Titanic tales from Bevois Valley and Mount Pleasant

10 April 2019

There were fourteen Titanic Crew houses in Bevois Valley and, as far as I could tell, many of them were still standing. When we set out this morning, 107 years to the day after Titanic set sail, the plan had been to find the houses in St Denys. Even so, I’d brought the Bevois Valley addresses with me because some of them were so close to where we’d be walking it seemed silly not to tick them off the list. The first few were in Empress Road, once a little terraced street overlooking the railway line and the river. In my imagination, they were much like the houses we’d already seen in Priory Road and an old photo I found later proved me correct. Sadly, they are all gone now. Many were lost to bombing and the last three terraced houses were demolished a couple of years ago. 

Empress Road 1900’s

Today the area is an industrial estate with a giant bus depot, lots of modern shed like units, a supermarket and a few small businesses. There was no chance of finding any of our crew houses but we walked along the road anyway, thinking about the men who once lived here. 

One was George Walter Nettleton. He was born in St Denys in 1882 and his mother, Caroline, was a Hampshire lass. His father, Frederick, a tram driver, was originally from London. Frederick and Caroline had seven children.

George spent his early life in Portswood. When he first went to sea is unclear but he had previously worked for some time as a labourer. When he left Oceanic and joined Titanic as a fireman he was living at 23 Empress Road, presumably with his parents. He was unmarried. 

Empress Road today

Outside of the officers, Titanic’s firemen were paid some of the best wages on the ship, and rightly so. It was their muscle and sweat that kept the ship running. Unlike the stewards, in their starched white jackets, the firemen were hidden away in the bowels of the ship. They had no chance to supplement their £6 a month with tips from rich and grateful passengers and it’s doubtful any of those above decks gave them a single thought. When Titanic sank the majority of the firemen sank with her, shovelling coal to the bitter end in a desperate attempt to give others the best chance of escape. George was probably among them. He did not survive and his body was never identified. 

Empress Road today

The aptly named Joseph Henry Bevis was born in 1890 in Hastings, the youngest of Albert and Julia’s two children. The family moved from Hastings to 70 Empress Road in about 1911 and Joseph was soon working as a labourer. When he signed on to Titanic as a trimmer he gave his address as 171 Empress Road. He’d never worked at sea before but the wages of £5 10s a month were probably an enticing prospect, especially as the city had been hit badly by strikes and unemployment was rife. 

Empress Road today

A trimmers job was physically hard, hot and dirty work. They loaded all the coal onto the ship and then worked inside the bunkers with shovels and wheelbarrows moving coal around to keep it level and stop the ship listing. They also shovelled coal down the cute to the firemen in the boiler rooms. Because of the heat, the coal would often spontaneously combust and trimmers were also responsible for putting out any fires in the bunkers. When the ship left Belfast there was a fire burning in one of her bunkers. It continued to burn for most of the journey and Jospeh may have been one of the trimmers trying to fight it.

Sadly, wherever he was and whatever he was doing when Titanic hit the iceberg, Joseph never lived to tell the tale. Like so many of the engineering crew, he was lost with the ship and his body was never identified. His family remained in Southampton. His mother died in 1931 and his father in 1935. 

The next house on our list wasn’t actually in Bevois Valley but it didn’t really fit into any other area and was so close by it seemed silly not to try to find it. Empress Road leads to Imperial Road and, at the bottom corner, there is a leafy cutaway leading to Mount Pleasant Road, this was once the home of George Terrill Thresher.

A Southampton native born in 1886, George was one of at least ten children born to George and Catherine Thresher. His father was an engine fitter and the large family lived in Mount Pleasant Road. In the final decade of the nineteenth century the family moved from number 50 Mount Pleasant Road to number 36 and, by 1901, young George was working as an errand boy. A decade later George was working at sea for White Star. He was unmarried and still living with his, now widowed, mother at 36 Mount Pleasant Road.

CJ and I left the cutway with high hopes of finding at least one of the houses George had called home. Unfortunately, although we walked all the way to the railway crossing, we had no luck. The house numbers were more than a little erratic, mainly because many of the houses seem to have disappeared and been replaced by a row of ramshackle garages. Whether this is the result of war time bombing or something else we couldn’t tell. In the end, all we could do was take photographs of the houses that were still standing and try to imagine them as they had been back in 1912.

Garages in Mount Pleasant Road
Approaching the level crossing
Mount Pleasant Road

When Titanic hit the iceberg luck was on George’s side. Due to the terrific heat in the boiler rooms and the physically exhausting job of shovelling tons of coal, the firemen worked four hour shifts with eight hours off duty to recover. George must have been off duty when the collision happened. Exactly how he managed to get on a lifeboat and which one isn’t clear but the chances are his muscles were what got him a place. Each boat needed strong men to row and an officer or able seaman to take command and navigate. In all probability, George was just in the right place at the right time and he survived. 

Despite his narrow escape, George continued to work at sea. At some time in the 1930’s he relocated to Gateshead and it was there, in 1937, that he finally married. He was 51 and had his wife, Jane Fawcett, was just two years his junior.  Marriage didn’t change him. He carried on working at sea in the  Merchant Navy. On 18 November 1939 his luck finally ran out. He was working as a fireman aboard the cargo ship SS Parkhill when she was torpedoed off the coast of Aberdeen. The U-boat, U-18, had already fired one torpedo but the Parkhill had managed to avoid it and steamed on. Less than an hour later they were hit by the second attack and George was one of nine seamen killed. Poor Jane, who had waited so long to become a wife, was widowed within two years. She never remarried and remained in Gateshead until her death in 1964. 

The first of our Bevois Valley houses were long gone and our detour to Mount Pleasant had proved to be fruitless. Now we had to decide whether to head for home or continue our Bevois Valley search.

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Titanic tales from St Denys part two

10 April 2019

Many years ago I lived in Portswood in a little flat a minute’s walk or so from St Denys Station. In 1989, the Portswood bypass was built and cut a swathe through the area I knew so well. The new road was named Thomas Lewis Way after Tommy Lewis, a St Mary’s lad and son of a dock labourer, who became a prominent trade unionist, local councillor and, in 1929, Southampton’s first Labour MP. The streets I knew so well were soon unrecognisable and many houses disappeared. The last five St Denys crew members all lived on Dukes Road, one of those swallowed up. We might not have been able to find their houses but we could still find what little is left of Dukes Road and tell their stories.


The walk from Priory Road to the remains of Dukes Road was once part of my walk to work but, even in the short time since my Bus Mine days, things have changed. One of the highlights of my walks used to be the path behind the Millennium Flats where boats were tied to little jetties and swans and ducks made me smile each day. The path led to some steep steps and Horseshoe Bridge. The gate at the top of the steps is now locked. The people living in the flats don’t like unsavoury characters like me walking near their nice homes, even though there is a steep bank and a high metal fence between the path and their property.

So we walked the long way round. Both of us feeling quite miffed. A train going under Horseshoe Bridge did cheer us up a little and I was even more cheered knowing I didn’t have to go inside the bus depot and spend ten hours being moaned at by angry passengers.

Almost opposite the bus depot, squashed between the big metal units of the industrial estate and the new road, is a tiny stretch of service road. This was once Dukes Road. In fact it’s still called Dukes Road even though there is no longer a single house on it. Still, we went to what was left of it and took some photos of the road sign.

