8 January 2019
It was one of those bright, crisp days, perfect weather for the first real walk of the year, one that wasn’t about shopping, or parkrun, or errands. CJ was eager to hunt down more of the Titanic crew houses. Looking for the ones in Bitterne last September had been an interesting exercise, as had researching the crew members who lived in them. Searching for more seemed like a good excuse for a walk.
It might not have been the longest walk we’d ever taken but, what it lacked in distance, it made up for in hills. We began with a march up Lances Hill, stopping briefly near the top to take a photograph of the shadow soldier by the benches. We’ve both passed him many times since November when these rememberance silhouettes appeared but, until now, neither of us had taken a picture of this one.
Lances Hill is a bit of a climb. It certainly warmed us up. It wouldn’t be our last, or our steepest climb of the day though. At the top we wound our way slowly back down to the dip at the bottom of Mousehole Lane and then began to climb once more, gaining around 36 metres of elevation in less than a third of a mile. We ended up at the Castle, once a pub, now a Tesco Express, one of the highest points on the east side of the city. We were both puffing a bit.
All this climbing was worth it, not just for the spectacular views but also because it took us to the site of our first Titanic crew house on Castle Road. Sadly, Athol Frederick Broome’s House, White Lodge**, was either eaten up by the building of Bitterne Park School, or has been renamed but we found a house called Mar Lodge which is probably very similar to the one he lived in. We stopped, caught our breath and took a photograph.
Athol Frederick Broome was born in Wood Green, Harringey, Middlesex in 1881 to Harry, a commercial traveller, and Rosa Ellen. Both Harry and Rosa were originally from Hampshire. Harry died in 1896 and, within a short time, Athol went to sea to work as a steward.
When Athol moved to Southampton isn’t clear, but he was certainly living here in 1910 when he married Alice Schipper. They set up home with Alice’s mother in White Lodge. On 4 April 1912, he left the Oceanic and signed on to the crew of the Titanic as a first class verandah steward. His monthly wages were £3 15s.
Athol’s job involved serving passengers in the Verandah Café. It had the feel of a sidewalk cafe, with large windows and sliding doors looking out onto the ocean. It was elegantly furnished with wicker tables and chairs, a checkerboard floor in brown and beige tiles and potted Kentia palms.
Unfortunately, Athol did not survive the sinking of the ship and his body was never identified. Alice remarried in 1914 and moved to Kidderminster where she had three children. She died in 1974. During the salvage operation on the wreck of the Titanic in the late 1980’s a stewards jacket with the name Broome sewn into it was recovered. In all probability it belonged to poor Athol.
From the Castle the only way is down but it was a fairly short descent from Castle Road to Hillside Avenue. On the corner of Dimond Road we came upon one of the ghost signs that always make me smile. The house must once have been a grocers shop. Perhaps some of the six Titanic crew members who lived around the corner in Hillside Avenue shopped there?
This long curving road would take us down towards the river. As every one of the crew addresses was a house name rather than a number we strolled slowly downwards peering at the fronts of the houses searching for the names on our list.
Our first success was Haiwatha, the home of Gordon Raleigh Davies. Gordon was born in Liverpool in 1879, one of Robert Henry and Sarah Jane Davies’ nine children. Robert Henry was a ship’s steward, as was Gordon’s elder brother Robert. Gordon followed the family tradition and also became a steward.
In 1904 Gordon married Elizabeth Alice Derbyshire of Bootle and, over the next seven years, they had three children, Gordon, Charles and Bessie. By 1911, when Bessie was born, they were living in Southampton. Like Athol Frederick Broome, Gordon left Oceanic to join the crew of Titanic. He became a bedroom steward in first class and would have earned £3 15s a month. For this he would have been responsible for five first class rooms. His jobs included cleaning rooms, making beds, serving passengers food in their rooms and helping them get dressed. When the ship sank he was lost and his body was never identified. His widow, Elizabeth, along with his children, returned to Liverpool and Elizabeth died in 1940.
