up in the woods on the technical part of the course, Rob turned his ankle and bruised his foot. Between his foot and Commando’s stomach, they’d ended up walk running the rest of the course.

After we’d got them drinks we left them sitting feeling sorry for themselves and went off to do our laps. Of course, as unofficial participants, we couldn’t actually start from the start line and we knew there were parts of the course we wouldn’t be able to walk but we set off with purpose and were both quite looking forward to it. The first part of the course was fairly easy, although the weather was very muggy with the distinct feel of thunder to it. We passed through the campsite and then would up towards the trees.

When we started to climb things began to get tougher. The ground was muddy because of the rain and the first lap of runners had churned it up badly in places. The trail was narrow, steep in places and there were roots and pot holes to negotiate. This wouldn’t have been too bad if we hadn’t had to keep moving to the side to let runners come past. There were several trips and a couple of near misses when one or other of us almost fell. Suddenly two laps didn’t seem like such a good plan, especially as it was only going to get muddier and more churned up.

The views from the top were worth the climb but maybe not a broken ankle. For a while we walked beside fields on fairly flat high ground. It was easier going, at least until we got to the woods where I saw the ghostly mist last year. There were no ghosts this time but the trail narrowed again and we were back to the problem of passing runners and the feeling that we were going to get thrown off the course at any moment.

It was quite a relief to come out the other side and onto a wider track with no need to keep ducking to the side every few minutes. Now we could relax a bit more and enjoy the walk. We even found a dragonfly in the long grass.

We’d managed to get round a fair bit of the course before our nerve went. When it came to going through the gate and around the lake though, we chickened out. There were just too many runners and too many marshals. To make up the miles we headed across the road towards the car park field where I took so many quiet walks last year.

It might have been quite nice with the river and the swans but the rain chose that moment to start falling. This was no light shower. The heavens opened and within moments Kim and I were both soaked to the skin. My fingers were so wet I couldn’t even open my phone to take photos. We just put our heads down and headed back towards the tent as fast as we could. We fully expected to find that Commando and Rob had gone out on another lap but we found them sitting in the gazebo where we’d left them.

The rain continued for the rest of the day and into the night. None of us moved from the gazebo except to use the portaloos. Rob could barely put any weight on his foot and Commando didn’t want to move to far from the camp loos. It wasn’t the Thunder Run we’d planned but at least we had good company and we made the best of a bad job.

There were no night runs and, even though things had brightened up by morning, the ground was now so churned up none of us felt like going out to try another lap. In the end we just packed up our tents, took our rubbish to the bins and went for one last walk around the stalls. Once Commando and Rob had collected their medals it was time for the long drive home.

At the start Kim and I had been convinced The boys would get carried away and end up running lots of laps, just like they always do. Maybe they would have but this year the fates had different ideas. It may not have gone to plan but it was certainly an adventure and I’m sure we will laugh about it often in years to come.

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A parkrun far far away

20 July 2019

Sleeping in a tent in the rain isn’t easy. This year though, we’d dispensed with the, frankly, useless air beds that never seem to stay inflated for more than an hour or two and bought proper camp beds with us. They looked narrow and uncomfortable but were surprisingly good to sleep on. Because of the rain and the fading light we’d gone to bed quite early and I woke equally early. Commando was still sleeping but I sneaked out of the tent and went off for a wander. It was just after five in the morning.

As expected, there was a fair bit of mud but the rain had stopped. The sky told me this was probably just a brief interlude but everything looked beautifully green and fresh. Briefly I thought about walking the 10k course but then I remembered the ghostly mist in the woods last year and decided against it.

Much later, when everyone else was awake, there was talk of going off to the local parkrun. There are two parkruns nearby, Conkers and Rosliston but, in past years, we’ve visited neither because the men have been saving their legs for Thunder Run. The fact they were now discussing which parkrun to go to suggested they really did intend to take it easy this year. Kim and I were both shocked.

In the end they plumped for Rosliston, mostly because Rob had already been to Conkers years ago. So we got in the car and headed off into the unknown. We passed through the tiny village of Rosliston and, with no major mishaps, managed to find the Rosliston Forestry Centre.  The forestry centre is part of some two hundred square miles of trees planted in the 1990’s from Leicester to Burton upon Trent to create a new National Forest. Rosliston Manor, once called Redlauseton, once belonged to Earl Algar. He was the son of Earl Leofric and Lady Godiva, the one who rode naked through Coventry to try to persuade her husband to stop taxing the poor. 

Usually, Rosliston parkrun has around one hundred and eighty runners. Today, thanks to Thunder Runners, their numbers were swelled to three hundred and twenty seven. Kim was not amongst them because, not believing for one minute that the boys would really take it easy this year, she hadn’t brought her barcode with her to Thunder Run.

Together we watched everyone head for the start line. The sky looked heavy with rain as the runners set off and we looked gratefully towards the visitor centre with its nice dry cafe.

Once the last runners had passed us we headed towards the cafe but got slightly distracted by an interesting looking gate into a small sensory garden. It wasn’t actually raining so we went to have a look. This turned out to be a brilliant move. The garden was filled with interesting sculptures and scented plants.

Beside something that looked like an old stone fireplace we found a beacon, similar to the ones in Hatch Grange and on Netley Common. This, it turned out, was built to commemorate the queen’s diamond jubilee. There was a small stone pagoda commemorating the twinning link between South Derbyshire and Toyota City, a lovely sun dial dedicated to the local Women’s Institute, and a beautiful area of mosaic paving.

We wandered along the paths, crushing a leaf here and there trying to identify each scent and plant. We stumbled upon a mini beast lair under a trap door but there were no beasts, mini or otherwise, at home. A little further along we thought we’d found a beehive but it turned out to be a compost bin in disguise.

There were flowers everywhere, lavender, rosemary, chamomile, curry plant, mint, lemon balm, comfrey, evening primrose and many I couldn’t identify for sure. They brightened the dull day with their flowers and enchanted us with their scents. Not far from the false beehive we found a real one, safely behind a locked gate. If there were bees in it they were all asleep though, or maybe out foraging amongst all the flowers.

The little garden was filled with so many curiosities we hardly knew where to look. These included a whole array of interesting benches, mostly memorials to local folk. One looked just like an old leather sofa until we got closer and discovered it was carved from a large block of wood.

The rain held off and, with so much to see, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the garden. In the end though, we knew we needed to head back to the parkrun course and try to spot our runners.

Rather than go back to the finish line, we followed the course for a while, looking for a good spot to take photos. The woodland trail was beautiful and there were more curiosities along the way. We found a chainsaw sculpture of a badger, a wooden bench carved with a giant oak leaf and some kind of giant sundial we couldn’t quite work out. Maybe if there’d actually been some sun…

Then the runners began to come past, a trickle at first, then more and more of them. Rob was the first one we recognised and we both got our phones out and began to snap away as he ran up the hill we’d just walked down.

Commando wasn’t far behind. He powered up the hill, overtaking a couple of other runners as he went. Once he’d passed, Kim and I took a more sedate walk back up the hill and headed for the finish line to look for our runners.

The finish line volunteers did a great job considering there were nearly twice as many runners as they usually had to deal with. Once both barcodes had been scanned we finally went to the cafe for a coffee and a sit down.

If Rosliston parkrun was closer to home it might become a favourite for some parkrun tourism. The boys said the course was interesting and not too taxing and Kim and I thoroughly enjoyed the sensory garden. Sadly, it’s not likely we will be back anytime soon though as a drive of a hundred and fifty odd miles seems a bit excessive for a Saturday morning run.

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Burton Upon Trent, beer, marmite and rain

19 July 2019

Summer came late this year but, when it hit, it hit hard with weeks of high temperatures and high humidity. The thought of a little camping at Thunder Run in mid July was a bright spot on the horizon. Both Rob and Commando said they were going to take things easy this year, do a few laps but also relax a little. We didn’t really believe them but I still imagined Kim and I chilling in the gazebo in the sun, sipping cool drinks and walking a lap or two ourselves.

The last thing I expected to see when I checked the weather for this weekend was wall to wall rain. Rain and camping really don’t go together very well. There were a few hasty changes to the packing list, including my stout boots and our dry robes plus the removal of unnecessary skimpy t-shirts and sandals. It seemed this camping trip was not going to be nearly as much fun as we’d expected.

Yesterday, as we drove up the M3 towards Burton upon Trent in our hired van, the rain seemed to be following us. After more than a year driving an automatic car, the gearbox and clutch came as a bit of a shock to Commando but, thankfully, the windscreen wipers worked a treat. Sitting in the van for most of the day meant I didn’t get nearly enough steps in, even with a few very damp evening laps of our first night hotel.

This morning it was still mostly raining. Kim and I made the most of the hotel facilities, including hot showers and a lovely breakfast, while Rob and Commando went off to bag a good pitch in the solo area and put the tents up. Somehow I think we got the better deal.

Our next task was to drive into Burton and get supplies for the next two days. This was accomplished fairly quickly. As the rain was falling steadily and sitting in a wet tent was fairly unappealing, we decided to spend a little time exploring Burton before heading off to the camp site. Two previous very brief visits to Burton upon Trent had given me a tantalising glimpse of wonderful old industrial buildings and lots of history I’d love to have explored so I was quite excited by this prospect.