The first of the Dukes Road Titanic crew was John Bertie Ellis, born in Southampton in 1883. His father, also called John, was a naval seaman from Manchester and his mother, Emma, was from Cornwall. John and Emma had nine children and moved to Southampton just before John was born. John began his working life as a cellarman. In 1905 he married Ethel Amelia Brooks. Ethel was also born in Southampton but was of exotic heritage. Her father, Addison Taylor Brooks, was born in Washington DC, of mixed African-American and European heritage. He’d seen service in the US Military before moving to England. John and Ethel had three children, Mabel Ethel, Bertie Alec and Frank.

When John joined Titanic as a vegetable cook the family were living at 30 Dukes Road. He’d previously been working on Oceanic as assistant vegetable cook so the job on Titanic was something of a promotion and his wages of £5 a month were probably very welcome. John escaped the sinking ship in emergency lifeboat 2, the seventh boat loaded from the port side. Fourth Officer Boxhall was in charge of the boat and took Steward James Johnstone, able seaman Frank Osman and John to assist with rowing. The boat had only eighteen or so people in it, mostly women and children. It was lowered, half empty, to A Deck to pick up more passengers but found nobody there. It was the first boat to reach Carpathia. 

John was not called upon to give evidence at any of the Titanic inquiries and returned to Southampton. In October 1912, his fourth child, Archie, was born. John went back to sea but, a few months later, jumped ship in America and was never heard of by his English family again. Ethel and the children carried on as best they could. Mabel became a cook and live in domestic to a sales executive in Enfield, Middlesex. She never married. Bertie married Annie Maria Corbishley and settled in Staffordshire to raise a family. He served as a Royal Artillery gunner in WWII and was killed in 1945 in Burma. Frank moved to Biloela, Queensland and died in 1991. Archie served in the Merchant Marine and Royal Navy Reserve as a quartermaster. He married Robbia Stewart and moved to Staffordshire to raise a family. He died in 1964. Poor deserted Ethel, with her family scattered, remained in Hampshire where she died in 1931. She never heard from John again. 

Having left his family in England, seemingly without a second thought, John he moved to New South Wales and began a new life. He bigamously married Isabella Towers in 1914. The couple had two sons, John and William and set up home in Sidney. It is unlikely that Isabella ever knew of John’s previous life. In 1916, John enlisted with the Australian 19th Infantary Battalion. He ended his days in Sidney as a war pensioner. He died in Sidney in 1932 and is buried in the Randwick Cemetery.

Dukes Road today

Charles Augustus Coombs was born in Wimborne Dorset in 1867. He was the second of two sons born to Mary Jane and George Edwin, a master butcher. Charles, better known as Augustus, was brought up in Wimborne and when or why he ended up in Southampton is a mystery but it’s probable he moved to get work at sea. He was certainly living in Southampton when he married Annie Amelia West in 1891. They had three children, Elsie Annie, Gladys Kathleen and Norah Georgina. On the 1901 census Augustus was working as a ship’s baker and living with his family, including his father, George, at 9 Ivy Road, Itchen.

George died in 1902 and at some time after this, the family moved to 78 Dukes Road. By 1911, Augustus was working as a cook for the White Star Line. He left Olympic to join Titanic as assistant cook, earning £4 10s a month. 

It was not the good career move he’d hoped for though. Augustus died when Titanic sank and his body was never recovered. What became of Annie isn’t clear but neither Elsie or Norah ever married and both died in 1970. Gladys married Robert Dyer and continued to live in Southampton until her death in 1976.

Titanic cooks from Pintrest

John Henry Jackopson was born in Liverpool in 1881. His father, Charles Ludwig Jackopson was probably Norwegian, although this is not certain. His mother, Sarah Ann, was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland. The couple married in Liverpool and had five children. Very little is known about John’s early life, mainly because his surname was frequently misspelled so records are hard to identify with any certainty. 

When John’s father died, in 1896, his mother went to live with her married daughter, Mary Thalia Gibson in Kirkdale, Lancashire. John probably also lived with her but, by this time, he was already working at sea so doesn’t show on any census. In 1903, John married Catherine McCabe in Liverpool and, in 1907, moved to Southampton. They had four children, the first two, Charles and Thomas, born in Liverpool and Cornelia and Catherine born in Southampton. Tragically, Catherine died within a few weeks of her birth. 

The move to Southampton was most likely prompted by John’s work as a ship’s fireman. His last ship before joining Titanic was the merchant steamer Highland Brae, a far smaller ship than Titanic, carrying around sixty or so passengers. When John signed onto Titanic the family were living at 97 Dukes Road. His wages would have been £6 a month.


The firemen on Titanic had a relentless job. The ship had twenty-four double-ended boilers and five single-ended boilers. They consumed around eight hundred and fifty tons of coal every day and all this coal had to be shovelled from the coal bunkers into the boilers. Every two minutes the boilers needed a ton of coal to keep working. Each boiler had a team of ten firemen and four trimmers, working in four hours shifts. Four hours was the maximum time a man could deal with the exertion and the incredible heat. Even while the ship was sinking, the men on duty kept shovelling coal to keep the pumps working and the lights shining. Of the 176 firemen on board just 48 survived.

For the firemen, survival was a matter of luck. Those on duty stood no chance. As soon as the ship began to list they would have been trapped in the boiler room, unable to climb the steep ladder out. Those off duty lived or died depending on whether or not they were ordered to man the lifeboats and use their muscles to row passengers to safety. John was not one of the lucky ones. His body was never identified. 

Catherine must have been devastated by the news. She was pregnant at the time and gave birth to a son, named John after his father, just a few weeks after the sinking. Baby John only lived a few months, adding to the tragedy. In late 1913, Catherine married Charles George Hatcher and went on to have two more children. She lived in Southampton until her death in 1951. John’s children also remained in Southampton. Thomas married Florence Spencer in 1946 but had no children. He died in 1974. Charles married Doris Glasspool Plummer and had five children. He died in 1942. Cornelia married Robert Fuller and had four children. She died in 1991. 

Dukes Road today

Robert Frederick William Couper was one of eight children born to engraver Robert and his wife Stirling in Southampton in 1883. The family lived in Kingsfield Road, All Saints. Robert was just ten when his mother died and, by the time he was eighteen, he and his younger brother Leopald were boarding in a house in York Street, St Mary’s working as boilermakers. What became of the rest of the family is unclear.

In 1910 Robert married Emily Alice Westbury and the couple soon moved to 101 Dukes Road with Emily’s mother, Alice. At some time in 1911 they had a child but it died soon after birth and there is no record of a name or even if it was a boy or a girl. As Robert was almost certainly working at sea aboard Olympic by this time, it must have been a difficult time for poor Emily. They would have no more children. 

Robert Frederick William Couper From Encyclopedia Titanica

Robert signed onto Titanic as a fireman. When Titanic sank luck was on his side, unlike so many of his colleagues, he survived. Few exact details are known but he was almost certainly in lifeboat 3, the third to be lowered on the starboard side. Officer Murdoch directed the procedure and when all the passengers had boarded and there were still empty seats, he directed nearby crew members into the boat. There were several other firemen aboard the little lifeboat and their muscles were undoubtedly welcomed when it came to rowing. Lifeboat 3 was the fifth or sixth to reach Carpathia. 

Despite his experience, Robert continued to work at sea. He died on 31 December 1941 at Southampton Docks. Exactly how isn’t clear but it may well have been during a bombing raid. He was buried in Hollybrook Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Emily survived him and continued to live in Southampton. She died in 1963.

