Walking is an everyday thing for me. Sometimes it’s just a march up the hill for supplies or a wander into town to meet a friend for coffee. Other times there is a real purpose to it, searching for boundary stones or Titanic crew houses, walking the walls or the Navigation, uncovering history. Some walks are filled with photo stops, others are about just drinking in the sights, smells and sounds. A lot of the time I walk on my own but CJ likes to tag along when he can. Today’s walk was completely different.
My lovely friend Rachel is recovering from major surgery. She can’t run like she usually does but she’s now allowed to walk. As I’d undergone something similar myself many years ago, I offered to join her for a walk. Kim said she was free, so then there were three. We agreed on a time and said we’d meet at The Feather.
When I left home it was all blue sky and the scent of Mexican orange blossom from my garden. The walk to Woolston was uneventful and unphotographed. As always, I was early so I sat in the Millennium Garden for a bit just enjoying the sun on my face. Kim was early too. She’d run all the way from the top end of the Avenue and been quicker than expected. Rachel was on time and looking very good all things considered.
We set off in the general direction of the Shore. None of us were sure how far Rachel would be able to walk and, if it turned out not to be very far, we could stop at Metricks for coffee. There were still no photos because we were so busy chatting.
We chatted our way past the coffee shop and on towards the Rolling Mills. We could stop at the café there if needs be. We didn’t need to though. Rachel was still feeling good and we kept on going, along the promenade past all the little beach shelters to the far end of the shore.
Of course we couldn’t not have an ice cream. It’s almost a rule to stop and sit on the bench by the no longer standing dead tree and eat ice cream, or, in Rachel and Kim’s case, ice lollies. Usually I take a photo of the sea and the tree. Today I took one of my friends enjoying their treat and then, because I am rubbish at selfies and hate having my picture taken, one of my friends and my ice cream, just to prove I was there too.
This was where I thought we’d turn back but Rachel was still raring to go. She wanted to walk in Westwood. I have been lost in Westwood more times than I care to admit but Rachel is a qualified run leader and she’s run in these woods many times. Perhaps, just for once, there would be no going in circles wondering where I was.
It started well. The first part of the path was awash with green alkanet. I even stopped to take photos. Rachel was confident she knew where she was going and we followed, chatting and laughing as we slowly wandered amongst the trees,
It all went a bit wrong when we got distracted by the bluebells. There were great drifts of them painting the woodland floor blue. We meandered down one path after another gasping at their beauty.
Then we realised we didn’t quite know where we were. After a bit of walking in circles (probably anyway), we found what looked like one of the main paths. We seemed to be close to the end of it. In theory the Shore should have been nearby. Westwood is a maze of paths though and it’s full of tricks. We kept walking but, just in case, I opened the map on my phone. It was a good thing I did. We were almost in Netley, heading away from the shore not towards it!
As we turned around and began walking back, Rachel admitted she’d regularly got her running group lost in these woods. I’m glad it isn’t just me Luckily the extra walking didn’t do Rachel any harm and we made it back to Woolston in one piece, laughing all the way. Next time I think I’ll plan a route I know won’t get us lost.
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When we set out this morning we’d planned to find all the Titanic crew houses in St Denys but we’d kept on going. Now we’d found all but four of the Bevois Valley houses and one in Mount Pleasant too. The last houses on my list were all more or less on our way home but, whether any had survived the last century remained to be seen.
Back on Bevois Valley Road, near the Gurdwara Nanaksar, it was immediately clear that the first houses on this part of the list were long gone. There was nothing left of any real age on the odd side of the road where our houses would have been. All we could do was take a photo and tell the stories of the men who lived in them.
Number 45 Bevois Valley Road was once the home of Lorenzo Horace Mitchell. Known as Lawrence, he was born in Southampton in 1893. He was one of ten children born to Herbert, a joiner, and Sentina, also natives of Southampton, although Sentina had Italian ancestry, which could explain his rather exotic name. At the beginning of the twentieth century the family were living at 71 Mount Pleasant Road but, by 1911, they’d moved to 193 Northam Road and Lawrence was working as a hairdresser.