The next house we found was Linden, the home of Arthur Henry Derrett. Arthur was born in Wooten-under-Edge, Gloucestershire in 1883 the second of Thomas Henry and Louisa Derrett’s four children. Thomas was a labourer who later became a newsagent. When Arthur left school he became a servant at Boxwell Court in Leighterton, Gloucestershire. Before long though, he’d moved to London where he joined P&O and went to sea. From P&O he moved to White Star and signed on to the crew of Olympic. His first brush with death came when Olympic collided with HMS Hawke in the Solent in 1911. The ship was holed and her watertight compartments flooded but she limped back to Southampton with no loss of life.
This incident didn’t put Arthur off returning to sea and he signed on to Titanic in Belfast for her delivery voyage to Southampton. Once in Southampton he found a home in Hillside Avenue and signed on to Titanic again as a first class Saloon Steward, with wages of £3 15s a month. Sadly, he died in the sinking and his body was never identified.
A little further along the road we found Nestleton, the home of Walter James Brown. Walter was born in Ormskirk, Lancashire in 1871. His father, William Whittle Brown was a chemist and he and his wife Jane had four sons. Walter was the youngest. William died just a year after Walter was born and his mother started a grocery store. When Jane died, in 1896, Walter and his brother William took over the business. He also painted ceramics and porcelain for Royal Doulton and was an accomplished musician.
When he became a ship’s steward in around 1902, his intention seems to have been to work his passage to America and set up home there. Ten years later though, he was still working at sea and, on 1 April 1912, he left Olympic and joined Titanic in Belfast to sail with her to Southampton. He found a house in Hillside Avenue and signed on to Titanic again for her maiden voyage. Like Athol, his job was bedroom steward.
Walter was lost when Titanic sank. Like so many others, his body was never identified. He never married but his family still have a Royal Doulton vase he painted as a christening present and a notice of his death was posted in the Hampshire Independent. BROWN–April 15th, on s.s. Titanic, Walter Brown, aged 36. Gone, but not forgotten.
Our next find was Allandale, the home of Frederick Toms. Fred was born in Southampton in 1882, the fourth child of John and Mathilda Ann. His elder sister, Fanny, died the same year he was born, aged just two, and he was followed by two more sisters and a brother. In April 1912 Fred was working on the Olympic but signed on to the Titanic as a first class steward in Belfast and signed on again in Southampton for the maiden voyage.
Fred was one of the lucky ones, he was rescued in lifeboat 15, along with his friend, Saloon Steward, Benjamin Thomas. This was the eighth lifeboat lowered from Titanic’s starboard side, partly filled from the boat deck and partly from A deck. Although reports say everything was calm an orderly as the boat was filled there is some confusion about how many people were aboard. From eyewitness accounts there may have been as few as sixty eight or as many as eighty two, what is certain though, is that the majority were men, quite a few were crew and many were from third class.
When the boat was launched it almost landed on top of lifeboat 13 but the disaster was narrowly avoided and they rowed away as fast as they could. Lifeboat 15 was the tenth or eleventh to reach the Carpathia.
Back in Southampton, Fred soon went back to work. On 12 July, he signed on to Oceanic. Sadly, his health had been damaged by his experience on Titanic and he soon returned to Southampton where he married Nora Louisa Phillips. Soon after they married the couple emigrated to Los Angeles where Fred found work as a railway clerk for the Southern Pacific Railway. Fred never forgot his hometown and regularly wrote to his family in Southampton.
In 1937 Fred died of heart disease. He was cremated and his remains buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery Los Angeles. Norah continued to live in America but she later had Fred’s ashes returned to Southampton where they were buried in Hollybrook Cemetery.
On we walked, peering at the fronts of the houses we passed looking for names and probably looking fairly suspicious. Our job wasn’t easy. Not all of the houses have names above the doors and some names have been covered over or are weathered beyond reading. Some of the older houses have been replaced by more modern ones, possibly as a result of wartime bombing.
One of the Hillside Avenue crew members houses eluded us. Seftonmount, belonged to Thomas Benjamin Kirkaldy. He was born in St James, London in 1876, the son of Robert Alexander and Sarah Kirkaldy. He had a younger sister Catherine Emily and the family were quite well off with at least two servants.
