Titanic tales from the Bitterne crew

4 September 2018

When the world’s most luxurious liner began recruiting crew on 6 April 1912, it seemed like a dream come true for the people of Southampton. After the national coal strike, unemployment in the city was high and families were living hand to mouth on charity handouts. The dream turned to a nightmare on 15 April when, five days into its maiden voyage, Titanic, the unsinkable ship, sank. Over five hundred households in the town lost at least one family member. Today, armed with details from a crew list published in the Daily Echo, CJ and I decided to explore some of their stories.

Many of Titanic’s crew lived in the centre of town, but our aim today was to find the houses of those who lived in our own village, Bitterne. We didn’t know if any of the houses would still be standing but, thanks to Encyclopedia Titanica, we did know a little about the local men and women who lived and died in the disaster.

It was a bright sunny morning and the stroll down to Bitterne train station, on the corner of Macnaghten Road, wasn’t too taxing. Macnaghten Road is named for Sir Steuart Macnaghten, chairman of the Southampton Dock Company, practising barrister, Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for Hampshire, who lived at Bitterne Manor House in the 1800’s. Nothing much has changed here since the railway station was built so I was fairly confident we would find the first house on our list still standing. 

The house in question belonged to Albert Hector Crisp. Albert was born in Woolwich, Kent on 18 May 1872. His father, Henry, served in the British Army and his mother, Elizabeth, was born in Gibraltar. The family was large, with nine children in all, and, like many army families, they moved about a great deal, even living in Bermuda at one point, until they settled in Hampshire in the 1880’s. Perhaps this unsettled lifestyle gave Albert the wanderlust that led him to go to sea?

In 1911 Albert married a widow, Florence Barnes, who already had two children, Margaret Grace and Florence Catherine. They lived at 37 Macnaghten Road and this was the address Albert gave when he signed on as crew for the Titanic. CJ and I found the house quite easily. The humble red brick semi, with its front bay window looked much as it must have done when Albert left it in April 1912. Like many of the houses in Macnaghten Road, the front door is actually on the side of the house. We stood for a moment, imagining Albert saying goodbye to Florence and the children. Florence was heavily pregnant at the time.

To all of them it was probably just another ordinary day. Albert had worked at sea, on Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, when Florence met him, so there must have been many similar goodbyes in their year of marriage. The ship was due to sail to New York every two weeks so Albert would have sailed again on 1 May and would almost certainly have been at sea when the baby was born.

So, with a cheery wave, at least in my imagination, he walked down the road we had just walked up. He may have been a little excited to be on the maiden voyage of such a prestigious ship. His job was first class saloon Steward, for which he earned £3, 15s a month. This involved serving passengers, clearing and laying tables, changing linen and cleaning spillages. In many ways it wasn’t a glamouros job but he did get to see the first class passengers in all their finery and the tips were good.

Poor Florence was destined to become a widow again within a year of her second marriage. Albert never did come home. He died when Titanic sank and his body, if recovered, was never identified. He never saw his daughter, Minnie Kathleen Joan, who was born on 29 June. Florence never remarried. She died in 1967, in Winchester. Minnie died, unmarried, in Southampton in 1999.

CJ and I walked to the end of Macnaghten Road talking about how hard it must have been for Florence and the children after the ship sank. Information was hard to come by and many families of the crew gathered outside the White Star offices in Southampton, waiting for news and hoping their loved one would have been saved. Most learned the sad truth with a telegram. Like all the other widows of non salaried crew, Florence had no compensation from White Star. Instead she had to rely on money from the Titanic Relief Fund and other charities to stay out of the workhouse.

At the top of the road we turned into Harcourt Road hoping to find the next house on our list. It took us a moment to look at the house numbers and work out which way to walk. The houses here are slightly larger than those in Macnaghten Road and less cramped together. Many have been modernised and some rebuilt completely. We were looking for number 25, where Fred Hartnell once lived.

Fred was born in Southampton on 17 October 1890. His father, James, was a hotel porter. When his mother, Julia, died in 1900 the family were living in Dover. Within a year James, who had six young children to care for, had remarried. Three more children were born and, by 1907, James had found a job at the Star Hotel at the bottom of Southampton High Street and the large family were squashed into a house in Harcourt Road. Sadly for us, although some of the other houses in Harcourt Road are much as they must have been in 1912, Fred’s house is no longer there. In its place is a block of modern flats.