What made him decide to go to sea is a mystery but, at some time in the next year he was working as a trimmer on Oceanic. It seems a giant leap from hairdresser to trimmer but the work obviously suited him because, in April 1912, he joined the crew of Titanic. As a trimmer his wages would have been £5 10s a month. When he signed on he gave his address as 45 Bevois Valley Road.
The trimmers worked in the dark dusty coal bunkers beside and above the boilers. It was hard work, shovelling tons of coal down the chutes to the firemen and moving it about in wheelbarrows to keep the weight evenly distributed. It was also unbearably hot, so much so, the coal often ignited and part of a trimmer’s job involved putting out these fires and shovelling already burning coal down to the boiler rooms. When the ship was sinking, the trimmers on duty kept shovelling coal to keep the generators running for the water pumps and lights. Of the 73 trimmers aboard, only 20 survived. Sadly, Lawrence was among those lost and his body was never identified.
His family must have been heartbroken and the money they received from the Titanic relief fund was scant consolation. Their grief was compounded when, just two years later, his elder brother Percival died, aged just 22. His mother died in 1917 and his father in 1950. What became of his other siblings isn’t clear, although his brother Norman continued to live in Southampton and died in 1981.
The next house, number 69, was home to two crew members, father and son George Henry and Archibald George Chitty. George was born in Reigate, Surrey in 1862, the son of Thomas, a gardener and Ellen, both Surrey natives. He had seven known siblings. Before his tenth birthday the family had moved to Twickenham, Middlesex and later to Isleworth. At some point George joined the Army Service Corps and ended up in Hampshire. In 1890 he married Julia Walden from Southampton in Hound Parish church. They had three children, Jessie Selina, born in 1882 in Netley, Archibald George born in 1883 in Aldershot and Eliza May born in 1890 in Southampton.
By 1891, the family were settled in Southampton living in the All Saints area of the town centre and George was working as a baker. Sadly, little Eliza died in 1899, aged just nine and, by 1901 they had moved to 66 Earls Road. Jessie was working as a domestic and Archibald had gone to sea so they had the house to themselves.
In about 1909, Jessie married George Ernest Carpenter, a ship’s baker working for the American Mail Steam Ship Company. At around the same time Julia died and George and Archibald moved in with the newlyweds at Clovelly, Newton Road, Bitterne Park for a while. Archibald was working for White Star as a steward aboard Adriatic and it wasn’t long before George had also gone to sea. As George was already working as a baker, his son and son in law’s adventures at sea may have been the catalyst that led him to follow suit.
Exactly when George and Archibald moved to 69 Bevois Valley Road isn’t clear but they were both living there when they joined Titanic. George left the Oceanic to become Titanic’s assistant baker, earning £4 10s a month and Archibald left Olympic to become a third class steward, earning £3 15s a month.
As assistant baker, George would have been kept very busy. Titanic’s kitchens, with their coal fuelled ovens, cooking tops, ranges and roasters were hot, noisy and bustling places. The kitchen staff prepared more than six thousand meals every day. Bread and other baked goods would have almost certainly featured in every single one.
Archibald would have been just as busy serving the third class passengers. The third class dining saloon was one hundred feet long and could accommodate four hundred and seventy three diners at every sitting. The Saloon was actually two rooms separated by a bulkhead and diners were segregated. The forward room was for families and single women, while the aft room was for single men. Unlike the first and second class stewards, it’s unlikely Archibald would have made much money from tips as most third class passengers had very little to spare.
Exactly what happened to George and Archibald on that fateful night is unknown but it would be nice to think they found each other somehow amongst all the mayhem. Both died when the ship sank and their bodies were never identified. They are remembered on a family grave in the Old Cemetery, oddly, one I stumbled upon very recently. Jessie and her husband continued to live in Newton Road until their deaths in the 1940’s.