Thomas started his working life as a bar tender at the Savage Club in London but soon moved to Liverpool and signed on as crew of Majestic. Oddly he gave his name as Thomas Clark. In 1899 he married local girl Martha Ann Price. In 1904, when their son Frank Alexander was born, they were living in Southampton at Seftonmount on Hillside Avenue and Thomas was working aboard Olympic. He signed on to Titanic as a first class bedroom steward on 4 April 1912. Curiously, he again gave his name as Thomas Clark.
Thomas was lost with the ship and poor Martha never remarried. She died in Trowbridge, Wiltshire in 1961. Their son, Frank, married Elizabeth Sarah Adams in 1933. He died in 1986 also in Trowbridge.
We very nearly missed the last house on our Hillside Avenue list. Hillside was close to the end of the road and the name etched on a stone square above the door was so worn we could barely make it out. It was once the home of William Henry James Slight.
William was born in Southampton in August 1875, one of at least seven children born to William Henry and Mary Slight. After William senior, a house decorator, died in 1880, the family continued to live at 3 Browns cottages in South Stoneham until Mary died. WIlliam and two of his siblings, Harry and Mary then moved to Bevois Valley Road to live with their married sister, Clara Poynter. William and his brother worked as errand boys, no doubt to earn their keep.
In 1897, William married local girl Catherine Lawes. The couple lived at Gordon Avenue in Portswood and had one son, Henry William in 1898. By this time it is likely that William was already working at sea. Sadly Catherine died in early 1912 and, at the beginning of April, William left Olympic and joined Titanic in Belfast. When he signed on again on 4 April, he gave his address as Hillside, Hillside Avenue. His brother Harry also signed on as a third class steward.
William was a larder cook on Titanic, earning a fairly princely sum of £7 a month. Neither brother survived the sinking and neither of their bodies were ever identified. Whether they managed to find each other in all the turmoil is a mystery but I’d like to think they did. William’s son, Henry, married Emily Elizabeth Painter in 1924. They had one daughter. Henry died in Southampton in 1977, what became of his daughter, William’s granddaughter, is unknown.
Hillside Avenue led us to Bond Road where another member of the victualling crew once lived. William Harold Welch was born in Southampton in December 1890. His father, Charles William, owned a grocers shop in St Mary’s and was originally from Weymouth. His mother, Mary Jane, was a Southampton lass. William had one younger brother, Charles Leslie.
By 1911 William was working aboard the Edinburgh Castle and the family had moved from St Mary’s and were living in St Catherine’s Road Bitterne Park. Perhaps the grocers store on the corner of Dimond Road belonged to them? William was living around the corner from his parents in North Haven, Bond Road when he signed onto Titanic as an assistant cook. He would have earned £4 10s a month, quite a sum for an unmarried man in his early twenties.
CJ and I walked up and down Bond Road looking desperately for house names. We found a few but, like in Hillside Avenue, many of the houses no longer had readable names or had no names at all. Despite going twice up and down the road we never managed to find North Haven and I had to content myself with photographs of other houses that may or may not have been similar to William’s. Sadly, William did not survive the sinking of Titanic and his body was never identified. His parents lived in Southampton until their deaths.
From Bond Road CJ and I turned right onto St Catherine’s Road and then right again onto Newton Road. Now we were going uphill again. Luckily, before we’d climbed too far, we found Egremont, the home of second class steward Alan Vincent Franklin.
Alan was born in Long Compton, Warwickshire, in 1883. His mother, Mary Ann, was just twenty three, unmarried and already the mother two year old Rupert, which, in those days, must have caused quite a scandal. Mary Ann evetunally married William Joseph Fessey in 1893 and went on to have two more children, Elizabeth and Elsie. Within four years she was widowed and it seems Rupert and Alan were brought up by their grandparents, Sam and Hannah Franklin. Sam was an agricultural labourer in Long Compton and he and Hannah had already raised nine children of their own.