The little market town is the administrative centre for East Staffordshire and is known chiefly for brewing. Burton boasts eight breweries and is also the place where  Marmite is produced. For those who don’t know about Marmite, it’s a thick, vitamin rich, brown black spread used on sandwiches and toast in the main. People either love it or hate it. In our house CJ and I love it and Commando hates it. Anyhow, it was invented in the late nineteenth century by Justus Von Liebig, a German scientist, who discovered brewer’s yeast could be concentrated, bottled and eaten. The Marmite Food Extract Company was formed in Burton upon Trent in 1902. The yeast used to make it was a by product from the local brewery. 

Unfortunately, heavy rain cut our outdoor exploring short almost before it had begun. Luckily, before we got too wet, Commando and I discovered the Cooper’s Square shopping centre and ducked inside. Originally called Burton Shopping Centre, this indoor mall was opened in 1970 by Princess Alexandra, with a roof being added in the mid 1990’s when the name was changed.  We weren’t really in the mood for shopping but we were in the mood for staying dry so we wandered around window shopping and took advantage of the toilets while we were there.

In the middle of the shopping centre we stumbled upon a really beautiful bronze sculpture of a cooper making a barrel by James Walter Butler. The Burton Cooper was commissioned in 1977 and originally stood opposite the town market. When the Cooper’s Square shopping centre was refurbished in 1994, the sculpture was moved to its present position, despite quite a bit of local protest. I was very taken with the Burton Cooper, especially the expression of concentration on his face.

Eventually there was no avoiding going back outside, it was still raining and, as we’d come out of a different door to the one we’d entered, we weren’t quite sure where we were. Trying to find our way back to the place we’d started we walked around the outside of the building and stumbled upon another sculpture. This, I later discovered, was called the Malt Shovel and was by Andy Hazell. It was unveiled in 2001 and is a rather quirky thirty foot high stainless steel shovel with a human sized beer bottle cut out in the blade.

The wet paving stones below the sculpture were equally interesting. They were imprinted with miniature beer bottles and the chemical formula for the fermentation process. Unfortunately, there was a little too much H2O around for my liking.

Around the corner we were soon back on the High Street and things began to look familiar again. Then we stumbled upon Market Place running off to our right. Standing side by side with the modern buildings were some of the beautiful old red brick buildings I’d so admired on previous visits. There was also a small market selling lots of interesting plants. Of course we were too far from home for me to buy any but looking at them kept me amused. 

Behind the market was an interesting looking clock tower. A closer look told us this was the tower of St Modwen’s, the mother church of Burton. This rather angular red sandstone church was built on the site of Burton Abbey in 1719. The church was designed by brothers Richard and William Smith of Tattenhall but both brothers died before it was finished and the work was completed by their younger brother Francis Smith. 

Surrounded by greenery it looked like an interesting place to visit but the door was closed. Besides, we really needed to get back to the High Street and try to find Kim and Rob. In the end, although we did explore a little bit of Burton on Trent, and I did take a few wet photos of the lovely Victorian architecture, the weather and time meant I didn’t see nearly as much as I’d have liked.

We found Kim and Rob not long after we left the church. By now the rain was getting heavier and heavier so we decided to cut our losses and head back to the cars.

Our eight or so mile journey to Catton Park, Walton on Trent, where out tents were waiting took us right past the Marmite factory. I looked at it longingly through the wet window of the van, wondering if they did tours and, if so, whether they might give out samples? It rained all the way there, which made negotiating the very narrow bridge just outside the tiny town of Walton on Trent a little more tricky than it might have been, especially in an unfamiliar hired van. In the end we had to fold the mirrors in to get through.

It carried on raining all afternoon. We spent a great deal of it huddled in the middle of the rather windy and damp gazebo, trying not to get wet. The rain finally stopped just as the sun was going down. We went to bed wondering what on Earth the Thunder Run course was going to be like after so much rain?

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Time to kill at Wyvern

14 July 2019

As we set off for the Wyvern 10k this morning I felt unusually light of heart. Previous versions of this event have felt a little like hell on Earth, standing in blistering heat, camera in hand, desperately trying to get photos of runners crossing the finish line. They had to be good photos too, no funny faces or wobbly flesh, just flying feet and smiles. There was never any time to go wandering, just an aching back, arms and legs from standing still for so long and maybe a bit of sunburn.

Today though, I didn’t even have the fancy pants camera with me and there was just one runner to take a photo of. Ok, two if you count Tony, who we stumbled upon when we arrived. The three of us lounged about chatting until it was time for the race to start then Commando and Tony went one way and I went the other. While I was cheering the runners out of the gate I did take a couple of pictures. Then my job was more or less done and I could go for a walk.

The whole thing reminded me a little of the days when Commando first started running. He wasn’t in a club and only knew a handful of other runners. All I had to do was go along, carry his stuff while he ran and try to get a picture of him finishing. The time between start and finish was my own back then, just like today really.

Behind Wyvern College, where the race starts and ends, there are playing fields and woods with interesting trails. Years ago, when I only knew one runner and that was Commando, I explored them a little while he was running this race. Today I finally had the chance to revisit them.

On the far side of the playing field I found the entrance to the trail, half concealed behind a large blackberry bush. If you didn’t know it was there it would be easy to miss. The sun was quite strong, even though it was still early in the day so I was glad to step onto the path and into the shade.

Quite a bit of the trail is actually a boardwalk. The ground here gets boggy because streams run through the woods and there are several small ponds. The largest of these is called Quobleigh Pond and the woodland I was walking through used to be part of the estate of Fair Oak Lodge. Once it covered a hundred and twenty acres and the pond itself covered seven acres. Fair Oak Lodge was originally a convent, built in the sixteenth century. In the nineteenth century it was extended and now houses The Kings School. Sadly much of the estate has now been built on and I wasn’t sure exactly where the lake was. Maybe with a few hours I might have found it?

Walking along the creaky boardwalk through tunnels of trees was more than enough to keep me smiling. After a while I came to a small wooden bridge, barely distinguishable from the boardwalk at first. Looking over the side I saw a narrow stream. Following it might have led me to the pond but I was stuck on the boardwalk. At least there I couldn’t really get lost.

When I came to a fork in the path I decided to go left, mostly because it took me off the boardwalk and, by this time, I was beginning to feel a little hemmed in. The dirt path took me upwards briefly, then out into a field.

Vague memories of the last time I walked here told me there was a permissive path on the other side of the field somewhere and an orchard. For a moment or two I dithered, thinking about trying to find the path and the orchard again. Part of me wasn’t too keen though. Something about permissive paths always makes me feel uneasy, besides, the path I hadn’t taken in the woods might lead me to the lake.

Right when I’d decided to turn back, I noticed a sign to my right. It had an arrow pointing towards a gap in the hedge. A closer look showed it led to trail running alongside a field of wheat, or maybe barley, some kind of grain anyway.

Of course I went through the hedge. How could I resist? The corner of the field nearest me was filled with chamomile and something with strappy leaves I couldn’t identify. Beyond this, the crop stretched into the distance, a mass of swaying gold.

The footpath ran along the edge of the field. It was narrow and ran between the crop and a line of rough grass bordered by trees. At first I was fascinated by the golden field, stopping every few steps to take photographs from different angles. When the sun peeked out from behind a cloud the field seemed to glow. Whatever the crop was it looked almost ready to harvest.

On the far side of the field the path swung round to my left. There was more hesitation while I decided whether to keep following it. Fascinating as it was, walking round the edge of a field was going to get boring fairly quickly. Then a woman with a dog appeared through another gap in the hedge.

The lady said good morning to me, then she and her dog walked the way I’d just come. Obviously I couldn’t resist going to see what lay on the other side of the hedge. The first thing I discovered was a style. Styles are not my favourite things. My legs are short and I’m not, as Commando often reminds me, a mountain goat.

Luckily there was no one to see my rather inelegant style climbing. On the other side there was another field, just rough grass and not especially interesting. There may have been another footpath leading into the trees somewhere there but I couldn’t see it. The dog walker must have come from somewhere but I didn’t fancy a wild goose chase that might have led me nowhere at all.

In the end I climbed back over the style into the first field and retraced my steps. Although I had far more time and freedom than I’d have had if I was being a running photographer I still needed to be back before Commando finished the race so getting hopelessly lost wasn’t a good idea.

Back on the woodland trail I dithered a little. Did I go back the way I’d come, knowing I’d get back to the field in plenty of time or did I risk the other fork in the trail? In the end I plumped for the latter, hoping it wouldn’t be a terrible mistake.

The boardwalk led me deep into the wood and was, in places, quite overgrown. From time to time I had to dodge nettles and brambles. Obviously not many people used this trail. After a while I began to wonder if I’d made the wrong choice but I kept going forwards, hoping the path would take me somewhere interesting eventually. Then the boards ran out and I found myself in a small clearing. The canopy of green and the cool light was rather beautiful and the ground was surprisingly firm. A tiny clump of pink Himalayan balsam told me the water wasn’t far away but I couldn’t actually see it.

So I kept following the trail, still thinking I might find the pond, but the trees got less and less dense and soon I was walking beside a wire fence. When I came to a gap in the greenery I could see the playing fields and the finish line on the other side. Somehow I’d gone around in a big circle to the opposite side of the playing fields where my journey had begun.