The next house, number 80, was on the even side of the road and, after a great deal of peering at the fronts of shops, we found it. This was where Andrew Simmons once lived. Not a lot is known about him. When he joined Titanic he gave his birth date as 13 June 1880 but later records give it as 1873. Perhaps he simply lied about his age for fear he wouldn’t get the job if they knew he was approaching forty? It was certainly easier to do such things in days before computers where records could not easily be checked. As far as anyone can tell he was born in Oxford but when he came to Southampton is a mystery, as is his early life. He had probably been working at sea for some time as he left the Philadelphia to join Titanic as a scullion.
Scallions were basically the dogs bodies of the kitchen. They fetched and carried, cleaned pots and pans, dishes, chopping blocks and work stations. It was demanding work and the pay of £3 10s a month, with no chance of tips, was scant reward.
Like almost all of his life, the details of Andrew’s escape are hazy. Unlike so many others he was saved but how and on which lifeboat is not known. It’s probable he was on either lifeboat 8 or lifeboat 11, but no one knows for sure. His life after the sinking is almost as much of a mystery. He continued to live in Southampton but whether he went back to sea or not isn’t clear. In 1915 he married Leah Barnard but, like so much else, whether they had any children isn’t known. He died in Southampton on the 36th anniversary of the disaster 15 April 1948 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Hollybrook Cemetery, as anonymous in death as he had been in life.
From the outset we knew our next house 5 Marine Terrace no longer existed. In fact, when I was researching these crew members, I’d had a hard time even finding out where Marine Terrace was. It wasn’t on the modern map or on the 1910 version. It took a few pointers from the kind people on the Hampshire Heritage and Southampton and Hampshire Over The Years Facebook Pages and the 1869 map before I worked it out. Originally the little terrace would have had enviable views across the Itchen but, as more and more houses were built in the area, it became hidden behind them and was demolished in around 1940, after being bombed.
The terrace was situated roughly behind the modern day Hobbit pub so CJ and I took a couple of photos of the pub as there was nothing else left to see. Once 5 Marine Terrace was home to William Long. He was born in Southampton in 1876. His father, George, a general labourer, was born in Wiltshire and his mother, Fanny came from Eling, Hampshire. They had six children and lived in Queen Street, St Mary’s, then later in Hill Street.
William married Ethel Eunice Abbott in 1897 and they had six children, five of whom survived infancy, Ethel, Edith, William, George and Jack. Exactly when William joined the Royal Navy isn’t certain but, by 1901, he was at sea and Ethel was working as a domestic servant. By 1911 the family were living at 5 Marine Terrace, although William was at Thames Berth 7 at the time of the census, working as a coal trimmer, probably for the Royal Navy.
Both William and his brother Frank joined Titanic as coal trimmers. Frank had previously been working on Olympic but it isn’t clear whether William joined straight from the navy or if he’d been in the merchant service. Neither survived the sinking. In all probability they were both shovelling coal to the bitter end. Neither of their bodies were ever identified. Ethel never remarried and died in Winchester in 1940. What became of their children isn’t known.
And so our adventures in St Denys, Mount Pleasant and Bevois Valley finally came to an end. We’d had some successes and some disappointments but we’d found all the houses there were still to be found and remembered the lost and the saved. Much has been written about the passengers who lived and died on Titanic but the crew are often forgotten. Southampton lost so many on that fateful night and it’s good to be able to tell their stories.
We were close to the railway crossing at Mount Pleasant, just a stone’s throw away from Northam Bridge. Tempting as it was to head for home and leave the rest of the Bevois Valley houses for another day, we decided to head back towards Bevois Valley and keep searching, at least for a while. Our next house was on Rockstone Lane.