Dukes Road today

Sidney Humphries was born in Wimborne, Dorset in 1859 to William, a publican, and Elizabeth. He had one sister, born the year before him. By 1861 the small family had moved to French Street, Southampton and William was working as a ship’s steward. 

Sidney followed in his father’s footsteps and went to sea at an early age then, in 1874, he joined the Royal Navy. His first ship was the St Vincent. He went on to serve on Excellent, Rover, Euphrates and Duke of Wellington but was invalided out of the service in 1882. For the next ten years it isn’t clear what he did but it’s probable that he joined the merchant service. In 1892, he rejoined the navy, serving as an able seaman on Trincomalee. 

Sidney left the navy and married Annie Rosetta Snead in 1895. They already had two children, Catherine born in 1892 and Frederick, born in 1894, and went on to have six more, Sidney, Horace, Leslie, Hetty, Arthur and Joan. They lived at various addresses in Shirley and Sidney is described on the 1901 and 1911 census as being a seaman so it is likely he’d rejoined the merchant service. 

In 1886 Sidney witnessed a young woman, Minnie Whitehorn, throwing herself into Shirley Pond. Poor Minnie, a domestic servant, was trying to kill herself but Sidney intervened. Without a thought for himself, he dived in and saved her. His efforts were recognised by a medal from the Royal Humane Society. 

Dukes Road today

Annie had just given birth to their youngest daughter when Sidney signed onto Titanic as Quartermaster. He and his family were living at 113 Dukes Road. His previous ship had been Olympic. Titanic had six quartermasters, each acting as helmsman, in charge of navigating the ship, when on duty.

Stanley wasn’t on duty when the ship hit the iceberg. Whether he’d have done anything differently if he had been is anyone’s guess. He was on A deck though, helping to load the lifeboats. He watched the youngest crew members, the bellboys, being taken to their posts in the main cabin entry by their captain, a steward. The fifty lads, some as young as fourteen, were told to stay in the cabin and not get in the way. It’s hard to imagine what the poor boys must have been thinking but they all sat quietly on their benches and did as they were told. When it was clear the ship really was going to sink and the order was given that every man was free to save himself so long as he kept away from the lifeboats, these lads scattered to all parts of the ship. Sidney saw several of them standing around smoking cigarettes and joking with the passengers, as if they didn’t have a care in the world. In fact they seemed quite gleeful to be breaking the rule against smoking while on duty. Not one of them tried to get in a lifeboat and not one was saved. 

Sidney Humphries from Association Francaise du Titanic

Sidney took command of lifeboat 11, the sixth to be lowered from the starboard side. Several stewards were ordered into the boat to help the passengers over the railing. It was one of the most heavily loaded lifeboats, with between sixty and eighty people aboard, mostly women and children. Miss Edith Rosenbaum brought a toy, a musical pig with her and entertained the frightened children with it. Several people later said a baby was thrown in at the last moment without its mother.  

There was some difficulty when the boat was launched as the crew were unable to release her from the falls, the ropes and blocks used with davits for lowering the boats. When the boat finally reached the water it was discovered there was no lamp aboard and a sailor lit a piece of rope to use as a signal. The boat was so heavily loaded those manning the oars had difficulty actually rowing. Even so, lifeboat 11 was the sixth or eighth to reach Carpathia. 

Sidney returned to England and was not called to give evidence at either the American or British inquiries into the sinking. He carried on working at sea, even throughout World War I. Later, as his health began to fail with age and he developed a heart condition, he worked as a stevedore in Southampton Docks. He died in 1919, aged 60, and was buried in Hollybrook Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Annie died in 1936. 

We might not have found a single house still standing on the second half our our St Denys search but we had at least accounted for all the St Denys crew members. Now we had a descision to make. We were more or less in Bevois Valley and I’d brought the list of Bevois Valley crew and their addresses with me just in case. Time was getting on though. It was almost midday and we were both getting a bit hungry and thirsty. Should we cut our losses and head for home or carry on searching?

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Titanic tales from St Denys

Titanic Lifeboats in New York

10 April 2019

As today was the anniversary of the sailing of Titanic it seemed a good day to continue our search for Titanic crew houses. Our objectives were the houses in St Denys and, as we walked across Cobden Bridge, it looked as if it was going to be a beautiful, if chilly morning. Being pretty familiar with the streets of St Denys, I was well aware several of the houses were no longer standing but I had high hopes of finding most of them.

The first house on our list was on the north side of Priory Road, not too far from the remains of the old priory that gives the area its name. Today, all that’s left is an archway, overgrown with ivy in a back garden. Even so, we stopped to take a quick photo as we passed.

A few doors along we found 270 Priory Road still standing. At least we think it was still there. A huge overgrown tree in the front garden almost hid it from view and it took us a few moments to work out this was actually the house Jack Butterworth gave as his address when he signed on to Titanic as a Saloon Steward to earn just £3 15s a month.

270 Priory Road

Jack was born in Manchester in around 1889. Little is known about his early life and when he came to Southampton isn’t clear but it was almost certainly connected with his seafaring career. Before he joined Titanic he’d been working on the New York, which sailed the same route as Titanic would have. In fact, New York was berthed beside Oceanic when Titanic set sail and the suction of her passing caused the three inch steel hawsers securing the smaller ship to be torn from their moorings. There would have been a collision if Captain Smith hadn’t ordered Titanic’s port propeller to be reversed and turned the gigantic liner. Meanwhile a tugboat towed the New York in the opposite direction. Had the two ships collided, history may have been very different. 

Jack was obviously settled in Southampton. He’d recently got engaged to a local girl, May Hinton of Woolston. When the ship was in Queenstown he sent her a letter describing the near collision. 

RMS Titanic. Queenstown. 12th April 1912

My Darling Girl,

We have been having a very fierce time in this steamer. I suppose you heard of the accident that occurred to the New York as we sailed this ship carried so much water between the Oceanic and New York that the York broke all her ropes and sailed all on her own, you could have tossed a penny from our ship to her she was so close, it was a good job she did not hit us as it would have been another case of the Hawke collision.

Well, dearest how do you feel? pretty lonely I guess after me being home for so long, but still we cannot grumble my dear as we have had a real good and happy time and I am so happy to think everything is all right. Well there is one consolation about it I shall soon be with you again all being well.

We do really enjoy ourselves when I am home, well I do not see why we should not anyhow, and again I think it does us both good for me to go away for a little stretch don’t you dear? There are quite a lot of American Line men here so it is a little better for us to see a few old faces.

Our shore steward was aboard yesterday before we sailed and he saw me, so he said ”hello have you signed here?” so I said ”yes!” and then he said ”see you come back in time for your own ship”, so of course I thanked him and said ”yes”, which I may do if things do not turn out good here.

Will now close sweetheart take care of yourself dear, love to all at home and fondest love to yourself dearest.

Yours always – Jack
PS Don’t forget to get me a Plymouth football paper.

Tragically, the letter reached poor May on her twenty first birthday, 20 April, the same day she learned he would not be returning. Jack’s body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennet and numbered 116. He was described as having red hair and was wearing dark clothes, a white stewards jacket and black boots. In his pocket was a cigarette case. He was buried at sea. 

Jack Butterworth, photograph from Findagrave.com

Our next house, 64 St Denys Road, was also still standing. The little end of terrace house close to the railway bridge looks to have been renovated fairly recently and has now been divided into two flats. It was once the home of George William Feltham, born in 1870 in Bermondsey, Surrey.