At this point I didn’t know if I’d be able to get off the trail and onto the fields but still I kept going forward. Before very long the path opened up and there were marshals ahead of me. The runners were just about to start coming past. The kindly marshal directed me right, through the entrance to the top of the college playing field. I ducked under the tape and found myself a spot at the edge of the course. Moments later the first runner whizzed past. I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.

By sheer chance I’d found the perfect spot to watch the end of the race and I even had soft dry grass to sit on. It wasn’t quite the finish line but it was the last stretch of the race and one of the toughest parts of the course. As the hot and tired runners came though the gate they had to face a final hill and I was there at the top cheering them on. Tony spitted me and gave me the thumbs up as he passed.

A little while later I spotted Steve, the chairman of Lordshill Road Runners. He saw me too and gave me a smile. Just after he passed Tony appeared by my side. He’d crossed the finish line and dashed up the hill to cheer Commando on for those last few yards.

This was his first race since the disaster of the marathon. He wasn’t on his best form so it was never going to be a PB kind of race. He looked hot but still strong as he powered up the hill and, once he’d passed, Tony and I ran down the hill to meet him at the finish.

In the same way my walk on the boardwalk had brought me full circle, it felt this race had closed a circle of another kind. The days of standing on hot fields squinting at every running shirt finger poised over the shutter release button are over and it feels surprisingly good.

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Titanic tales from Portswood part 2

The wreckage of the Titanic lying From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

11 July 2019

In the end, after much dithering and discussion, we decided to find the last of the houses in the southern half of Portswood before finding somewhere to have a coffee and a rest. There were just seven of them and three were in one street so it didn’t seem like it would take too long or mean too much walking in the baking sun.

Of course, things are never as simple as they seem, especially with us. The sun was so bright it was hard to see the list or the map on my phone and I think we were both suffering with dehydration because all our water was gone. We started walking in what we thought was the right direction, looking for shade so I could see the map better. Then we came upon the most interesting building. With its fish-scale tiled roof, flint walls topped by yellow brick and timber framing, it seemed out of place. Although I lived in Portswood for a couple of years I had never spotted it before.

Of course I had to stop and take a photograph, much to CJ’s annoyance. Later I discovered the building is called Swiss Cottage and is grade II listed. It was built in the late nineteenth century so isn’t as old as it looks but it is lovely nonetheless. CJ was grumbling in my ear as we walked on. When we reached the next bit of shade I discovered we should actually have turned down Portswood Avenue when we found the cottage rather than heading along Portswood Road. We were now walking away from our next houses rather than towards them.

With a lot of accusatory grumping, we turned back and eventually made it to Shakespeare Avenue where our next house was. It didn’t take us long to find. Two crew members lived in the pretty red brick terraced house, almost certainly as lodgers.

20 Shakespeare Avenue

One was Charles George Chandler Crumplin, the son of Portsmouth native, John Henry Crumplin, a sea steward, and his wife Elizabeth Chandler from London. Charles was born in Southsea in February 1877. He had six siblings but only four survived infancy.

In 1899 Charles married a local girl, Ada Frances Harriett Sparks and they had two children over the next two years, Frances Madge Irene and Charles George Cecil. They lived over a pub in Cromwell Road, Portsmouth. Charles was the publican and several employees also lived in the property. By 1911, though, Charles had followed his father’s example and had gone to sea as a steward. The family then moved to New Road, Portsmouth. 

Charles left Olympic to join Titanic for her delivery from Belfast. He gave his address as 20 Shakespeare Avenue, Portswood, but he was almost certainly just lodging there as a convenience while Titanic was sailing in and out of Southampton. As a first class bedroom steward, he’d have earned £3 15s a month and supplemented this with tips from the rich passengers he looked after. He was almost certainly among the bedroom stewards Henry Etches of Gordon Avenue told to get their passengers onto the boat deck and stand by. Unlike Henry though, he was not ordered to man an oar in a lifeboat and probably went down with the ship. His body was never identified but he seems to have been sorely missed.

A death notice was posted in the Portsmouth evening news on 29 April 1912. 

CRUMPLIN–Missing with other brave ones on the ill-fated Titanic, Charles, the dearly-loved husband of Frances Crumplin, 20 Shakespeare Avenue, Portswood; and youngest son of John and Elizabeth Crumplin, late of the “Richmond” Hotel, aged 35.

A year after the tragedy two more memorials were posted in the same newspaper. 

In loving memory of our dear brother Charlie, who lost his life on the ill-fated Titanic, April 15th, 1912–From his affectionate sisters Gert, Ivy and Moss.
Had we seen him at the last
Or watched by his dying bed,
Or heard the last sighs of his heart,
Or held his drooping head,
Our hearts, I think, would not have felt
This bitterness of grief.
But God hath ordered otherwise,
And now he rests in peace.

CRUMPLIN–In loving memory of our dear Charles, husband of Frances Crumplin, who with all the other brave men who perished, gave his life to save the women and children in that awful catastrophe, the sinking of the s.s. Titanic, on April 15th, 1912. Thus again has been lost a good son, a faithful husband, and a loving father.

He is mentioned on a family grave in Southampton Old Cemetery and on his wife’s grave in Kingston Cemetery Portsmouth. Ada seemed destined to be a widow, she married Tom Jones in 1921 but was widowed again five years later. In 1932, she married Archibald Luff and was widowed yet again in 1943. She died in April 1953. 

Charles’ daughter, Francis, married Wilfred Vernon Carter in 1923. They had one son, Peter Crumplin, who died in 2013. Frances died in Chichester in 1973. 

Charles’ son, Charles George Cecil, married Florrie May Beech in 1927. They had one daughter, Patricia. Charles was widowed in 1939 and married Marjorie Gertrude Bickford the following year. He was widowed again in 1973 and died in Bedhampton in 1978. 

The other crew member living at 20 Shakespeare Avenue was James Arthur Paintin, known to his family as Arthur. He was born in December 1882 at Clay Cross Wharf, St Ebbe’s, Oxford. His parents were William Frederick Henry, a carpenter, and Eliza Mary. They had ten children. As a child Arthur sang in the choir at All Saints Church, Oxford. After he left school he worked in the service of Justice North. 

In around 1907, Arthur left Oxford to join the White Star Line as a steward. He was obviously good at his job because he eventually became captain’s steward to Edward John Smith, serving with him on the Adriatic and Olympic then joining him on Titanic.

James Arthur Paintin From Encyclopaedia Titanica

Arthur married quite late in life. His wife, Alice Bunce, the daughter of a retired Oxford College servant, was thirty one and Arthur was twenty eight when they exchanged vows in Holy Trinity Church in November 1911. Within a few short months Arthur had joined Titanic. He gave his address as 20 Shakespeare Avenue, but it is not clear whether Alice was also living there or if Arthur was lodging there alone. As Captain’s steward he would have earned just £3 15s a month and would probably not have received the tips other stewards relied on to boost their earnings. 

When Titanic docked in Queenstown he sent a long, chatty letter to his parents. 

April 11 1912
My Dear Mother and Father
Many thanks for your nice long letter this morning received before leaving. I intended writing before we left, but there did not seem time for anything. I cannot realise that I had ten days at home, and am very sorry I could not get to Oxford, for we have now commenced the quick voyages all the summer (bar accidents).
I say that because the Olympic’s bad luck seems to have followed us, for as we came out of dock this morning we passed quite close to the ‘Oceanic’ and ‘New York’ which were tied up in the ‘Adriatic’s’ old berth, and whether it was suction or what it was I don’t know, but the ‘New York’s’ ropes snapped like a piece of cotton and she drifted against us. There was great excitement for some time, but I don’t think there was any damage done bar one or two people knocked over by the ropes…
…My cold is still pretty bad, but nothing like it was last week…
…Bai jove what a fine ship this is, much better than the Olympic as far as passengers are concerned, but my room is nothing near so nice, no daylight, electric light on all day, but I suppose it’s no use grumbling. I hope to make up a bit for last voyage I saved nothing to think of…
Now I think I must say au revoir once again.
With best love to all from
Your ever loving son

Exactly what became of Arthur during the night of the disaster isn’t clear but his fate was inextricably linked with that of Captain Smith. Usually Arthur would have brought the Captain his meals in his cabin or attended him while he ate at a small table in the dining saloon. On the night of 14 April though, Captain Smith was attending a dinner party held in his honour by George Widener and his family. The party included the cream of society. Whether Arthur attended Captain Smith there or was given the night off is not clear. The Captain certainly left the party early and went to the bridge, concerned about the ice zone the ship was entering. 

When the news of the disaster reached Arthur’s wife, Alice, she was visiting her family in Oxford. She rushed to Southampton, hoping for news. Sadly, she learned Arthur had perished. His body was never identified. Poor Alice returned to Oxford to live with her brother. On 31 July 1912, she gave birth to Arthur’s son. She named him Arthur James Paintin. 

Alice and Arthur Junior From Encyclopaedia Titanica

Our next house was just around the corner on Tennyson Road. We found it with relative ease, another version of the same Victorian terraces we’d been looking at all morning but rendered rather than plain brick and with an interesting molded frieze running through the middle.