The terraced houses of Rockstone Lane look as if they haven’t changed much since Titanic sailed so I was confident we would find the house where the unimaginatively named Humphrey Humphries once lived. Humphrey was born in Southampton in 1880, the second son of Henry and Emma Humphries. Henry, was a gardener, originally from Devon and Emma was from Herefordshire. They married in Worcestershire in 1879 and moved to St Mary’s in Southampton shortly afterwards. By 1891 Emma had been widowed and the family were living in the St Michael’s area of the town centre. Emma was working as a charwoman to support her family, but, in 1892, she married widower, John Toms, who was an ironmonger and coppersmith.
By the turn of the century Humphrey was working as a night porter at the South Western Hotel, where so many of Titanic’s wealthy passengers would spend their last night on land. It isn’t clear when he first went to sea but the hotel was popular with steamer passengers so perhaps this was where the idea came from.
Poor Emma didn’t have much luck with husbands. By 1906, she’d been widowed again and by 1911, was living at 10 Rockstone Lane with Humphrey’s widowed brother Harry and his two young children, Harry and Stanley. Humphrey was already working at sea but 10 Rockstone Lane was the address he gave when he signed onto Titanic so it’s likely he was living there between voyages. He’d previously been working as a steward on Oceanic.
As a second class steward, Humphrey would have earned £3 15s a month and supplemented this with tips from passengers. A good steward could do very well from tips, although the stewards in first class obviously got the lion’s share as their passengers were often extremely wealthy. Poor Humphrey never got to spend his wages or his tips though. He was lost with the ship and his body was never identified. His heartbroken mother posted an announcement in an unidentifiable newspaper.
HUMPHREYS–April 15th, at sea, on s.s. Titanic, Humphrey Humphreys, the beloved son of Emma Toms, of 10 Rockstone Lane, Southampton, aged 31 years. May his dear soul be at rest. “Nearer my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.”
She died in Southampton in 1928 and Humprhey’s brother, Harry, died in 1932. What became of Harry’s sons isn’t known.
The next house on our list was in Cedar Road, which meant retracing our steps back to Bevois Valley Road. We stopped for a moment to admire the golden dome of the Gurdwara Nanaksar on the triangle of land between Bevois Valley Road and Peterborough Road. This was once the Bevois Town Methodist Chapel, built in 1861 and enlarged in 1906. After the church was damaged by wartime bombing it remained empty for many years and was even used as a furniture store at one point. In around 1970, the Sikh community purchased the building and turned it into a temple.
Now we were in for a bit of a climb. Peterborough Road led us up the hill towards Cedar Road. This was where Thomas Holman Kemp once lived. Thomas’ father, John, was from Southampton and his mother, Sarah was born in County Cavan, Ireland. John was a master mariner and he met and married Sarah, who had emigrated to Australia, in Brisbane in 1865. Their first child, Matilda, was born in Australia but, shortly afterwards, they returned to Southampton and this was where Thomas was born in 1869.
The family settled in the St Mary’s area and, when he left school, Thomas followed in his father’s footsteps and went to sea as a marine engineer. In 1893, he married Southampton girl Kate Feilder and they set up home in Forster Road Bevois Valley. Their daughter Kate Evelyn was born the next year. By 1911, the little family had moved to 11 Cedar Road and young Kate was working as an apprentice milliner. This was where Thomas was living when he left the White Lady to join Titanic as Extra Assistant 4th Engineer. His wages were £10 10s a month.
We climbed the hill feeling fairly sure we’d easily be able to find Thomas’s house but, of all the old terraced houses in the street, the terrace including numbers 9 to 11 were obviously modern houses, probably the result of wartime bombing. We took a photo anyway and, for good measure, took another of the older houses a few doors away to give an idea what Thomas’s house would have looked like.
The engineers on Titanic took turns to keep watch in the engine and boiler rooms and supervise the firemen, greasers and trimmers. The Extra 4th Engineer was also known as the Refrigeration Engineer. Titanic had a huge self-sustaining brine refrigeration system throughout the ship, to keep the provision rooms cool. There were separate cold rooms for mutton, beef, cheese, mineral water, fish, game, poultry, flowers, wines, spirits and champagne. Each was maintained at the optimum temperature for the goods stored there. There was also a chilled compartment at the aft of the ship on the starboard side to store perishable freight. Thomas wold have been involved in making sure the refrigeration system kept working and, if anything was to go wrong, to fix it.