Perhaps this overcrowding was what led Fred to go to sea? His first ship was White Star’s RMS Oceanic, where he worked as a saloon steward. In April 1912 he joined the Titanic crew as a first class saloon steward. Whether he knew Albert Crisp beforehand is unclear but he was almost certainly acquainted with another steward, John Charman, who had previously worked with his father at the Star Hotel. It’s easy to imagine the two men meeting up on the corner of the street and heading off towards the docks. Maybe they even walked together towards the tram, bus or train that would take them to their fate?

Unlike Albert Crisp, Fred survived the sinking of Titanic. Somehow he made it into a lifeboat and returned, eventually, to Southampton. His experience didn’t put him off going back to sea. He servered in the merchant service during World War I and , in 1919, was working aboard White Star’s Olympic and Canopic. On 26 June 1920, poor Fred died of cancer. He left a widow, Fanny, and is buried in Hollybrook Cemetery.

Around the corner on Bullar Road another member of Titanic’s crew was preparing for the maiden voyage back in April 1912. His name was Boylett Herbert Jupe, known to his family and friends as Bertie. Charles Jupe, Bertie’s father, was a whitesmith, making and repairing things made from tin or light metal. He was married to Elizabeth and they had nine children, although only seven survived infancy. Bertie, born at 3 Castle Square in Southampton on 6 May 1881, was their youngest child.

The family moved to Portswood in 1901 and Bertie became an electrician’s apprentice with Lankester & Company of Southampton. After he finished his apprenticeship he worked for the London & South Western Railway Company. and then Southampton Cold Storage Company. In 1908 he decided to go to sea and joined White Star’s Majestic as an assistant electrician. He served on several White Star ships, Teutonic, Adriatic and finally Olympic, before joining Titanic as assistant electrician in 1912. As a skilled man, his wages were a fairly princely sum of £8 a month. By then he was living, with his family, at 74 Bullar Road.

Bullar Road leads from the Station Hotel on the corner of Macnaghten Road to Cobden Avenue in Bitterne Park. The houses, a mixture of detached and semi detached, are larger than those in the previous two roads and most have large bay windows. With a few exceptions, they remain much as they would have in 1912. It didn’t take us long to find Bertie’s house, although the tall hedge made it difficult to see very well.

As well as being an electrician, Bertie was a tellented amateur musician who had once played the ukulele for Queen Victoria. He took his ukulele with him everywhere and would certainly have had it with him on Titanic. Sadly, he didn’t have the chance to play it one last time as the ship went down, although the official ships musicians certainly did continue to play as the ship sank. Along with the other engineers Bertie stayed at his post, trying desperately to keep the ship’s engines and electronics working as the water rose around them. It was a moonless night and the lifeboats had no lights but, thanks to the engineers, Titanic’s lights stayed lit until a few minutes before she finally sank, giving people chance to find and board the lifeboats.

Bertie went down with the ship.  His body was recovered from the Atlantic by the cable repair ship MacKay Bennett, which recovered the majority of the bodies of titanic’s victims. When he was found he was wearing his engineer’s uniform, a brown boiler suit, a uniform jacket, a flannel singlet, black boots and black socks. In his pocket was a silver watch and a handkerchief with the initials H J. These last probably helped identify him.

Herbert was buried at sea. His parents were devastated at the loss of their youngest son. They wrote to the Provincial Secretary in Nova Scotia, where the bodies of the dead were taken, thanking them for their kindness to their “precious boy,” calling him “the love of our hearts.” They said “He has left an aching void in our home which cannot be filled.” The watch, a small lead pencil and one brass screw were returned to Bertie’s parents, but the handkerchief was never found. It was probably buried with him. Hopefully, these small things brought them some comfort.

Bertie was unmarried and his parents, who were elderly at the time of the disaster, both died in the early 1920’s. Along with the other brave engineers, Bertie’s name is inscribed on the Titanic Engineers Memorial in Above Bar. This and the home that, according to his parent’s letter, he loved, is all that remains.

The next house on our list was always going to be difficult to find. When Katherine E Smith signed onto Titanic as a stewardess she gave her address as Balmoral, Cobbett Road and did not specify a house number.  Even so CJ and I made our way to Cobbett Road, the road that runs parallel with Bullar Road, and set about searching the fronts of all the houses for the name Balmoral. Many of the houses here are large and detached, some have house names etched into the lintels above the doors or windows. We began at the library in the corner and, slowly, worked our way up the road.