54 Tennyson Road

The house was once home to James Fraser. Not much is known about his early life except that he was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1882. He served an apprenticeship with Barry, Henry & Co. of Aberdeen and, with a first class engineer’s certificate, went on to work on Langland & Sons ships for two years. 

In around 1906 he married Florence Jane Stephen from Newcastle. Not long after this he joined White Star as a sixth engineer, working on the Adriatic. James and Florence had two children, Florence, born in 1909 and James born in 1912. At some point, probably when James began working for White Star, they moved to Southampton. When James left Adriatic to join Titanic as Junior Assistant third engineer he gave his address as 54 Tennyson Road. His wages would have been £11 10s a month. 

None of the engineers on the ship survived the sinking. James was almost certainly below decks desperately trying to keep the ship afloat and the lights burning so passengers had the best chance of escape. His body was never identified. 

Poor Florence, left with two young children, remained in Southampton and never remarried. She died in 1933. Their daughter Florence did not marry and died in Southampton in 2002. James junior became a clerk. During World War II he served in the Royal Navy. He trained at HMS Collingwood and was stationed on HMS Belmont. Sadly, the destroyer was torpedoed off the coast of Newfoundland on 31 January 1942.  The entire crew of 138 were lost. It was a bizarre coincidence. He was twenty nine, the same age, his father had been when Titanic sank in almost the same place. 

James Fraser From Encyclopaedia Titanica

From Tennyson Road we turned into Woodside Road where our next crew member, Edward Henry Bagley, lived. Once again we found the house quite easily, another little terrace, quite similar to the last but a little smaller. It felt as if we were on a roll, which was a blessing as, by now, we were so hot and thirsty we just wanted to tick the houses off as quickly as possible.

Sadly, the story was all too familiar and very tragic. Edward was born in West Ham, Essex, in March 1878, the only child of Edward and Lucy Bagley. Edward Senior was a general labourer at a soap works from Birmingham. Lucy was from Monmouthshire, Wales. The couple had married the year before in Woolwich, London. Poor Lucy died aged twenty three, in 1884, when Edward was just six, possibly in childbirth, although there is no mention of another child. Edward and his father went to live with his paternal grandmother, Mary Bagley. By 1898, Edward senior had also died. 

It is likely that Edward went to sea after his father’s death. In 1909 he married Edith Lily Inward and, just over a year later, they had a son, Edward Henry. By the time of the 1911 census the couple were living at 105 Oxford Avenue, Southampton, close to Edward’s cousin, Edward James William Rogers. Both men were working for White Star and this is probably why they moved to Southampton.

By the time Edward left Oceanic to join Titanic as a first class steward he and his family had moved to 11 Woodside Road. His cousin had also signed onto Titanic as a storekeeper. Both men died in the tragedy. Edward’s body was never identified. Poor Edith went to work as a nanny for P&O. She never remarried. Edward’s son, Edward, married Winnie Irene Burgess in Romford in 1939. They had one, son, David.

11 Woodside Road

The cousins are remembered on a family headstone in St Mary Magdalene Church, East Ham.

Also Edward James William
son of the Above
aged 31 years
Also Edward Henry Bagley
Nephew of the above, aged 33 years,
who lost their lives in the Titanic Disaster
April 15th 1912.

Edward Bagley from the Barking Chronicle

Thackeray Road loops off of Woodside Road and then back onto it again a little further along. There were three Titanic crew houses somewhere on it. We had high hopes of finding them all fairly quickly. As it happened, we found the first, 41 Thackeray Road, almost at once. This little terrace with its bay windows and painted render was where Edward Joseph White once lived.

Edward, or Joseph as he was known to most, was born just across the Solent in Ryde, Isle of Wight, in December 1884. His parents were both Isle of Wight natives. His father, Richard, was a coachman who’d married Bessie in 1878. Joseph was one of their ten children, nine of whom survived infancy.  

By the time Joseph was sixteen he was working as a stationer’s errand boy. How long this job lasted isn’t clear but,  by the time of the 1911 census, he was working as a ship’s steward and staying with an aunt at 146 High Street Southampton. His fiancée, Emily Attrill, also from Ryde, was also living there. 

In early 1912 Joseph and Emily married and, shortly afterwards, they set up home at 41 Thackeray Road. Joseph left Olympic to join Titanic as a glory hole steward, otherwise known as a steward to the other stewards. His job was to look after the steward’s quarters or ‘glory hole.’ He would have maintained the crew spaces such as their dining rooms, living areas, lavatories, bathing areas and passageways. His wages were the same as all the other stewards £3 15s a month, but he would be highly unlikely to have earned any tips. 

Sadly, Joseph died in the disaster. His body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett, numbered 272 and buried at Fairview cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 8 May 1912. He was wearing a blue suit and white jacket with the name J White on it. He also had a pipe and six shillings about his person. Poor Emily had hardly had time to get used to being married before she was widowed. It is thought she did remarry but what became of her isn’t known. 

41 Thackeray Road

The next house was on the opposite side of the road and was even easier to find because it had a black plaque above the bay window. It was another small terrace, much like the last but in red brick instead of painted render. Percy Rice, born in Southampton in 1893, once called it home. He was one of eight children born to Hampshire natives Robert and Rose Rice. Sadly two of his siblings died in infancy. Robert was a printer journeyman and the family originally lived at 39 Thackeray Road. By the time of the 1911 census they had moved across the road to number 40 and Percy was working as a butcher. 

40 Thackeray Road

At some time in 1911 or early 1912, Percy went to sea. He left Olympic to join Titanic as a third class steward. It was not a good move. Poor Percy, aged just nineteen, died when Titanic sank and his body was never identified. A death notice was posted in the Hampshire Independent

RICE– April 15th, 1912, at sea, on s.s. Titanic, Percy Rice, aged 19, the beloved son of Robert and Rose Rice, 40, Thackeray Road, Southampton.

His father died in 1917 and his mother followed in 1933. Percy is remembered on the family headstone in Southampton Old Cemetery. It is a grave I pass regularly.

The Rice family grave in Southampton Old Cemetery

The last of the Thackeray Road Houses, number 2, also had a black plaque, this one above the front door. CJ and I both agreed things would be a whole lot easier if all the houses had them but, I suppose, not all home owners agree to display them. William Simon C Simmons lived in this little end of terrace on the corner of the street. 

2 Thackeray Road

William was not a Southampton native, having been born in Litton, East Harptree, Somerset in 1875. His parents Matthew and Martha were also from Somerset. Matthew, was a blacksmith and innkeeper of the White Lion on the High Street in Shepton Mallet. The couple had five more children together and Martha also had a daughter from a previous relationship. 

The family appear to have moved around quite a bit during William’s youth, leaving Somerset for Odstock, Wiltshire, then Colgate, Sussex. By 1891, William was lodging in Blandford, Dorset and working as an upholsterer, although he was just fifteen. By 1900, he was living in Southampton and probably working at sea. That autumn he married Laura Theresa Augusta Ereaut, the daughter of a French born grocer. Laura was born in St Helier, Jersey but she and her widowed father were living in Albert Street, St Mary’s, Southampton at the time of the marriage.  

By 1911 the couple had two children, Leslie Matthew and Cecilia Edna, and were living at 2 Thackeray Road. William was working as a ship’s cook. He left Olympic to join Titanic as a ‘passage cook,’ earning £7 a month. William died in the disaster and his body was never identified. Laura was pregnant with their third child at the time and gave birth to a daughter, Theresa later in the year. She never remarried and died in Southampton in 1970, aged ninety. Leslie married Violet Pegrum in 1930. It isn’t known if the couple had any children. He died in 1984. Cecilia married Thomas Surtees, also in 1930, it is believed she had children but nothing further is known about them. She died in 1999. What became of Theresa is unclear. 

The next house on our list would take us back towards the High Street, although it was quite a convoluted journey. The house was somewhere on Westridge Road, a road I walked up and down regularly when I lived in Portswood.

Robert Charles Bristow once lived at number 49, more or less in the middle of the more than quarter mile long road. Robert was probably born in Belfast in 1873, although some records say he was born in Southampton. He parents were certainly English. His father Charles, a carpenter was from Warminster, Wiltshire and his mother Harriet, was born in Southampton. The couple were living in Crookham, Hampshire a year or so prior to Robert’s birth and were living in Southampton in 1876, so why he would have been born in Belfast is a mystery. Robert had five siblings. 

Robert appears to have spent at least part of his childhood in Princes Street, St Mary’s. By 1891, the family had moved to Marine Terrace in the town centre but Robert was already at sea by this time. The 1991 census shows Robert and his fiancée, Lily Anne Sophia Garrett, visiting a Mr Henry Goding, in Spring Road, St Denys. Robert and Lily were married later that year and went on to have five children. Sadly, only two, William and Arthur, survived infancy. By 1911 the family were living at 49 Westridge Road and Robert was working as a ship’s steward. He left Olympic to join Titanic as a third class steward. 