64 St Denys Road

George was the son of George, a warehouseman and Elizabeth, both Wiltshire Natives. He was the middle child of three, with an elder sister and younger brother. In the first few years of his life his family moved from Bermondsey to Bromley, London and his father became a seed warehouseman. George began his working life as a baker and confectioner, lodging at various addresses in London and Middlesex. By 1901 he was lodging in London with a Mrs Francis Emma Mayley and her six children. In around 1907 George, along with Francis and three of her children, had moved to Southampton and were living at 64 St Denys Road. George was now working aboard Majestic as a confectioner. What became of Francis’ bricklayer husband, Alfred, isn’t clear but, in 1908 George and Francis had married, despite her being fourteen years his senior. 

George left Majestic to join Oceanic and then signed on to Titanic as a Vienna Baker, earning £4 10s a month. He did not survive the sinking and his body was never recovered. Poor Francis never remarried but stayed in Southampton. She died in 1939. 

Our next houses were in the warren of narrow streets crowded around the railway line and the river. We crossed St Denys Road near the church and set off in search of 37 North Road, where Edward Castleman once lived.

Edward was one of Henry and Elizabeth Castleman’s seven children, born in 1874 in Littleton, Hampshire. His early life was spent living at Harestock Farm, where his father was an agricultural labourer and his mother a dairywoman. When Edward left school he became a farm servant but, after his father’s death, his mother moved to Shirley Southampton to live with her married daughter, Martha Dabell. It’s probable that Edward joined her when she moved but he is not listed on the 1901 census and was most likely already working at sea. 

In 1905 Edward married Kate Amy Marchant in South Stoneham. When he joined Titanic the couple were living at 37 North Road and had no children. He signed on as a greaser, earning £6 10s a month. His brother in law, Martha’s second husband Walter Alexander Bishop, was also working aboard as a bedroom steward. Both men were lost in the sinking and their bodies were never identified.

37 North Road

A death notice was posted in The Echo on 30 April 1912. 

Castleman–April 15th 1912 at sea, through the foundering of the S.S. Titanic, Edward Castleman, aged 37, the devoted husband of Kate Amy Castleman, of 37 North Road, St Denys, Southampton.  “In the midst of life, we are in death.”

Two years later Kate married Frederick Stevens. She remained in Southampton and died in 1948.

Now we had to cross the railway line that runs along one side of North Road. There were two choices, the bridge on Priory Road or the level crossing on Adelaide Road. Past experience told me to avoid the latter so we decided to head for Eastfield Road. We found the house of John Davis close to the corner of South Road.

John was the son of retired Royal Marine Corporal turned publican, George Davis and his wife Rebecca. He was born in Gosport in 1884 and had nine siblings. His first years appear to have been spent living at the George Inn, Melcombe Regis, Weymouth. Around the turn of the century the family moved to Landport, Hampshire. In 1902 John turned eighteen and left the Third Hampshire Regiment Militia to join the Army Service Corps. He was just five foot two, had blue eyes, brown hair, decayed lower molars and a burn scar under his right arm. The last two things may have been connected with his previous job as a baker. 

John served as a driver for the regiment in both Aldershot and Chatham but his conduct was not good. He was thrown in the cells for falling asleep at his sentry post, and reprimanded for other minor offences. Eventually, after failing to report for duty twice, he was dismissed in 1908. He then found work at sea as a baker. Two years later he married Eliza Blanch Hunt, known as Lily and moved in with her parents at 19 Eastfield Road, St Denys . A year later their son John Samuel was born. 

19 Eastfield Road

John was on Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast. He’d left Olympic to join the ship as extra second baker earning £5 a month. His elder brother Stephen James Davis was also aboard as an able seaman. Neither brother survived the sinking but John’s body was recovered by the Mackay Bennett and he was buried at sea on 24 April 1912. He was wearing white trousers, a blue coat and apron marked JD and a white outer coat. In his pockets were a Post Office savings account book, 3s 6d, keys and union books, suggesting he’d had time to collect his important belongings before the ship sank. Perhaps he believed he would be saved, or maybe he picked up the books because he knew they’d help identify his body?

A death notice was posted in the Hampshire Independent. 

DAVIS–April 15th 1912, at sea, on s.s. Titanic, John Davis, aged 27, the beloved husband of Eliza Davis, of 19 Eastfield road, St Denys, Southampton. Deeply mourned by his sorrowing wife and child. “God be with you till we meet again.

Poor Eliza seemed to be unlucky in love. She married Harry Atkinson in 1915 but was widowed again two years later. In 1918 she married for the third time but her husband, Albert E Young, died in 1927. Her final marriage, to Frank Ernest Colverson in 1928, was her last. She died in Southampton in 1973, Frank survived her and died three years later. 

Adelaide Road was the furthest west we had to go so, now we’re were safely on the right side of the tracks, we made it our next target. When we got there the train gates were down, as they so often are. Had we walked the other way earlier we’d have been in for a long wait. This was something Arthur Peckham Burroughs would have been all too familiar with. He lived at 73 Adelaide Road, between the level crossing and the entrance to St Denys Station. 

Arthur was born in Lewisham, London in 1877 to Mary Jane Agnes Peckham from Lymington and Arthur Burroughs, a draughtsman from Lewisham. His parents never married, which must have caused quite a scandal at the time. Later that year Mary married Tom Rickman, a carpenter from Lymington. Mary and Tom married in Southampton and set up home in Bullar Street. They had two more children in quick succession. The little family lived at various addresses around St Mary’s and Northam during Arthur’s childhood and, by 1901, Arthur appears to have found work at sea, probably as a fireman. Two years later he married Harriett Jane Howells, a Lymington girl like his mother. The couple married in St Denys, perhaps in the church we passed earlier, and soon moved into 73 Adelaide Road. Over the next seven years they had three children, Arthur John, Harry and Gwendoline Agnes. 

73 Adelaide Road

Arthur left the Philadelphia to join the firemen on Titanic. He would have earned £6 a month for the hard, hot and dirty work of shovelling coal into the ship’s boilers. Like the majority of the firemen on board, Arthur was lost when the ship sank. It’s likely he was still down in the boiler room trying to keep the pumps and lights working so more passengers would have the chance to escape. His body was never identified but he is remembered on a family headstone in the Old Cemetery, one I have found and photographed on one of my Saturday morning wanderings there. 

Harriet remarried in 1915. She and Albert Edward Mullins, a dock policeman, had two children, Edward Ernest and Edna. She died in Southampton in 1949. All of Arthur’s children remained in Southampton, married and had families. 

As we retraced our steps along South Road towards our next house the train finally rattled across the crossing. This would have been a familiar sound for Walter Thomas Boothby who lodged in Ivy Road. Walter was born in Docking, Norfolk in 1874, the eldest of Norfolk natives John Aubin and Charlotte Boothby’s eleven children. Walter’s early life was quite unsettled as his father changed careers with monotonous regularity and each job brought a change of address. When Walter was born John was a crew member on a lifeboat in Hunstanton, he then became a grocer’s Assistant in Docking, a gamekeeper in Alconbury, Huntingdonshire and a domestic gardener for Mr Fenwick of Luffenham Hall, Rutlandshire. 

This disjointed childhood may have influenced Walter’s later choices. His first job was as a butler and valet to a Captain Shipley but, by 1897, he’d gone to sea, working for the Orient Line, presumably as a steward, and was based in Australia. He then moved to the Union Castle Line and with them visited South Africa at the height of the Boer War.