Exactly what his role was when the ship was sinking isn’t clear but, none of the engineers survived and Thomas’ body was never identified. Kate never remarried and died in Southampton in 1951. Kate Evelyn married William Claud Stent in 1918. She had two daughters, Joyce and Beryl and died in Winchester in 1985.
Our next houses were on Forster Road and Earls Road. Rather than go back to the bottom of the hill and climb it again one street further along, we decided to climb to the top and work our way back down. It was a sensible plan, although it didn’t seem like it when we were trudging upwards. From the top of Earls Road we were rewarded with a wonderful view across Northam, including the huge gasometers next to the football stadium.
Number 20 Forster Road was the highest house on our list today. It was where Thomas Henry Edom Veal once lived. Henry was born in Sholing in 1874. His father, John, was a carter and his mother, Ann, was a laundress. They had five children. John would later open his own grocer’s business but, whether he was related to Alan Veal who opened the very popular cash and carry superstore in Sholing in the 1980’s, isn’t clear.
Thomas was brought up in Botany Bay, Sholing and appears to have gone to sea in the 1890’s. In 1902, he married Agnes Leonora Veal, the daughter of Ernest Veal, a joiner, and Sarah Hibberd. They had one son, Leonard, born in 1903.
In 1911 the family were living in Hartington Road and Thomas was working as a steward on Olympic. By the time he joined Titanic as a first class saloon steward, they had moved to 20 Forster Road. We were pleased to find the house still standing, just before the junction with Clausentum Road. Apart from the row of wheelie bins outside, a satellite dish and a parking sign, it looked much as it must have done in 1912. We could almost imagine Thomas walking out of the front door and heading off towards the ship.
As a saloon steward, he’d have been responsible for serving food and, between meal sittings, clearing the tables, changing the linen, dealing with spillages (a common event on a moving ship) and preparing the tables for the next meal. It would have been a busy job but there were plenty of opportunities to earn tips from the rich and famous passengers and boost his £3 15s wages.
Tragically, Thomas did not survive the sinking and his body was never identified. Agnes remarried in late 1913. She and her new husband, Wynhall Richards, did not have any children and died within weeks of each other in 1942. Thomas’ son Leonard never married and died in Southampton in 1985.
Slowly we retraced our steps back to Earls Road where we hoped to find our next three houses. A look at the house numbers told us we had quite a bit of walking before we found number 49. At least it was all downhill.
We last walked this way on CJ’s birthday a couple of years back so we were in fairly familiar territory. That day we’d been looking for graffiti and we’d stumbled upon an interesting building on Ancasta Road. What we thought might have once been a church, turned out to be St Faith’s Mission Hall, now used as the Southampton Chinese Christian Church Centre. Just after we passed it today we found the house we were looking for, or where it once stood.
Although many of the houses in Earls Road are much as they would have been a hundred years ago, the area did suffer during the Southampton Blitz. During the climax of the bombing on 30 November and 1 December 1940, three bombs fell on Earls Road. Sadly it seems they destroyed our next three houses as all three were modern buildings standing amid the old.
Isaac Hiram Maynard lived at 31 Earls Road. He was born in Shoreham, Sussex in 1880. His father, Hiram, was a master mariner, once coxwain of the Shoreham Lifeboat and a pilot at Shoreham Harbour. He and his wife, Catherine, had ten children. When Isaac was eight his mother died, aged just 44, and, within three years, his father had remarried. He and his new wife, Eliza, went on to have two more children.
Isaac followed in his seafaring father’s footsteps and joined the merchant service. By 1901, he was living with his married sister, Catherine, in Portswood Road. A year later he was working for White Star as a ship’s cook. Three years later he married Southampton girl, Ethel Louise Gookey, the daughter of a house painter. They had no children.