49 Westridge Road

Robert died when the ship sank. His body was later recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and numbered 290. He was wearing a plain blue serge suit, a steward’s white coat marked Bristow, and a cholera belt (a strip of red flannel or knitted wool about six feet long and six inches wide, twisted around the abdomen, supposedly, a preventive measure against cholera). Amongst his effects was a letter addressed to R C Bristow, 49 Westridge Road, Portswood, and ships keys marked steward’s department. Perhaps, knowing he might drown, he had picked up the letter in the hope it would would help identify his body? He was buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 6 May 1912. Lily lived in Westridge Road until her death in 1939. What became of the two boys isn’t known. 

Robert Charles Bristow

CJ and I plodded up to Portswood Road and headed for the nearest cafe. We’d been walking in the hot sun all morning, covering over six miles, and were both suffering for it. There were ten more crew members on our list and a whole lot of ground still to cover. Neither of us had the stomach for it today though. As we sipped our coffee gratefully, we both decided the second half of the Portswood Houses would have to wait for another day.

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Titanic tales from Portswood

The bow of the RMS Titanic taken June 2004 by the ROV Hercules.

11 July 2019

The plan for today was to try to find at least some of the Titanic crew houses in Portswood. As there are a lot of them, covering a large area, and the weather was incredibly hot and humid, I was resigned to the fact that we might not be up to the job of finding all of them. When CJ and I set off the mood was hopeful and doubtful in equal parts. Originally I’d hoped to tick of the handful of houses in Highfield on this walk too but I already knew that was a step too far.

The first of the houses on my list was in Rigby Road, not too far from some of the Bevois Valley Houses we found on our last search. This is not a part of Portswood I know well but we found the road fairly easily. With the vibrant colours of the Mexican Restaurant on the corner, we could hardly have missed it.

As soon as we turned the corner I felt sure we would find the house still standing. Rigby Road is a short cul -de-sac of red brick Victorian terraces, each neat and tidy, with arched doorways and bay windows. Right away I could see one with a plaque so, without even looking at the numbers, we headed right for it. As it happened, it wasn’t the right house but it was interesting all the same.

Number 2 Rigby Road was where artist Eric Meadus was born in 1931. Although he was born in Portswood he grew up in Lobelia Road, next door to my Mother in Law’s childhood home. She even had a painting of his, oil on hardboard, which was used as a fire screen. Meadus painted scenes from the city in a primitive style, inspired by Lowry. His work was exhibited in the Royal Academy and Paris Salon. His house may not have been what we were looking for but it was an interesting find all the same.

Meadus, Eric; Suburban Housing in the Southampton Area; Hampshire County Council’s Fine Art Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/suburban-housing-in-the-southampton-area-25862

At the other end of the road we finally found the house we were looking for. Number fourteen Rigby Road was where Percy Edward Keen once lived. The son of James, a house decorator from Wiltshire and Southampton born Ellen, Percy was born in Portswood Road on 9 August 1881. He was one of four children. He began his working life as a printer but, by 1905, he had gone to sea.

In 1908, he married Adelaide Martha Jane White, a Southampton girl and two years later they had a daughter, Kathleen Frances. When he left Oceanic to join Titanic as a first class saloon steward, the little family were living at 14 Rigby Road. He would have earned £3 15s a month and supplemented that with tips from the wealthy passengers he served. 

Exactly what happened on the night Titanic struck the iceberg isn’t known, although it’s thought Percy somehow managed to get onto lifeboat fifteen. This was the eighth boat lowered from the starboard side. It had been partly filled on the boat deck where a number of crew boarded. Possibly Percy was amongst them. The boat was then lowered to A deck and there picked up passengers. Eyewitness accounts are quite contradictory. At the inquiries some said the boat was mainly filled with women and children, others said the majority were men, many from third class. The inquiries chose to believe the former, although the latter is probably nearer the truth. Whatever really happened, the boat was almost lowered on top of lifeboat thirteen, which had become tangled below.  At the last moment someone managed to cut the falls and release the boat so disaster was narrowly averted. It took between fifteen and twenty minutes for lifeboat fifteen to get away from Titanic. It didn’t pick anyone up from the sea and was the tenth or eleventh boat to reach Carpathia. 

After his lucky escape, Percy returned to England and quickly went back to sea. Later that year his father died and, in 1913, he and Adelaide had a second daughter, Vera Winifred Lucy. Percy had a long seafaring career, continuing until at least the late 1930’s. During this time he worked on many ships beside another Titanic survivor, his friend Edenser Wheelton. It must have been a comfort to find a friend who’d also lived through the disaster. 

In his later years Percy, Adelaide and their daughters lived in Hillside Avenue, Bitterne Park. Percy died in November 1954. His ashes were scattered in the Garden of Rest in South Stoneham Cemetery. Adelaide died in 1964. 

14 Rigby Road

Right beside Percy’s house we spotted an interesting cutaway. Sadly it didn’t looked like it would lead us anywhere we needed to go so, slightly reluctantly, we retraced our steps. Our next house was on Lodge Road and, as we turned the corner, I was quietly confident we would find it.

As it happened, it was a little more complicated than either of us expected but we did find two pieces of interesting local graffiti as we searched.

The house we were looking for was number 29, once the home of William Farr Penney. We walked along the road counting off the numbers but, when we reached 27, on the corner of Spar Road, we were confused to find the house on the opposite corner was 31d. The terrace of three houses looked as if they had been converted into offices and partly rebuilt. As the house after these three is numbered 35, I’m fairly confident the corner house was once number 29 but it has changed a great deal since 1912.

29 Lodge Road, probably

Whatever the truth, this was as close as we were going to get to William’s house. He was born in Barnsley, Middlesex in October 1880. His father, William George Penney, a clothier manager, was from Shoreditch, London and his mother, Annie Maria Farr, was from Huntingdonshire. The couple married in 1871 and had seven children. The family seem to have moved around a fair bit. William’s first years were spent in Islington. The family later moved to Hackney. By 1901 William appears to have gone to sea. 

By 1909 he was living at 29 Lodge Road, Southampton and had married a local girl, Phylis Maude Harrison. Within the year they had a son, Lionel William. According to his family, William had been working for White Star for around six years. Before he joined Titanic as a second class steward he was working as a medical steward aboard the SS New York and had plans to stay in the United States and become a doctor. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Poor William perished in the disaster and his body was never identified. It’s unknown what became of Phylis, but his son, Lionel, remained in Southampton where he married Elizabeth Bacon in 1941. He died in 1978.

William Farr Penney, From Encyclopedia Titanica by his great nephew Tony Evans

Our next house was 122 Avenue Road, a very long road running Parallel to Lodge Road from the Avenue all the way to Portswood Road. We’d almost walked to the Avenue before we finally cut through a side street onto Avenue Road and discovered the house numbers there ran in the opposite direction. We were hot and tired by this time and CJ was not impressed that I’d added an unnecessary half mile to our walk. He was even less impressed when we found the house and discovered it was almost opposite the little cutway we hadn’t taken on Rigby Road!

122 Avenue Road

This house was once home to Benjamin James Thomas, born in Clapham, London in May 1881. His father was also called Benjamin and his mother was Jane, a native of Shrewsbury Shropshire. By the time he was ten his father had died and he was living with his mother and younger half brother, Ernest Charles in the boarding house she was running in West Ham, Essex. In 1896 she took a second husband, John Ryan, who was probably Ernest’s father, and they ran a shop together. 

By 1901 Benjamin had gone to sea and his mother, widowed for a second time, was living in Canning Town with his brother. Benjamin married Polly James from Bicester, Oxfordshire in 1906. A year later they were living in Digswell, Hertfordshire and had a daughter Bertha Annie. They later moved to Southampton and set up home at 122 Avenue Road. Benjamin was working as a ship’s steward aboard Olympic, which could explain the move. He was on Olympic when she collided with the Hawke in 1911. Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith was in charge of the Olympic at the time. The two ships were sailing beside each other out of Southampton on the Solent when Olympic turned to starboard. This caught the commander of Hawke by surprise and he wasn’t able to take evasive action in time. The Hawke rammed Olympia’s starboard side near the stern and tore two large holes in it, flooding two watertight compartments and twisting a propellor shaft. Thankfully no one was seriously injured and Olympic managed to limp back to Southampton. Hawke was badly damaged and almost capsized. 

Benjamin joined Titanic for her delivery from Belfast and signed on as a first class steward for her maiden voyage. Like Percy Edward Keen, he was rescued in lifeboat fifteen. Although he was not required to testify at either of the inquiries into the disaster, he was detained for a while, possibly in case his testimony was needed, and was paid expenses of £11 17s 6d as compensation. He never returned to England. Later that year Polly and little Bertha sailed on Oceanic to join him in Plainfield, New Jersey.   He did not go back to sea. Instead he found work as a steward on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Benjamin spent the rest of his life in Plainfield but kept in touch with and visited fellow Titanic survivor Fred Toms, who’d moved from Bitterne Park to Los Angeles. 

Benjamin died in 1937 in the Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield, after a short illness. He was just 56. He was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Poly remained in Plainfield for the rest of her life. She died in 1949 and was buried with her husband. Bertha worked as a stenographer and married Halsey Saint Mills, an office clerk. They had one son, Thomas, who sadly died aged five. Bertha died in 1978 and was buried with her parents.