His seafaring career was beset with disasters. He was on the Dunottar Castle when a navigational error saw the ship missing for quite some time. In April 1908, while he was working for the Hamburg-America Line aboard the St Paul, she collided with the Gladiator during a snowstorm off the Isle of Wight. St Paul struck Gladiator a glancing blow just aft of her engine room ripping open both ships. Gladiator sank but St Paul remained afloat and launched lifeboats to rescue those in the water. Twenty seven sailors were lost. Walter was also aboard Olympic in September 1911 when HMS Hawke collided with her in the Solent. Hawke’s bow rammed Olympic’s starboard side near the stern and tore two large holes in the hull. Two of her watertight compartments flooded but she managed to limp back to Southampton with no loss of life. Although Walter didn’t know it at the time, his brother, Alfred, was aboard Hawke. 

Walter Thomas Boothby from Encyclopedia Titanica

Had all these disasters put Walter off going to sea, his story might have been very different but, in 1912, he signed on to Titanic as a bedroom steward. By this time he had been married to Caroline Annie Tunnicliffe, a lady’s maid from Rutland, for eight years but the couple had no children. When he joined Titanic he was lodging with a Mr and Mrs William Philpott at 50 Ivy Road but it isn’t clear if Caroline was also living there or if she had remained in Rutland where the couple married.

50 Ivy Road

Walter’s in law, John Puzey, of Manor Road, Itchen, was also a steward on Titanic. For Walter, the collision must have felt like a very familiar story, but, having survived so many disasters, he probably didn’t believe the ship would sink. Both men were lost and only Walter’s body was recovered by the Mackay Bennett on 24 April. His body, numbered 107, was described as having fair hair and prominent teeth. He was wearing a uniform jacket and vest, a White Star belt and pyjamas, suggesting he had been asleep when the ship hit the iceberg. In his pocket he had a pouch, pipe, knife, key, 2s 3 1/2d and 1 French franc.  He was buried at sea. 

A memorial was posted in the Portsmouth Evening News on 14 April 1913. 

BOOTHBY AND PUZEY–In loving memory of our dear brothers, Walter and Jack, who was drowned in the terrible Titanic disaster, April 14th, 1912. Sadly missed by Ada and Will.

Caroline never remarried and settled in Edmonton, London. She worked as a school nurse and health visitor and died in 1953. 

As we walked down Ivy Road towards our next house on Priory Road, we stopped to look at the curious little church building that seems to straddle the two roads. This church was originally built in 1866 on Priory Road to house the Methodist congregation who’d been meeting in an upstairs room of a Priory Road house. Methodism was obviously popular in the area because the church was soon extended into Ivy Road. By 1969 though, that popularity had waned and the church closed down. These days it is the New Testament Church of God. Whether Harold Charles William Phillimore ever worshiped here or not remains to be seen but he undoubtedly knew the building well. 

Harold was born in Shirley Southampton, in 1883. He was one of eight children born to mariner Henry Charles Phillimore from Shirley and his wife Caroline who originated from Corfe Castle in Dorset. Harold was brought up in Shirley and Portswood. He began his working life as a grocer in London Road in the city centre but, at the age of twenty, he followed in his father’s footsteps and went to sea on the Majestic. He later served aboard Adriatic and Olympic. At some point in the first decade of the twentieth century the Phillimore family moved to 73 Priory Road and this was where Harold was living when he joined Titanic as a first class saloon steward. 

73 Priory Road

When Titanic sank Harold was still aboard. Somehow he managed to clamber onto some flotsam from the ship and cling there. Another man was with him but the freezing water overcame him and he died. Harold kept clinging on. If it hadn’t been for lifeboat 14 he would have surely perished too. Fifth Officer Harold Lowe was in command of the only lifeboat to go back to the place where Titanic had been and attempt to pull survivors from the water. He distributed the passengers aboard his lifeboat into other boats and, along with his crew, rowed back into the sea of floating bodies. Sadly he found very few alive. Harold saw the lifeboat approaching and managed to call out. When the little boat reached him someone held out an oar for him to grasp but he was so frozen by this time he couldn’t hold on. Eventually though, he was hauled into the boat, the last person to be rescued from the water. Of the four people Lowe managed to rescue from the water, only two survived, Harold was one of them. 

Harold Charles William Phillimore From Encyclopedia Titanica

After such a narrow escape, most people would give up on going to sea but Harold was made of sterner stuff. He married Mabel Podesta in 1913 and carried on working as a steward. During World War I he even volunteered to work on the transport ship SS Royal George and was awarded the General Service and Mercantile Marine War Medals for his efforts. When the war ended he went back to working as a bedroom steward on ships such as the Queen Mary and Berengaria. This work saw him rub shoulders with many of the rich and famous, including the Duke of Windsor (later Edward VIII) and music hall star Marie Lloyd. 

Harold and Mabel had no children and, sadly, Mabel died in 1933. Two years later, Harold married Annie Carver. He was, by this time, in his early fifties and the couple did not have children. Harold finally retired, aged 68, in 1956 and settled into a life on land at his home in Nutbeam Road, Eastleigh. He died on 26 April 1967, aged 79 and was buried in South Stoneham Cemetery. Annie survived him. 

Harold in later life from Encyclopedia Titanica

We were now at the far end of Priory Road, heading towards Horseshoe Bridge. Our next St Denys houses were all on the far side of the bridge on the edge of Bevois Valley and Mount Pleasant. Unlike Harold, I was pretty sure none of them had survived…

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Parkrun tourism Southsea

6 April 2019

This week we decided to go for another spot of parkrun tourism. There are eighteen different parkrun venues in Hampshire to choose from but our rather random choice for this week was Southsea, around twenty miles down the motorway.

Obviously, it was an earlier than usual start and a rather crowded car, as we picked up Rob, John and Ian on the way but we arrived in good time, parked up in the Pyramids car park and quickly found the start on the far side of the Rock Gardens. Although the Southsea course, along the seafront to Eastney and back, was pretty familiar, being part of the Great South and Portsmouth Coastal routes, only John had actually run the Southsea parkrun before. It was also the first spot of parkrun tourism for Rob and Commando’s new running group, the Hamwic Harriers. Commando was even wearing his shiny new Hamwic Harriers shirt!

It was a touch on the chilly side on the seafront and, even in my warm coat, I was shivering. The runners in their shorts and thin shirts looked positively frozen. As it happened, we weren’t the only ones trying out the relatively flat, fast Southsea course. While we were waiting for the start, we bumped into Gerry.

The first ever Southsea parkrun was held on 5 October 2013, with 276 people taking part. These days it averages around theee hundred runners each week, a touch smaller than Southampton, but then almost every UK parkrun is. Weather plays an important role in the number of PB’s here. The course may be more or less flat but a windy day can make running one half a little tricky. Luckily today was relatively calm, if cold, but then, as all of our group were in the final stages of marathon training, none of them was planning on going flat out. Well, that’s what they told me anyway!

Frankly, it was quite a relief when everyone set off along the Esplanade and I could finally warm up with a little walk. As I’ve spent quite a lot of time wandering around Southsea while Commando has been running various events, my main plan for the morning was to dash to grab a coffee and dash back. Unlike most of the other races, parkrun doesn’t really leave much time for wandering anyway, even on a slow day Commando was likely to finish in twenty five minutes or less.