Isaac was no stranger to disaster at sea, he’d been working on Olympic when she collided with Hawke. Perhaps he thought lightning wouldn’t strike twice when he transferred to Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast or maybe he just fancied a change? At the time he was living at 31 Earls Road. As a cook he would have earned £7 10s a month.
Isaac was still aboard Titanic as she sank. He later recalled seeing Captain Smith standing on the bridge, fully dressed with his cap on. He saw the water rush over the top deck and the unlaunched collapsible lifeboats A and B swept away. The next rush of water washed him overboard and, by chance, he managed to catch hold of one of the upturned boats and cling on. There were around six other men clinging to the boat in the freezing water. Later they said they saw Captain Smith washed from the bridge into the sea. Somehow he managed to keep his cap on his head and the men saw him swimming. One man reached out his hand and tried to save him but the captain refused to be rescued. He swam away calling to the men ‘look after yourselves boys.’ Isaac soon lost sight of him. There have been several different accounts of how Captain Smith met his end so this story, while interesting, may be apocryphal. He certainly later saw the chief baker Charles Joughin, from Shirley, swimming around the upturned boat. He put out his hand and held onto him. This was corroborated by Joughins testimony at the later inquiry. The men continued to cling to the collapsible lifeboat while some twenty or so men stood on top. Amongst them was Second Officer Charles Lightoller.
When it began to get light Frederick Clench in lifeboat 12 realised that the floating debris he’d initially thought was one of the ship’s funnels was actually collapsible lifeboat B, upside down and slowly sinking with about 28 men standing on or desperately clinging to it. The men, who must have been half dead from the cold, were transferred into lifeboats 12 and 4. Issac was amongst those taken into lifeboat 12. It was severely overloaded by this time, with about 69 people aboard, and was the last to reach Carpathia, some time after eight in the morning.
Despite his ordeal, Isaac carried on working at sea into the 1920’s. His wife Ethel died in 1933 and, after he married Mary Annie Henry in 1941 they moved to Portswood Road. Isaac died in the Borough Hospital Southampton in January 1948. He is buried in South Stoneham Cemetery.
Another crew member lived two doors away at 29 Earls Road, very close to one of the graffiti murals we’d been looking for on our last visit. Lewis Owen was born in Llandudno, Wales in 1862. His parents, Richard and Ann, were natives of Caernarvonshire and Denbighshire, respectively and Richard was a plasterer. They had five children. Lewis was brought up in Wales but, by 1881, the family had moved to Tranmere, Cheshire and Lewis was working as a plasterer like his father. It isn’t clear how long the family stayed in England but, by 1891, Lewis’ parents and siblings were back in Wales. Lewis was, it seems, at sea. He’d been a general servant aboard Liguria since at least 1888, earning £1, 10s per month, but where he was living when on land isn’t clear.
By 1903 he was in Southampton, where he married Maud Louise Young, the Southampton born daughter of another seaman. They had no children and, by 1911, were living at 29 Earls Road. Lewis left Oceanic to join Titanic as a second class steward. His brother in law, Francis Young, was also aboard as a fireman. Both were lost when the ship sank and neither was identified.
Poor Maud, who’d lost both a brother and a husband, remarried in 1913. She and her second husband, Herbert J. Slatter, a ship’s chef from Kent, went on to have children, although how many isn’t known, they moved to Kent where Herbert died in 1964. Maud went on to reach her 103rd birthday. She died in 1985.
John Stewart was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1883. Little is known about his parentage or childhood but, by the first decade of the twentieth century, he was living in Southampton and working as a ship’s steward for White Star. Living with him was Mabel Annie Blyth, a tobacconist Assistant and their daughter Gwendoline Ethel, who’d been born in 1909. The couple finally married in 1911.
When John left Olympic to join Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast Mabel was probably already pregnant with their second child, Florence Mary, known as Mollie, who was born in late 1912. When he signed on again on 4 April, he gave his address as 7 Earls Road. He was a first class verandah steward, earning £3 15s a month, which he could likely double with tips from the wealthy passengers.