The next house on my list was a couple of streets away in Livingstone Road. Luckily, it wasn’t too far to walk. We found number 93 on the corner of Earls Road. It was a surprisingly large, grand looking house for a mere Pantry Steward like our next crew member James Marks. In all likelihood this was just a lodging house back in 1912 though.

James Marks was one of seven children born to Irish parents, Robert John and Mary Jane, in Wishaw, near Glasgow, in October 1884. Robert was a steel worker, who later became a travelling sewing machinist. James began his working life as an iron worker but moved to Portsmouth in 1904 and enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry. Two years later he joined the Royal Navy as a stoker, serving aboard the Nelson, Victory II, Sapphire and finally Canopus. His conduct was not always good and he spent time in the cells for misconduct, abandonment and poor demeanour. In 1908, he married Portsmouth girl, Minnie Reynard, who was pregnant at the time. He was discharged in 1909, probably because of his poor behaviour, and their son, Ronald James, was born later that year. Minnie and her son lived at her father’s house in Landport Street Portsmouth. James appears to have gone straight back to sea in the merchant service. 

When James left the Avon to join Titanic as an assistant pantry steward, first class, he was living apart from Minnie at 93 Livingstone Road. He seems to have abandoned his wife and child and had little contact with them. Whether they ever saw any of his £3 15s monthly wages is unclear. James died in the sinking and his body was never identified. His parents benefitted from the Titanic relief fund but it doesn’t seem as if poor Minnie was provided for at all. She married William Butler in 1921 and they had a son, Anthony John the following year. She died in Gosport in 1971.

93 Livingstone Road

James’ son, Ronald worked in communications for the RAF and spent some time in Palestine. During World War II he served in Malta. He later returned to the UK and was involved in the D-Day landings. In 1947 he married Sheila Irvine from Oxfordshire. They had two children. Ronald retired from the RAF as a Wing Commander in 1963. He then joined NATO’s Allied Radio Frequency Agency in a civilian capacity. He died in 1972 in Brussels.

Our next crew member lived at 23a Gordon Avenue, a short walk away. We found the neat little bay fronted terraced house quite easily. It was numbered 23, so I’m guessing it was divided into flats in 1912. It looked much as it must have back then, except I imagine the red brick was unpainted back then and there certainly wouldn’t have been a satellite dish or wheelie bins in the front garden.

23 Gordon Avenue

Henry Samuel Etches was a local lad, born in Freemantle, Southampton in October 1868. His father, John, a master painter, was originally from Scotland and his mother, Caroline, was from Southampton. They had eleven children. Little us known about Henry’s early life but the family lived in Park Road Millbrook for a time. By 1891 Caroline had been widowed and was living in a boarding house in St Mary’s Road. It seems Henry had gone to sea.

In 1896, Henry married a Worcestershire girl, Lilian Rachel Smith. The couple did not have any children. For a time Lilian was living with friends or family at 114 Derby Road while Henry was at sea and  it isn’t clear exactly when they moved to 23a Gordon Avenue but they were certainly living there at the time of the 1911 census. This was also the address Henry gave when he left Oruba to join Titanic as a first class bedroom steward. His job involved assisting some of the most rich and famous passengers aboard the ship and tips from them would have certainly bolstered his wages. 

He was in charge of eight cabins on the aft port side of B deck and one on A deck. The latter was the cabin of Thomas Andrews, the Chief Designer of Titanic. Every morning at seven o’clock he went to Andrews’ cabin to take him fruit and tea. He then visited him at a quarter to seven each evening to help him dress. He had also met him several times in Belfast when both were on Olympic. 

Henry was off duty at the time of the collision but curiosity led him to head forward along the working alleyway on E deck known as Scotland Road. In the third class accommodation he witnessed a passenger dropping a chunk of ice onto the floor with the words “will you believe it now?”

Once Henry understood the gravity of the situation he went to B deck and began waking his passengers and helping them into their lifebelts. With just nine cabins under his charge this should have been a simple task but it was not. Benjamin Guggenheim, the mining magnate, was reluctant to wear a lifebelt. Even when Henry had persuaded him he said it was too uncomfortable and hurt his back. Henry took it off, adjusted it and then put it back on. After this Guggenheim was more comfortable but he and his valet, Victor Giglio, still had to be persuaded not to go out onto the cold deck in just their evening clothes. Eventually, Henry managed to pull heavy sweaters over their lifebelts and both men went out onto the boat deck. At another cabin the passengers refused to open the door and, even when Henry had explained the situation and warned them of the danger, they wouldn’t open the door or let him in. 

One passenger who did not have to be woken or helped was Thomas Andrews. He was more aware than most of the danger. He’d gone to survey the damaged straight after the collision and knew with certainty the ship would sink. Henry met him on B deck and walked with him down to C deck. The pair walked along C deck together, rousing passengers as they did. They found the purser outside his office surrounded by a large group of ladies. He was trying to persuade them to go to the boat deck. Andrews said, “that is exactly what I have been trying to get them to do,” and walked down the staircase to D deck. This was the last Henry saw of him because the purser ordered him to tell all the other bedroom stewards to get their passengers onto the boat deck and stand by. It was now twenty past twelve, the time Carpathia received Titanic’s distress signal.

By the time Henry got to the boat deck lifeboat seven was being loaded. He saw Guggenheim and his valet going from one lifeboat to the next helping women and children into the boats and shouting “women first.” He was surprised to see they had removed the sweaters and life jackets he’d had so much trouble persuading them to wear. When he asked them why, Mr Guggenheim replied, “we’ve dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.” He also gave Henry a message to pass on to his wife. 

Right after this Henry was ordered into lifeboat five to man an oar. He waved goodbye to Guggenheim and did not see him or his valet again. Third Officer Pitman was in charge of the lifeboat. After the ship had gone down he began to guide it back towards the site to pick up people from the water but there were so many people swimming the passengers were afraid the boat would be swamped and they would all die. Eventually he was persuaded to stand by and the boat did not rescue anyone from the water. Lifeboat five was one of the first to reach Carpathia.

Henry Samuel Etches  From Encyclopaedia Titanica

Later Henry was asked to give evidence at the inquiries. He also kept true to his word and delivered Guggenheim’s message. He went to the St Regis Hotel in New York on 20 April, hoping to speak to Mrs Guggenheim personally. He was not allowed to see her but instead gave the message to her brother in law. Although the message was short, “if anything should happen to me, tell my wife in New York that I’ve done my best in doing my duty,” he had written it down to make sure it was correct. He told Guggenheim’s brother “there wasn’t time for more,” and that Guggenheim and his valet, Giglio, “both died like soldiers.” Later the press would report that Mrs Guggenheim was greatly consoled by the message. Neither Guggenheim or Giglio’s bodies were ever identified, despite great efforts by the Guggenheim family to find them.

Henry did not return to sea after the disaster. He moved to Pershore in Worcestershire where his wife was born and died of chronic myocarditis, in September 1944. He was seventy five. His widow, Lilian, died ten years later. 

The Gordon Arms, Gordon Avenue

We’d started our walk on the edge of Bevois Valley and had been slowly meandering towards the centre of Portswood. Now we walked down Gordon Avenue, past the Gordon Arms pub on the corner with its bright hanging baskets and onto Portswood Road at the beginning of what is, effectively, Portswood High Street. Our next house was somewhere here but it wasn’t going to be easy to find.

We were looking for 134 Portswood Road and Google Maps told me it was around here somewhere. The problem was most of the shops displayed names but no house numbers and the ones we did find didn’t seem to go in any particular order. We walking up and down peering at the shop fronts trying to work out which might have once been 134. It was incredibly humid and we were both tired. We’d already walked more than four miles on our sinuous search and our water was running out.

We stopped for a while in the shade of the shop fronts while I searched Google, trying to find out which shop was number 134. The most likely one was the large Iceland supermarket, or at least part of it, it was clear none of the modern buildings had been standing in 1912 so our house was long gone.

We may not have been able to find the house, or to even be sure of exactly where it once was, but we did know the story of the man who once lived there. Francis Ernest George Coy was born in Thetford, Norfolk in 1885. His father, also called Francis, was a tool maker and machine fitter from Stretham, Cambridgeshire. He and Francis’s mother, Ada, married in 1884 and went on to have three more children, all girls. Francis Senior was working as an engineer in the dockyards by 1891 and his son followed in his footsteps to become an engine fitter’s apprentice. He served his apprenticeship in Portsmouth Dockyard working alongside his father. 

In 1907, Francis joined the White Star Line as sixth engineer on Oceanic. He was obviously good at his job because he was soon promoted to fifth engineer and then to assistant fourth engineer aboard Olympic. Like Benjamin James Thomas, he was aboard Olympic when she collided with the HMS Hawke in September 1911.