Although there are coffee shops on the seafront, past experience made me wary of trying any of them. The last time I tried that the coffe was so bad I threw it in a nearby bin after just two sips. There is only one Costa in Southsea and I reckoned, if I walked fast, I’d be able to get there, get a coffee and get back before any of the runners crossed the line. As plans go it was fairly unambitious. The most direct route is just over a mile there and back. Of course, I was starting off from a slightly different place than normal and, in typical fashion, managed to take a wrong turn which added a few extra minutes but did show me a rather interesting piece of graffiti I’d not encountered before.

For a moment I thought I’d stumbled upon a crowd of strangely dressed locals queueing outside a building. Closer inspection told me they and the building windows were all painted, along with a map of Southsea. Given that I was now technically lost, the map was quite handy.

The mural, near the roundabout between Clarendon Road and Granada Road, is the work of The Lodge Arts Centre, overseen by Mark Lewis. It’s constantly being updated with new characters so I may return another time for a closer look.

In the end, my coffee was not to be. I made it to Costa but found a rather long queue. There was no time to wait so I simply turned around and headed back towards the parkrun finish line. As walks go it wasn’t one of my most interesting and there wasn’t much time for photographs, although I did snap the slowly rising sun over Southsea Common.

My timing was impeccable. As I walked towards the finish line I could see the first finishers approaching. Moments after I reached the end of the funnel I spotted Commando, Rob and John heading along the Esplanade together. They’d obviously stayed true to their word and had a fairly gentle run. Ian, however, was nowhere to be seen. This was puzzling, as he is the fastest of the group.

Just as I began to worry that something had happened to poor Ian, someone tapped me in the shoulder. When I turned around, there was Ian grinning like a Cheshire Cat and holding up his finish token. He’d actually crossed the line first!

None of the Hamwic Harriers got a PB today and there are no prizes for being first finisher at parkrun but, all in all, I’d say our parkrun tourism adventure to Southsea was a success. The only downside was the distinct lack of coffee. Next time I think I’ll take a flask!

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The east wind

3 April 2019

When the weatherman said the first half of April was going to be cold and wet, with maybe a little snow, I should have listened. Ok, I did find my yaktrax just in case but, this morning, when I looked outside there was beautiful blue sky and sunshine. This was handy as I had an errand to run involving a fourish mile walk.

Anticipating the cold, I did put my arctic coat on and grab a hat as I headed for the door. Outside it looked like perfect walking weather but, as I put my key in the lock to open the door, something began to fall out of the sky. In fact lots of somethings. Little balls of ice about the size of a pea, not quite hailstones, not quite snow were hitting the decking in ever growing numbers. Some landed with a splat and disintegrated, others bounced and rolled. From past experience, I believe they are called graupel.

Outside I stopped to take a few photos and a video, sure the graupel would be short lived. It kept on falling though, getting heavier and heavier. My errand wouldn’t wait though, so, hood up and head down, I set off up the hill with the icy balls bouncing off my hood and sleeves.

East wind

At the top of the hill I stopped to catch my breath and look at the pretty primroses surrounded by icy little balls. The heat of the climb didn’t last long. The wind was bitingly cold, even with my warm coat. My face hurt. If anything, the falling ice was getting harder, more splat than bounce now.

Two miles on it was still falling. The catkins at Millers Pond looked sad and droopy, crystals of ice weighing them down. The icy drops were teaming into the pond creating a million little ripples around the lily pads. There were no ducks to be seen. No doubt they were all sheltering somewhere under the trees.

Beyond the Railway arch I thought I saw a tiny patch of blue sky but the sleety, haily, rain was still falling hard. My errand took me to the top of Portsmouth Road. My original plan had been to visit St Mary’s Extra Cemetery but the weather changed my mind. Instead, one my mission was accomplished, I just turned around and headed back towards the pond.

As I made my way along the trail towards Middle Road, the blossom on the hawthorn seemed to be mocking me. It’s supposed to be a sure sign of good weather after all. By now the worst of the ice and rain had stopped but I was wet and very cold. It felt more like January than April although the bluebells told a different story.

Typically, the sun did come out when I was half way home. It did little to warm me but the slightly uphill walk helped a little. If the hawthorn is to be believed spring is here, just not today with the east wind blowing.

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A lion’s tail

2 April 2019

Annoyingly, my plan to walk to town and meet a friend for coffee was scuppered by torrential rain. The walk went by the wayside and I caught a bus. Despite the rain though, I couldn’t resist a quick dash through the enchanted park where the magnolias were in bloom. The heavy rain had left puddles of petals on the ground, like a mirror image of the blooming branches.

There were a couple of other things I wanted to see before I met my friend. The first was the progress on the new Bargate Quarter. On a different day I might have walked the perimeter, peering through fences and over walls. Today was seriously wet, windy and cold though, so I contented myself with a peek through the Perspex viewing window. Frankly, I couldn’t see much progress. In fact I couldn’t see much of anything. If the archaeologists were still working, they had taken a break, along with the builders. Not that I blame them.

The other thing I wanted to see was a little easier to find. The Bargate is the most famous building in Southampton and a symbol of the city. Standing on the north side of the medieval gate you are actually outside the old town of Southampton. Once there would have been a moat, otherwise known as the town ditch, and a stone bridge to cross to get to the barred gate. The entrance was guarded by sentries but they weren’t the only thing guarding the gate. On the north side of the bridge there were two lions made of wood.

These lions represented an important part of the legend of Sir Bevois, who is said to have founded the town of Southampton. Bevois was the son of Guy, the count of Hampton, and his unwilling wife, Murdina, a Scottish princess. Murdina, along with her lover, Doon, murdered Guy and sold poor Bevois to slave merchants. He ended up in Armenia. It was here that he fell in love with the beautiful princess Josian. One of the many heroic deeds he performed was to rescue Josian from two lions who had killed his friend Sir Boniface and trapped her in a cave. Bevois killed the lions and later returned to England to found the town.

Wood does not weather very well and, in around 1743, the two Tudor lions were replaced with lead sculptures, probably made by John Cheere of London. Shortly afterwards the ditch come moat was filled in and the new lions were moved closer to the gate. The Bargate lions are the oldest statues in the city but, sadly, nothing lasts forever.

Towards the end of September last year a council worker discovered the tail of one of the lions had fallen off and was laying on the ground. This was not, as some people have suggested, an act of vandalism. The tail was taken off to be examined and corrosion of the internal iron structure was found to be the problem. Two hundred and seventy odd years of standing guard in all weathers had taken their toll. In fact, the same lion has a rather alarming looking crack across his back.

Of course, simply sticking the tail back on isn’t going to solve the problem. The council are currently consulting experts on the best way to preserve and repair the poor old lion. Hopefully they’ll find a way and the lion and his tail will soon be reunited.


By now the rain was beginning to seep through the hood of my thin coat and I was feeling quite cold. My friend was due to arrive in a few minutes so I took shelter under the Bargate Arch, walking through one of the little side gates next to the lions. Standing beneath the Bargate arch I’m always aware of the history around me, the number of feet that have walked this way over the centuries.

The city is changing rapidly right now. The new Watermark development has been a great success and I hold out a great deal of hope for the Bargate Quarter when it is finished. The one thing that never really changes is the gate itself, even if the poor lions have seen better days. Long may this continue.