John waited on passengers in the Verandah cafe, one of two separate rooms on either side of the ship on A Deck behind the First Class smoke room. The Verandah and Palm Court were beautifully light and airy rooms with a trellised decor and cane furniture. The large windows looked out to sea. The Palm Court, on the port side, had a revolving door leading to the smoke room and was very popular. The Veranda was quieter, often empty, or used as a play room for the first class children. It may not have been the best area as far as tips were concerned but it sounds like it was a very pleasant place to work, serving drinks and light refreshments to the occasional first class passenger and looking out over the sea.
Exactly what happened on the fateful night of the collision isn’t clear but, somehow, John managed to get onto lifeboat fifteen, the last large lifeboat to be launched. The boat was at the far end of the boat deck on the starboard side and, by all accounts, was the only one launched full. It’s occupants were a mixture of women and children, many from third class, some third class men and several members of the crew. There were certainly between 60 and 80 people aboard and fireman, Frank Dymond, appears to have been in charge.
Lifeboat 15 was lowered shortly after lifeboat 13, which had become entangled after being caught up in a huge amount of water pouring out of a condenser exhaust. The occupants of both boats shouted out for the lowering to stop but no one above heard. Luckily, someone managed to cut the falls of lifeboat 13 at the last moment and disaster was averted.
It took them some time to get away from the sinking ship, perhaps because the lifeboat was so heavily laden. It was the tenth or eleventh to reach Carpathia and was the only wooden boat left behind when Carpathia left for New York. Later John discovered that, in all the mayhem of the sinking, he’d inadvertently put the Verandah cafe keys in his pocket. What became of them is a mystery but I imagine they’d fetch a pretty penny today as a small key which opened a life-jacket locker on the Titanic was sold for £85,000 in 2016.
John continued to work for White Star for a short while after the disaster but, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before he left the sea for good and found work as a driver. During World War I he enlisted in the Army Medical Corps and he and Mabel later ran the Richmond Inn in Portswood Road. John died, after a long illness, in 1946 and was cremated at Southampton Crematorium. His ashes were scattered in the garden of rest at South Stoneham Cemetery. Mabel died in 1978. His daughters Gwen and Mollie both married and remained in Hampshire until their deaths.
Our last Bevois Valley houses were on Bevois Valley Road, which, coincidentally, would take us back towards home. Whether we’d find any of them still standing was another matter altogether though…
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There were fourteen Titanic Crew houses in Bevois Valley and, as far as I could tell, many of them were still standing. When we set out this morning, 107 years to the day after Titanic set sail, the plan had been to find the houses in St Denys. Even so, I’d brought the Bevois Valley addresses with me because some of them were so close to where we’d be walking it seemed silly not to tick them off the list. The first few were in Empress Road, once a little terraced street overlooking the railway line and the river. In my imagination, they were much like the houses we’d already seen in Priory Road and an old photo I found later proved me correct. Sadly, they are all gone now. Many were lost to bombing and the last three terraced houses were demolished a couple of years ago.
Today the area is an industrial estate with a giant bus depot, lots of modern shed like units, a supermarket and a few small businesses. There was no chance of finding any of our crew houses but we walked along the road anyway, thinking about the men who once lived here.
One was George Walter Nettleton. He was born in St Denys in 1882 and his mother, Caroline, was a Hampshire lass. His father, Frederick, a tram driver, was originally from London. Frederick and Caroline had seven children.
George spent his early life in Portswood. When he first went to sea is unclear but he had previously worked for some time as a labourer. When he left Oceanic and joined Titanic as a fireman he was living at 23 Empress Road, presumably with his parents. He was unmarried.
Outside of the officers, Titanic’s firemen were paid some of the best wages on the ship, and rightly so. It was their muscle and sweat that kept the ship running. Unlike the stewards, in their starched white jackets, the firemen were hidden away in the bowels of the ship. They had no chance to supplement their £6 a month with tips from rich and grateful passengers and it’s doubtful any of those above decks gave them a single thought. When Titanic sank the majority of the firemen sank with her, shovelling coal to the bitter end in a desperate attempt to give others the best chance of escape. George was probably among them. He did not survive and his body was never identified.