Shortly after this lucky escape, Francis married Beatrice Elizabeth Bridges a bookkeeper from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Beatrice was living with her parents in Oxford Avenue, Southampton at the time and the couple set up home together at 134 Portswood Road. Francis joined Titanic as junior assistant 3rd engineer, another promotion, earning £11 10s a month. None of the engineers survived the sinking. All were most likely below decks doing all they could to keep the ship afloat and give passengers time to get away on the lifeboats. Francis’s body was never identified. Beatrice did not remarry for over twenty years. In 1933, she married James H Cox and spent her last days living in Worthing, Sussex. She died in 1951

Francis Ernest George Coy From Encyclopaedia Titanica

By now CJ and I were both flagging badly. We still had a lot of houses to find but we were in need of a sit down in the shade and something to drink. The problem was, all the places we could have found these things were in the opposite direction to our next houses…

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Rights of way

10 July 2019

One of the great joys in my life is walking in the quiet places. I am a connoisseur of secluded little cut ways, hidden footpaths, trails and walkways. Finding a way to get from a to b that doesn’t involve walking along a road makes me smile, especially when it is beside a river. On my walks I’m always on the lookout for these hidden gems and the ones I know I use regularly, even if they add miles to my walks. Today I chose a route bursting at the seams with away from the road delights for my early morning walk. Unfortunately some of them are not as accessible as they should be though.

One of my favourite diversions is one my friend Gigi showed me years ago when we worked together for a cruise company. It adds a little distance to the walk from my house to Northam Bridge but takes me away from the main road for almost a mile. The trade off is worth the extra couple of hundred yards walking, especially when you consider the beautiful views of the river.

This walk uses a hidden cut way between the houses. It takes me over a little railway bridge and around Chessel Bay with views of all the little ships at Kemps Quay. Back when I was working with Gigi it was part of my walk to work and I loved watching the seasons change from bare branches to blackthorn blossom, berries to autumn leaves. There is a beautiful eucalyptus tree along the bay with peeling bark revealing smooth pale wood that makes me gasp whenever I pass.

Further along there is a wooden viewing platform where swans often gather. This used to be the place where it was most likely to see a black swan before they all moved up river and started breeding. The path takes me past houses and a school but, if I keep my eyes on the river, I can imagine I’m in the middle of nowhere.

After a short walk along a quiet road past the Quay there is another quiet path. This one runs behind the flats on the riverside and takes me all the way to the bridge. Looking over the low brick wall I can see all the ships and wrecks, the old jetty filled with sea birds and the skeleton ship slowly rotting away. The people in the flats have enviable views and the right of way allows walkers like me to enjoy them briefly.

The final part of this diversion takes me along the embankment beside the bridge. As far as I can tell this was once the beginning of the original bridge, built in 1799 for David Lance who owned the Chessel Estate. Part of the embankment is bordered by an old stone wall and then a chain fence. Walking along the grass between the trees, the roar of the traffic zooming along the road belies the serenity of the river view.

Eventually, of course, I have to leave all this peace and quiet and climb the steps onto the road. On the far side of the bridge though, there is another diversion. Today, before I went down the steps to the rowing club I stopped for a moment to look at the progress on the tall flats being built on the opposite side of the road. They seem to be shooting up into the air very fast and I can’t help wondering how high they will get?

Through the gate and down the steep steps are the rowing club slipways. Often I’ve seen rowers here preparing their boats or climbing exhausted from the water. This is close to the spot where Northam Wharf marked the beginning of the Itchen Navigation, although you’d never know it. There are no triangular markers or signs and the council seem disinterested in this part of the city’s heritage.

From here it is possible to walk under the bridge rather than cross the busy road above. Northam Bridge was the first major prestressed concrete road bridge to be built in the UK and, recently, it seems to have become a bit of an unofficial graffiti tunnel. Not that I’m complaining because it brightens my walk.

On the other side of the bridge a public footpath runs all along the riverbank. Until quite recently, there was a high chain link fence separating the path from the old television studios. The fence had been colonised by trees and climbing plants but these were all cut down when building work began on the new flats and a high blue fence erected instead. Although I miss the trees and the wooden fence makes the path feel slightly more hemmed in, I quite like the blue colour. It makes a beautiful backdrop for all the wildflowers growing along the path.

In truth it isn’t the best kept of paths. It’s narrow, filled with potholes and tends to get very muddy in winter. My hope is, that when all the building work is finished, the path will be improved and maybe some access provided directly into the new streets. If I was buying one of the flats I’d want to be able to get onto the path without going through the industrial estate. Despite all its faults and the risk of breaking an ankle if you don’t take care, the views across the river are stunning.

This path is also on my list of past walks to and from work. When I worked at the bus mines I used it regularly. Beyond the building site the path curves gently, passing a small industrial estate. Once upon a time I used to work there in an office facing the water. The job was horrible but the views were lovely. In those days there were a young hippy looking couple and their dog living on a boat here. The MD of the company would often take them food parcels. We’d watch them rowing their little boat back and forth to their floating home with the dog swimming beside them. They have long gone but the remains of their boat, sunken now, is slowly rotting on the corner. Sometimes I wonder what became of them.

In those days there was no boardwalk, just a shingle shore that was only accessible at low tide. Sustrans built the walkway in 2010 and it is the most wonderful improvement. Because of it, cyclists and walkers have an off road route from St Denys to Northam, away from traffic and with stunning waterside views. Swans often gather here, mostly on the corner near the hippy ship but, today, they were further along. There were two groups one with two small fluffy cygnets, the other with no less than nine older babies. This seems to have been a good year for cygnets on the Itchen.

Commando Senior’s last ever outing was to visit the boardwalk. He’d read about it on my blog and wanted to see it for himself. When ever I walk this way I can almost see him standing here looking out over the water. Right now the tarmac path leading from the boardwalk onto Horseshoe Bridge is in a bit of a state. Someone has dropped a tin of pale blue emulsion and walkers and cyclists have passed through the wet paint creating an inadvertent work of art.

The next part of my diversion is a little more controversial. There is another walkway along the river on the other side of Horseshoe Bridge, leading to a slipway on Priory Road. This was a path I once used regularly too. It was a peaceful interlude in my walks to and from work with river views, boats and birds. The path runs behind a gated community known to me as the Millennium Flats. Unlike the people in the flats on the other side of Northam Bridge, the residents here do not like sharing their views though.

Some time ago the gates leading to the path were locked and a sign erected. This caused much consternation locally because part of the planning application for the building was to keep this pathway open to the public. The residents excused their actions by complaining of antisocial behaviour on the path, citing prostitutes and drug addicts. As the area on the other side of Horseshoe Bridge has been a red light district for as long as I can remember these things can hardly be a surprise. If you buy a property in such an area, no matter how nice it is, you have to expect to see a few unsavoury things. Some residents said they were in fear of their lives. This seems a little dramatic. The path is separated from the flats by a steep grassy bank a fence and a thick hedge. It would be very hard to get from one to the other and I doubt prostitutes or drug addicts are so inclined.

For almost two years I walked through here, often in the dark due to my early or late shifts, and I can’t say I ever felt especially in danger. Although I did occasionally see some peculiar people, including drunks and prostitutes on the industrial estate or the boardwalk, I never saw them here. The owners of the flats have now applied to the council to have the gates locked permanently. The matter is being decided in a few days time and I, for one, hope the council see sense and make them remove the locks, at least during daylight hours.

Taking the road route around the other side of the flats I couldn’t help noticing a mass of signs warning all and sundry that this was private land with no access. The flats are completely surrounded by high fences and locked gates, giving it the feel of a fortress, or maybe a prison. Despite the lovely views, I would not want to be besieged inside those gates looking out in paranoia at the outside world. It seems to me the real problem is not the social issues in the area but the attitudes of those within the gates.

Although I couldn’t access the walkway, I did take a short detour into the park with the slipway where I’d have come out if I had. From there I had a marvellous view of all the flats on the other side of the river with their walkways, all of which are open to the public. This was somewhere I often used to pause on my walks. Sometimes there would be swans on the slipway or people preparing to launch boats. I always loved the view of the hotchpotch of jetties in the back gardens of the Priory Road houses with their various sheds and boats. This road, with its little Victorian houses may not be in the most salubrious of areas but it has a real community feel about it. It’s a shame the people in the modern flats feel the need to cut themselves off from it. Their lives would be far richer if they didn’t.

Leaving the slipway behind I walked along Priory Road, admiring a garden or two and remembering all those walks to and from work. On either side of the railway bridge it’s possible to get to the river bank behind the houses but, because the rails bisect the two riverside paths, they lead nowhere. Today they were a detour too far so I stuck to the road and carried on to Cobden Bridge where I could see the river again as I crossed.

On the other side of the bridge more new flats have been built, complete with steps and a path along the river. This is also supposed to be a right of way and should join up with the path further along behind some slightly older flats. At the moment the gate here is locked and there is a wooden fence between the two paths. The council have told the builders this has to change but, until it does, there is no way through.

Peeking through the bars of the fence I admired the poppies growing on the bank beside the steps. One day I may be able to walk beside them on another quiet detour beside the river.

Until then I will have to climb the hill past the clock tower and take the side roads back home. This route may not give me river views but at least there are flowers to admire in the gardens I pass.

The River Itchen meanders through the city from Mansbridge to Woolston. Those who live on its banks pay a premium for their beautiful views but that price doesn’t include ownership of the river or the paths along it. Those paths and rights of way belong to all of us and exist so we may all share the glorious views, however briefly.

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Ten miles, cygnets and coffee

7 July 2019

The route for our ten mile Clarendon Marathon training walk was an obvious one, at least to me. The midpoint between my house and Kim’s is Woodmill so we arranged to meet there at eight o’clock this morning. Eight might seem a little early on a Sunday morning for most people but, given the heatwave we’ve been experiencing, starting early, before it got too hot, seemed the sensible thing to do. Besides, Rob and Commando had gone out at silly o’clock for a run so we were both awake anyway.