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Strolling, rushing and history bubbles

30 March 2019

Most Saturday mornings I can be found at Southampton parkrun. Usually I’m clutching a takeaway coffee and wandering around the Old Cemetery while everyone runs. Right now though Commando is at the long run stage of his training for the Southampton Marathon and today he decided he’d incorporate parkrun into his twenty mile run. This meant setting off at silly o’clock, parking near the Common, running seventeen miles then running parkrun.

Obviously I didn’t much fancy getting up before dawn then hanging about for several hours on the Common. Much as I love a wander, even I would find it hard to stay interested in old graves for quite that long. The temptation was to have a lie in and stay at home but, in the end, I descided to have a leisurely walk to parkrun and meet Commando after the run. Sadly, it didn’t turn out to be quite as leisurely as I’d have liked.

It started well. By my reckoning, if I left home at eight thirty, a good half hour after we normally set off, I could dawdle my way to the Common, stopping on the way to grab a coffee from the London Road Starbucks and still arrive before everyone headed off to the Bellemoor for the post run cool down. The last runners don’t usually finish until around ten o’clock and Commando usually mans the finish funnel after his run. There didn’t seem to be any hurry.

It was a beautiful, blue sky morning and the main road was surprisingly quiet. Before I crossed I stood for a moment admiring the outline of the remaining big tree between Juniper and Maple Road. On the other side of the road I strolled on, thinking about the way tree branches look like the bronchi and bronchioles of human lungs. As trees are the lungs of the world, this is hardly a coincidence.

On I dawdled, enjoying the weak spring sunshine. Normally I’d walk across Cobden Bridge and up through Highfield but today I’d decided on a different route, one that would take me past Starbucks. When I reached Northam Bridge I stopped and admired all the little boats in various states of decay on the gently rippled water. Where they come from is a mystery but I love the ever changing view.

As I reached the centre of the bridge a group of rowers from the rowing club passed beneath me and I stopped to watch them for a while, confident there was no rush. Saturday morning seems to be the time for exercise, whether it be rowing, running or just walking like me.

There was another stop to look over the bridge at the progress on the latest phase of development on the old television studios. A tall block of flats is currently going up. For some time I stood trying to imagine how it would look and wondering what I thought about it. We all live wrapped in our own little bubble of history, centred around the decades when we grew up. Change can sometimes be difficult to watch but our little bubble was once someone else’s change and this new change will be someone else’s bubble. Nothing stays the same forever.

On I went, past the new flats and houses, remembering walks to work when this was all overgrown wire fencing and rubble. There were berries and poppies to look at back then and a random gooseberry bush. Then someone shouted out ‘good morning ‘ and I turned just in time to see Luis zooming past on his bike. He must have been heading to parkrun too. He had around ten minutes to get there before the start but I was pretty sure he’d make it, more or less. Southampton parkrun rarely starts bang on nine o’clock anyway.

On foot it would take much longer but I had no need to be there for the start. At the level crossing I climbed the steps to the bridge, even though the gates were up. The views from the top are nice and I was in no hurry. A little clump of dandelions had taken root somehow near the top step. The bright flowers made me stop and smile.

There were no trains coming but I couldn’t resist a photograph looking along the tracks. The old gasometers and the struts of St Mary’s Stadium were just visible in the distance. At the top of the steps on the other side there was a view across Mount Pleasant towards Beovis Valley. The Old Farmhouse pub and the school tower stood out, landmarks in a sea of little terraced houses.

As I passed the school I looked at my watch. It was five to nine. I wouldn’t make the parkrun start but I’d never intended to. I had plenty of time to get a coffee and dawdle my way to the Common before the finish.

As I was walking up Rockstone Lane though, I suddenly remembered I had Commando’s barcode in the tiny pocket at the front of my bag. A quick check confirmed this. Usually I grab his token when he finishes and go off to get it and his barcode scanned while he helps with the finish funnel. His barcode stays in my bag so it never gets forgotten. Last night I meant to give it to him but I forgot and it was still in my bag. Without it he wouldn’t get a finish time.

All thoughts of getting a coffee and wandering on Asylum Green to look at the two monuments there dissolved. There was no more strolling. Now I puffed up the lane to the Avenue at top speed. Even the curious little house in the Rockstone Community Garden barely made me pause. Finding out about it would have to wait for another day.

The rest of the walk was a frantic march, racing against time. By the time I reached Cemetery Road I was hot and rather red in the face. It was quarter past nine. The first finisher would probably be passing Bellemoor corner about now. By the time I made the bag tree people were already on the finish straight. Finding a gap between runners, I dashed across the gravel and headed for the funnel.

Somehow I made it just in time to see Commando cross the line. Mission complete. Barcode and token collected and scanned. Now for a relaxing coffee in the Bellemoor. What a way to start the weekend.

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Pavement chalk, a chalk stream and reclaimed land

27 March 2019

My task for today was to get some pavement chalk. Commando and Rob were hosting a time trial on the Common and needed something eco friendly to mark the start and finish line. Pavement chalk seemed the obvious choice but it proved harder to find than you’d think. CJ was sure they’d have some in Hobbycraft. My feeling was he was angling for a river walk and a coffee but I had to admit it was worth a try. At least we’d get a nice walk.

It wasn’t the best of days weatherwise, but it wasn’t raining so we wrapped up and headed for Cutbush Lane. There were bluebells and celandine in the woods beside the trail to remind us spring had sprung, even if the temperature didn’t feel very springlike.

Most of the trees were still bare but there was a softening to the tips suggesting leaves soon to come. The edges of colourless winter had been brightened by patches of green here and there. Spring seems to be starting on the ground with the wildflowers and grasses but soon enough it will work it’s way up into the highest branches.

Cutbush Lane runs in a gully down through what was farmland before Townhill Park and Chartwell green were built. Although there are houses almost in touching distance, it’s easy to forget them and feel like you’re walking along a country lane. The gnarled old tree, clinging precariously to the bank here has probably been there longer than the modern houses and flats and, with a void large enough to sit in beneath its roots, it always surprises me when I see it still standing.

“I’d forgotten how long this lane is,” CJ said. “It seems to go on forever.”

“Don’t start with the ‘are we nearly there yet,’ too soon,” I laughed. “We’ve a way to go yet.”

Then I pointed out the cow feeder, high up on the bank and reminded him of how lost we got the day we went wandering in Chartwell Copse. We’d wound our way along so many lanes and cutaways we lost all sense of direction and when we looked down onto Cutbush Lane we thought we’d discovered a new footpath.

It’s been a long while since we last walked this way. So long in fact, that CJ almost missed the turn at the end of the downward stretch of the lane and began to walk the trail leading to Cutbush Hidden Pond. He was soon back on track though and it wasn’t long before we reached hobbycraft. We located the pavement chalk without too much trouble. Getting out of the place without spending a fortune was a little more difficult.

Next door, in the Swan Garden Centre, we got some takeaway coffees. The place was crowded and noisy so we decided against sitting inside to enjoy our drinks. Instead we headed down Gaters Hill towards the river. Since we last came this way a huge new building has sprung up all squares of concrete and glass. It isn’t the most attractive of things and not really in keeping with the old mill buildings below it. Those mill buildings are a little more visible now though so I guess you win some, you lose some.

My original plan had been to drink our coffee on a bench by the old Mansbridge Bridge but, when we got to the bottom of the hill, I spotted a picnic bench close to the boundary stone. Maybe it’s been there all along but I’ve never noticed it before and it seemed like a good place to sit. It took us a while to get across the road and the cars whizzing past made it less peaceful than I’d have liked but the views across the river to the watermeadows made up for it.