The aptly named Joseph Henry Bevis was born in 1890 in Hastings, the youngest of Albert and Julia’s two children. The family moved from Hastings to 70 Empress Road in about 1911 and Joseph was soon working as a labourer. When he signed on to Titanic as a trimmer he gave his address as 171 Empress Road. He’d never worked at sea before but the wages of £5 10s a month were probably an enticing prospect, especially as the city had been hit badly by strikes and unemployment was rife.
A trimmers job was physically hard, hot and dirty work. They loaded all the coal onto the ship and then worked inside the bunkers with shovels and wheelbarrows moving coal around to keep it level and stop the ship listing. They also shovelled coal down the cute to the firemen in the boiler rooms. Because of the heat, the coal would often spontaneously combust and trimmers were also responsible for putting out any fires in the bunkers. When the ship left Belfast there was a fire burning in one of her bunkers. It continued to burn for most of the journey and Jospeh may have been one of the trimmers trying to fight it.
Sadly, wherever he was and whatever he was doing when Titanic hit the iceberg, Joseph never lived to tell the tale. Like so many of the engineering crew, he was lost with the ship and his body was never identified. His family remained in Southampton. His mother died in 1931 and his father in 1935.
The next house on our list wasn’t actually in Bevois Valley but it didn’t really fit into any other area and was so close by it seemed silly not to try to find it. Empress Road leads to Imperial Road and, at the bottom corner, there is a leafy cutaway leading to Mount Pleasant Road, this was once the home of George Terrill Thresher.
A Southampton native born in 1886, George was one of at least ten children born to George and Catherine Thresher. His father was an engine fitter and the large family lived in Mount Pleasant Road. In the final decade of the nineteenth century the family moved from number 50 Mount Pleasant Road to number 36 and, by 1901, young George was working as an errand boy. A decade later George was working at sea for White Star. He was unmarried and still living with his, now widowed, mother at 36 Mount Pleasant Road.
CJ and I left the cutway with high hopes of finding at least one of the houses George had called home. Unfortunately, although we walked all the way to the railway crossing, we had no luck. The house numbers were more than a little erratic, mainly because many of the houses seem to have disappeared and been replaced by a row of ramshackle garages. Whether this is the result of war time bombing or something else we couldn’t tell. In the end, all we could do was take photographs of the houses that were still standing and try to imagine them as they had been back in 1912.
When Titanic hit the iceberg luck was on George’s side. Due to the terrific heat in the boiler rooms and the physically exhausting job of shovelling tons of coal, the firemen worked four hour shifts with eight hours off duty to recover. George must have been off duty when the collision happened. Exactly how he managed to get on a lifeboat and which one isn’t clear but the chances are his muscles were what got him a place. Each boat needed strong men to row and an officer or able seaman to take command and navigate. In all probability, George was just in the right place at the right time and he survived.
Despite his narrow escape, George continued to work at sea. At some time in the 1930’s he relocated to Gateshead and it was there, in 1937, that he finally married. He was 51 and had his wife, Jane Fawcett, was just two years his junior. Marriage didn’t change him. He carried on working at sea in the Merchant Navy. On 18 November 1939 his luck finally ran out. He was working as a fireman aboard the cargo ship SS Parkhill when she was torpedoed off the coast of Aberdeen. The U-boat, U-18, had already fired one torpedo but the Parkhill had managed to avoid it and steamed on. Less than an hour later they were hit by the second attack and George was one of nine seamen killed. Poor Jane, who had waited so long to become a wife, was widowed within two years. She never remarried and remained in Gateshead until her death in 1964.
The first of our Bevois Valley houses were long gone and our detour to Mount Pleasant had proved to be fruitless. Now we had to decide whether to head for home or continue our Bevois Valley search.
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