Katherine, known to most as Kate, was born in 1867 in the village of Bredon, near the Worcestershire Gloucestershire border. Her father, Charles, was a solicitor’s clerk and he and his wife, Harriett, were both from Gloucestershire. They had three children. In 1891 Kate was still living with her parents in Pitchcombe, Gloucestershire and she was unemployed. In 1893 she was a passenger on the Vancouver, a ship of the Dominion Line, in charge of immigrant children on the way to Canada. She enjoyed the voyage so much she joined the Cunard line on the Lucania shortly after she returned. She worked as a stewardess, earning about £4 a month. Later she joined the American Steamship Company and then the White Star Line.

During her career at sea Kate was no stranger to collisions. In 1908, she was aboard the St Paul when it collided with HMS Gladiator in poor weather and, in 1911, she was on the Olympic when it collided with HMS Hawke. She survived both collisions and, despite being in the vicinity of the Olympic collision moments before it happened, was not put off working at sea.

By the time she signed on to the Titanic, Kate had moved to Southampton, probably because it was more convenient for the ship. Her family remained in Gloucestershire so Balmoral, like many of the large houses in Cobbett Road, was almost certainly a lodging house. Today, some are still private dwellings, many have been divided up into flats and a few have been demolished and new, modern flats built in their place.

Kate’s previous experience of collisions at sea may have meant she was calmer than many around her, although most still believed the ship to be unsinkable until the moment it went down. Along with several other stewardesses, she was saved on lifeboat 11. On 19 April, her brother, Charles, received a telegram telling him she had survived.

As far as anyone can tell, Kate never worked at sea again, although she did sail again. In December 1914, she crossed the Atlantic as a passenger aboard Cameronia. She gave her age as 39, although she was, in fact, 47. It seems she was off to make anew life in New York but what eventually became of her remains as much of a mystery as what happened to the house in Cobbett Road.  Despite walking up and down the road, peering at the fronts of all the houses, CJ and I never did find one called Balmoral.

So far exactly half of the houses we were looking for were still standing, which, given the number of years that have passed, is quite surprising. The next houses on our list were at the top of the big hill, whether they would still be there remained to be seen but we set off up the hill with high hopes. What we found will have to wait for another day though.

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14 thoughts on “Titanic tales from the Bitterne crew”

  1. A very interesting, if rather sad, post – I look forward to seeing if you found the rest of the houses you were looking for.

    Incidentally, in an area of my town there’s a tea room which was once two houses and on the outside front wall is a plaque which says that William Parr, an engineer on board the Titanic, once lived there – I wonder if his name is on the Titanic Engineers Memorial?

      1. Unfortunately your link doesn’t work but I found another one. William Parr was reported as last being seen in the engine room working to keep the ship’s lights on as it went down – to be honest it doesn’t seem fair that he isn’t named on the memorial just because he wasn’t ship’s crew, I think he and the other engineers with him deserve to be on there.

        1. I think the reason he wasn’t in there was cause he was a first class passenger not a crew member. The memorial is specifically for the engineering crew who all stayed to keep the pumps and electrics working so passengers had a better chance to escape. Parr was an engineer for Harland & Wolf and involved in building the ship. Encyclopaedia Titanica says “Parr was one of the nine-strong “guarantee group” of Harland and Wolff employees chosen to oversee the smooth running of the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

          During the evacuation first-class passenger Anna Warren spotted Parr somewhere on D-deck near the forward first class staircase; she approached him and asked for an explanation as to what was happening; he did not answer and brushed past on his way to the stairwell.”


    1. Tomorrow you will see his house. Victoria Road was renamed to stop confusion with Victoria Road Woolston it is now called Chatsworth Road.

  2. You could find the houses you are looking for if you go to the reference library in Southampton,and go to the local studies room.There they have a full set of Kelly’s Directories.As you probably know they list all the roads in Southampton and all the people living there as well!

    1. Unfortunately, not all the houses still exist and, in some cases the address information was incomplete, with just a road name and no number. Many of the ship’s crew were not home owners, but were lodgers in the houses so would not be listed.

  3. Lets hope that nothing so tragic ever happens again. It was a terrible thing that I can remember hearing about even as a very young child, so I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of the story my whole life. I would imagine you have too.

    1. The Titanic disaster hit this city very badly and is still talked about today. So many of the crew lived here they say barely a street in the town centre was untouched by the tragedy. It’s an interesting exercise finding out more about the crew because everyone usually concentrates on the passengers.

  4. Sadly it seems that the present residents of the houses you found, where Titanic victims died, did not take up the offer of a commemorative plaque for the house. I am proud to display one on my house in Woolston.

    1. I’d heard they were putting up plaques but have yet to see one. I will be searching for the Woolston houses at some point so look forward to seeing yours

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