By the turn of the century Alan was working as a coachman and still living with his grandparents. At some point in the next ten years he went to sea and, by March 1911, was living in London and had married Ada Blanch Couzens. Their first child, also called Alan Vincent, was born just three months after their wedding.
In 1912 Alan was working on Olympic but, on 4 April, he signed onto Titanic as a saloon steward earning £3 15s a month. He gave is address as Egremont, Newton Road, Bitterne Park but it is likely he was just lodging there as the house the belonged to Joseph Boles.
Ada was pregnant again when Alan set sail on Titanic. Whether she was also lodging in Newton Road isn’t clear but Alan never saw his daughter, also named Ada. He went down with the ship and his body was recovered by the MacKay Bennett.
Alan’s body was numbered 262. He was described as aged around 30, with light hair and was wearing a steward’s coat, vest, pants and a green overcoat. He was identified because his shirt bore the name A Franklin. He also had a corkscrew, no doubt part of his steward’s kit, a metal belt, keys, a nickel watch and chain, knife, rubber and purse.
Sadly White Star did little to help repatriate the bodies of lost crew members and poor Ada was in no position to pay to have her husband returned to her. Alain was buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax Nova Scotia. His grave remained unmarked for many years.
What became the of Ada Blanche is unclear, although it’s thought she remarried within the year. Alan junior married Ada Rice in Norfolk and had at least one child. He died in Cambridge in 1991. Ada, the daughter who was born after Alan senior died, married Frederick Collier in Norwich in 1934, she also had at least one child but, like her mother, seems to have simply disappeared.
The next house was surprisingly easy to find. Harry James Smither lived at 1 Ash Tree Road, at its junction with St Catherine’s Road and directly opposite the flat Commando used to own when he was young and single. Better still, it didn’t involve any hills.
Harry was born in November 1888 in Kilburn, Middlesex. His father, also called Harry, was a policeman from Hampshire and his mother, Louisa, was from Paddington, London. They married in 1882 in Hampshire. Harry was the fourth of their seven children.
Harry was brought up in London and educated at Netherwood Street School. By the time he left school the family had relocated to 1 Ash Tree Road, Southampton. Harry became a stoker at a stationary engine, quite was this involved or where he worked isn’t clear.
In late 1911 Harry married Daisy Farmer from Eastleigh and, shortly afterwards, they had a daughter, Louisa Mary. At the time he was working as a fireman on Olympic but, on 6 April 1912, he signed on to Titanic. As a fireman he could expect to earn £6 a month but he and his small family were still living with his parents in Ash Tree Road. Luckily, it’s quite a big house.
Harry didn’t survive the sinking of Titanic and his body was never identified. Poor Daisy remarried two years later and she and her new husband, Edmond George Whitlock, went on to have three more children. She died, aged just 23, in 1917 and no one knows what became of Harry’s daughter, Louisa. A little while ago though, I stumbled upon the grave of Harry’s parents in the Old Cemetery. It was cracked and broken but their memorial to Harry was still visible.
The next house on our list was close by on Oak Tree Road, the road that runs parallel with Ash Tree Road. Like so many on the list it had a name rather than a number so we went back to walking along peering at houses looking for names. Surprisingly no one called the police to report us as would be burglars.
About half way up the road, up being the operative word, we found two semi detached houses called Myrtle Bank. Albert Edward Coleman lived at number 2, which appeared to be having some building work done because there was a giant skip outside. This made it difficult to take a decent photo but I did my best.
Albert was born in Hampstead, London in December 1883. His father, Joseph, a coachman and groom, was from Rutland and his mother, Fanny, was from Boston Lancashire. They had five children and might have had more but Albert’s mother died in around 1896 and his father remarried soon after. Albert and his younger brother George moved to Rutland to live with his paternal aunt and uncle, where George became a pageboy (basically an apprentice footman). The life of a pageboy obviously didn’t suit him because, by 1897, aged just 13, he joined the Royal Navy, having lied about his age. He served aboard Impregnable, Lion, Agincourt, Magnificent, Pembroke I, Wildfire, Encounter and, finally, Dido. He was discharged from the navy in 1908.