As I headed down towards the river it was certainly much cooler. Whether this was because it was still so early, or because the heatwave was over, I couldn’t tell. Just in case I’d worn my light mac anyway. Although I’d left in plenty of time I marched along, not wanting to be late. Just before I got to the reed beds though, I stopped in my tracks. The mute swans and their fluffy grey cygnets were there on the mud of the low tide. The cygnets were sound asleep, watched over by their parents. It was such a beautiful sight I forgot all about time and the miles ahead.

Smiling to myself I carried on towards Woodmill. As I rounded the last bend Kim was there, walking towards me. Together now, we carried on towards Mansbridge, talking about the sleeping cygnets. Last time we came this way we’d taken the road route through Mansbridge to Wide Lane because there’d been lots of rain and we were worried the trail through Monks Brook would be muddy. Now, after a few days of heat and sun, we decided to risk the trail.

Walking with someone else made the trail seem far shorter than it does when I’m alone. We zipped through, finding barely a trace of mud. Kim was enchanted by the mushroom chainsaw sculpture made from a fallen tree but we were chatting so much I didn’t take any pictures at all. In fact the next time I took my phone out of my pocket was by the airport roundabout. The grass verge was a mass of poppies and I couldn’t resist them.

We marched up Wide Lane, past the entrance to Lakeside where we’d turned off last week, looking forward to a toilet and coffee stop in the Swan Centre. The thought of a takeaway coffee from the Swan Centre has kept me going on many a long walk in the past. When we got there though, the doors were closed. We hadn’t factored in the fact it was Sunday and our very early start meant it hadn’t opened yet. This was quite a blow.

For a moment or two we stood looking at each other wondering what to do. We both wanted coffee but, more importantly, we both needed the loo before we headed back towards Southampton. We walked up towards MacDonalds, not really relishing the idea of their coffee but thinking we might use their toilets. Then I remembered there was a Costa up one of the side streets.

For the uninitiated, Eastleigh is a maze of grid like streets that can all tend to look much the same if you’re not paying attention. We turned up what I thought was the street with a Costa about half way along. It wasn’t there though and we reached the end feeling more than a little disappointed. We were now right by the Railwayman statue on the edge of Eastleigh Park. Nothing was open and there was no one about. It felt like a ghost town.

Fairly aimlessly we turned right, in the general direction of the main road and the train station. Just as I remembered there was a Costa in the airport that was bound to be open, Kim spotted a little coffee shop on the corner of the next street. It was called Cooffe #1 and it was open. Gratefully we went inside, ordered takeaway coffee and made use of the facilities.

As we walked back towards the still closed Swan Centre sipping our delicious coffee, I spotted Costa to our right. Suddenly I realised what had happened. When we left the Swan Centre we were further up the road than we’d thought because we’d walked along to MacDonalds. Instead of walking up Market Street, which was where the Costa was, we’d walked up the next street along, High Street.

The little detour had added about half a mile to our walk but at least we’d got our coffee and found a toilet. The whole thing reminded me of the last long walk of my very first Moonwalk training. The plans had been to walk the whole twenty six miles, just to prove to myself I could do it. Walking back along Twyford Road towards Eastleigh all I could think about was the toilets in the Swan Centre, when I got there though they were closed for refurbishment or some such thing. Feeling rather desperate I’d walked up and down the streets looking for somewhere else to go. Eventually I’d ended up in MacDonalds but I’d added another mile to my already stupidly long walk in the process. At that stage the five miles home seemed an impossible task but, somehow, I made it.

Of course, our walk today was only ten miles, give or take. Both Kim and I have walked longer distances in the past so adding a little extra wasn’t really an issue. We retraced our steps back towards Mansbridge, sipping and talking the miles away. It was almost a surprise to find ourselves back at the little stone bridge over the Itchen again so soon.

The swan family were on the river near the bend and we paused for a little whale to watch them. The babies seem to have grown in the short time since our last walk this way. It won’t be long before they’re as big as their parents.

Kim and I parted company at Woodmill. Being suddenly alone, the last couple of miles really seemed to drag. It was a relief when Cobden Bridge finally came into view, along with some black swans. The steep climb out of the park was not such a welcome sight. As I trudged up the hill to my house I wondered how on Earth I’d managed to get through all those long lonely training walks of the past?

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Happy Birthday Southampton Parkrun

6 July 2019

This Saturday was Southampton Parkrun’s seventh birthday. As there was a music event going on on the flats where parkrun usually starts and finishes, the run was moved to the alternative course, beginning and ending close to the Cowherd’s Pub. Of course, this meant a bit of a longer walk for us to the start but, as that also meant more steps in the bag for me, I wasn’t complaining.

Commando and I parked in the Bellemoor car park, crossed the road and began to head across the Common, we hadn’t got very far before we met Rob. This morning he had his Event Directors hat on and he commandeered Commando to go off to Holly Lodge and help him with some equipment. This left me to walk to the start on my own.

Walking alone along the diagonal path from Bellemoor Corner to the crossroads wasn’t a hardship. It was a lovely morning, dappled morning light, no one else about, birds singing, just my kind of walk. So there I was strolling along swinging my arms and probably grinning like an idiot, when I heard a loud rustling in the undergrowth beside the path. The little bridge across Rollsbrook Stream was up ahead and I’d been looking forward to stopping and taking a photo of it. This rustling, almost crashing about, was too loud to be a bird or a squirrel though and it sounded quite disconcerting. There were no trails nearby and peering into the trees I couldn’t see anything but I was worried. Whatever it was, it was very large. As this is Southampton, not Canada, I told myself it was probably a large dog. This might be less scary than a bear but, in my opinion, only slightly.

Feeling quite nervous by now, I hurried on. The crashing and rustling continued and, just before I was spooked enough to break into a run, a man and a very large dog burst out of the bushes just ahead of me. What they’d been doing I couldn’t tell but I didn’t like the look of either of them so, keeping my eyes on the ground, I rushed on. Once I felt I’d put some distance between us I stopped and, on the pretext of taking a photo of the stream, looked back. Thankfully they were going the opposite way.

Just for the record, I’m not usually a scaredy-cat, but men and dogs clambering loudly through the undergrowth nowhere near a path seems like odd behaviour to me. Usually I like walking alone but this made me feel very vulnerable and I silently cursed Commando for leaving me. The Common always strikes me as one of those places you have to be on your guard. It’s very public, with lots of people coming and going but, because it’s so big, you can often find you’re self completely alone. Add to that lots of places where you could be dragged off into the trees and shrubs and it feels a little like a muggers paradise at times.

Still feeling very jumpy, I hurried on to the crossroads. There was still no one about so, on the pretext of taking a photograph of another part of the stream, I stopped again and checked the man and his big scary, leadless dog had not turned around and followed me. They hadn’t, which was something of a relief.

Now I was heading towards the parkrun start and, fairly soon, I could see the volunteers setting up the finish funnel. Because it was parkrun’s birthday almost everyone was in fancy dress. The main theme today was red and white, the Southampton football team colours.

Eventually Rob and Commando arrived, both in their Saints shirts. The RD’s today were Luis and Milz, giving the occasion an international flavour. More and more people were beginning to arrive so I hung around for a while taking photos. When Rob got up on the bench with the megaphone to give a speech thanking the volunteers who made everything possible, I sloped off for a walk. No offence to Rob but I really needed to get the steps in.

Being on the opposite side of the Common to normal meant I didn’t really have time a for a walk in the Old Cemetery. Instead, I decided to go and have a look at the Beyond Graffiti tunnel. Before the runners began streaming up the path I dashed off along the trail a little way up from the start. It would get me off the path, out of the way of the runners and, eventually, take me out near the tunnel.

It was pleasantly shady and I strode along thinking how lucky we are to have such a wonderful place to walk and explore in the centre of the city. There were huge white bindweed flowers twined through the undergrowth here. They get short shrift when they try to invade my garden but here, in the wildness of the Common, they’re quite beautiful.

The trail curves gently before crossing a stream, possibly part of the Rollsbrook Stream although I can’t be sure. There are some thick planks, like railway sleepers, forming a crossing point. Today I noticed one was was broken, making the crossing slightly more treacherous than normal.

On the other side of the stream the trail emerges opposite the Showground, where the Southampton show used to be held. When I was about nine or ten my mother entered a beret I’d crocheted into the show and I won a prize. I barely remember anything about the day but I remember the beret very well. It was bright yellow and I hated it, even though I’d made it.

As I walked towards the Beyond Graffiti tunnel I heard the unmistakeable thunder of feet behind me. The parkrunners were coming. I turned, thinking I might see Commando, but I was too far away so I took a photo and then carried on.

As always, there were a few new pieces of graffiti to make me smile. I wandered through, stopping every now and then to take photos. In one place there seemed to be a Star Wars theme going on. Further on there was a thought provoking monologue and, at the far end, some tag style pieces I couldn’t decide if I liked or not. By the steps leading up to the Avenue, I was pleased to see the little mushrooms I’ve been admiring for the best part of a year, maybe more, are still there.