Albert married Harriet Seagrove Heather in London two years later and within the year they were living in Myrtle Bank in Southampton where their son, Albert junior, was born. At the time Albert senior was working as a ship’s steward aboard Oceanic and, on 4 April 1912, he signed on to Titanic as Saloon Steward.
When Albert set sail Harriet was expecting their second child. Albert would never see his son George. He was lost with the ship and his remains were never identified. Poor Harriet never remarried and continued to live in Myrtle Bank until she died in 1929. She left more than £239 to her two unmarried sisters. What became of Albert’s two sons isn’t known but Albert himself has a memorial on a family grave in Hollybrook Cemetery.
Our penultimate house had both a name and a number so we strolled back down towards the river feeling fairly confident of finding it. The house was on Manor Farm Road, the long, long road, curving from Bitterne Park Triangle along the edge of Riverside Park to Woodmill Lane. We were both hoping number 47 was closer to the Triangle, and therefore us, than to Woodmill. As luck would have it, it was, but having a number made discovering this much easier.
Bulkeley House, 47 Manor Farm Road, was home to George Bulkeley Ede, born in Southampton in 1889. Both his parents, Arthur George and Ruth, were from Southampton and George was the first of their seven children. Arthur was a man of means, the son of the councillor for the St Denys Ward who came from a privileged West Indies plantation background. Around the turn of the century the family moved from Cambridge Road, St Mary’s, to Baulkeley House in Bitterne Park.
Like many other Titanic crew members, George left Olympic to Join the Titanic crew as a third class steward. He did not survive the sinking and his body was never identified but his parents lived in Manor Farm Road until they died and their beloved son is commemorated on their headstone in the Old Cemetery. Oddly, I discovered it on the same day I found Harry Smithers grave.
We now had just one house to find but we’d been walking for around an hour and a half and the hills had taken their toll. When we got back to the Triangle we both agreed we needed a coffee before we continued. Luckily the Songbird Cafe was open.
Fifteen minutes or so later, fortified by coffee, we were heading upwards again. This time our aim was Cobden Gardens, a short cul de sac rising up from the Triangle end of St Catherine’s Road. We quickly found number 14, once the home of Joseph Thomas Wheat.
Joseph was born in Rock Ferry, Cheshire, the first of William and Mary Jane Wheat’s three children. William was a seaman and this may well have influenced Joseph’s choice of career. When and why Joseph came to Southampton is unclear but, in 1911, he married Ellen Gertrude Whitley on the Isle of Wight. Shortly afterwards the couple moved to a boarding house in Queens Park Terrace, Southampton.
By 1912 Joseph and Ellen had moved to Cobden Gardens and Joseph was at sea on Olympic. He signed on to Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast and then again for her maiden voyage. He was Assistant Second Steward, earning £8 a month.
Our last Titanic tale of the day has a happy ending. Joseph was rescued in lifeboat 11. This was the sixth starboard lifeboat lowered. When it was lowered onto A deck several stewards were ordered to board it to help the passengers over the railing and into the boat. Most of these passengers were ladies who would have been severely hampered by their long skirts. This almost certainly saved Joseph’s life. There were between 58 and 80 people in lifeboat 11 when it was lowered into the sea. There were claims that the boat was lowered at a dangerous angle and several reports of a baby, without its mother, being thrown in at the last moment. Once they were in the water it was discovered there was no lamp in the boat but a sailor lit a piece of rope to use instead. It was the sixth or eighth boat to reach Carpathia.
Despite his experience Jospeh continued working at sea until the 1920’s. He and Ellen had one son, John Joseph William, born in November 1912. They later resettled in Bromley, Kent where Joseph died in 1961 aged 79. Ellen died eighteen years later in Worthing, Sussex, aged 95. Their son, John, married Doris Townley in Southampton in 1938. He died in 1976 but it’s unclear whether he had any children.
As for us, we had one final hill to climb to get back home. Thankfully it wasn’t too steep. Maybe our next Titanic mission should be somewhere a little flatter.