The trees here had a definite hint of green about them and the grass was sprinkled with daisies. Usually there are cows in the meadows and fishermen on the bank but today there were none. Once our coffee was finished we made our way towards the White Swan. A sign on a lamppost explained the lack of fishermen. Apparently it’s closed season for fishing.

So we walked on, past the Swan, wondering why we hadn’t thought to have our coffee there and deciding, maybe next time? As we headed for the bridge I kept on the lookout for signs of nesting swans. In the past I’ve seen the remains of nests along the bank here but, today, there were none. Last year we didn’t see a single mute swan cygnet on this stretch of the river although the black swans seem to be multiplying. Whether these two things are connected isn’t clear but the lack of cygnets is a worry.

The old Mansbridge Bridge acts as the halfway point of this circular walk. It may not be exactly half way in distance but it’s the point where we begin to head back towards home. Even on a dull, overcast day like today, there is something about seeing the arch of that old stone bridge that makes me smile.


This is also the point most likely to be flooded and, over the last year or so, there’s been a pump here continually working to pump excess water from the marshy land behind the trees. How successful this was I can’t say but the pump has now gone and the land is still waterlogged. When I was much younger I used to walk this way to the pub sometimes. Back then I don’t remember it ever being flooded, now it’s a veritable pond. Still, the willows seem to like it, if the bright, acid green of their new leaves is anything to go by.

We saw our first swans of the day just after we passed the bridge. A cob and pen were swimming up river, close to our bank so we stopped briefly to say hello. This produced a hiss from the cob and we walked on smiling. Whenever I see swans on this part of the river I wonder if they are the cygnets orphaned at a young age back in 2014?

Although there was no flooding on the path, the river was very high today. We stopped for a moment or two to watch it tumbling off towards the fish ponds of the Woodmill Activity Centre. A little further on a very large tree had fallen, thankfully away from the river. Its huge rootball stuck up from the bank exposing river mud and a tangle of branches and roots. Last summer was so dry I’m not surprised trees are falling.

Some trees seem to have coped better with the stress than others. There was blossom on the trees beside River Walk and bright forsythia flowers by the car park on Woodmill Lane. Soon enough everything will be green and winter will seem like a cold dream.

The greylags on the riverbank here are another sign that spring is coming. They’ve left their winter homes in warmer climes and come to the river to breed. Something about the area around Woodmill seems to appeal to them as they gather here in large numbers and are quite unafraid of people. Today there were just a handful, sitting on the bank looking haughty as we passed. They may be only spring and summer visitors but there’s no doubt they feel they own the place and we are the interlopers.

Once we passed the mill we’d left the freshwater behind. The river from here is tidal, the water salty like the sea. The sluices here control the river’s flow, although they are old and in a poor state of repair. There has been talk of removing them altogether because the cost of replacing or repairing them is high. What this would mean for the river as a whole is hard to say.

As we carried on it was disappointing to see a mass of litter strewn around one of the bins not far from the mill. Sadly, this is becoming more and more common of late. Picking up the rubbish wasn’t an option as the bin was so full there would have been nowhere to put it and we had not come equipped with bin bags or gloves. I’m beginning to think we should carry both on all our walks. The litter seemed to be the remains of some kind of picnic party, all empty food wrappers and plastic cups. This kind of thing makes me extremely angry. If someone can carry bags full of food and drink to the river for a party, why can’t they pick up their rubbish and carry it home again? I’m sure they wouldn’t just drop their rubbish on the carpet at home. There really is no excuse for such filthy, lazy behaviour.

Rounding the bend by the reedbeds always feels like the final leg of our journey. The old oak on the bend with its beautifully contorted branches, is a particular favourite of mine. It’s quite possible the tree is actually older than the park. Back in the 1930’s this was marshland, known locally as Cobden Meadows. Cows grazed on the land but it often flooded and water sometimes came up to the backs of the houses on Manor Farm Road. The council had grand plans for the area though and, over the next decade or so, land was reclaimed and a retaining wall built along the riverbank.

By 1949 work had begun to create a new park alongside the River Itchen, where people could enjoy the fresh air and walk beside the water all the way to Mansbridge if they wished. This walk along the river is one I often take advantage of. For all the grumbles there are about the council, creating this lovely park seems to me to be one of their better decisions.

Now we’d almost reached the jetty where the swans gather. Earlier I’d been thinking about the lack of mute swan cygnets last year and worrying a little that the prolific breeding of the black swans was responsible. Just before we reached the jetty though, we spotted a swan still sporting brownish grey feathers. Obviously this was a cygnet from last year. Further on there were several more. So much for my worrying. We may not have seen any cygnets but these birds were proof there were some. Maybe they’d been hiding from us or perhaps we just weren’t looking hard enough?

The swans put on quite a show for us in the last few yards of our walk. A loud flapping and splashing alerted us to two mute swans taking flight. Seeing these gigantic birds take to the air is a rare treat and these two seemed to be heading up towards the reedbeds. A few moments later two of the black swans tried to show off their flying skills. Their flight was much shorter but it did give us a great view of their white flight feathers.

We were now just yards from Cobden Bridge and, with just over a mile to walk home, our little adventure was almost over. Six or more miles might seem like a long way to walk to buy some chalk but there really is nothing quite as nice as a spring walk along the river.

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Titanic tales from Itchen ferry

27 February 2019

We’d been walking for a good two hours. It was surprisingly warm for a February day so we went into Woolston, got some drinks and sat for a while on the feather benches in the Millennium garden. On my phone was a screenshot of the 1910 map of Itchen Ferry Village and we pored over it trying to reconcile the old streets with the new. None of the next crew houses would still be standing but the stories of those who lived in them still deserved to be told.

The lost village of Itchen Ferry has a history as long as that of the city, maybe longer. It came to an end on 26 September 1940. The Luftwaffe, trying to hit the Supermarine factory and halt Spitfire production, bombed the little community out of existence. In that one raid there were over one hundred casualties. Barely a house survived.

Bridge Road from Oak Bank Road 1940

The first of our Itchen Ferry crew lived in Oak Bank Road, right beside the Millennium Garden. There are no houses there today. Everything not destroyed by wartime bombing was demolished when the Itchen Bridge was built. It’s now a car park in the shadow of that bridge. Back in 1912 though, Joseph Alexis Bochatay lived at number 28. 

Oak Bank Road today

Joseph was born in Les Granges, Switzerland in 1881. His father, Alexis Bochatay-Coquoz, was a joiner and farmer, but Joseph didn’t want to pursue either of these careers. After an apprenticeship in the Gay-Balmaz Hotel in his home town, he went to England where he worked his way up to chef in the kitchens of various hotels. He then went to sea, working in the first class galley on Olympic, then as Assistant Chef on Titanic. His wages were £10 a month. He was probably living in Oak Bank Road as a lodger.

An old postcard of Oak Bank Road

The food on Titanic was sumptuous and plentiful. First class passengers enjoyed a continental style menu, mostly French. When the collision happened most kitchen staff would have been in their quarters. For them the day started early with breakfast preparations so it’s doubtful many were awake. Any awoken by the scraping of ice against metal were probably not too alarmed until the call came to put on lifebelts and go to the boat deck. Even then, most wouldn’t have believed the ship would really sink. Some kitchen staff helped with the evacuation or fetched provisions for the lifeboats but few got onto the boats. Of the sixty two kitchen and galley staff on board, just thirteen survived. Joseph was not one of them and his body was never identified.

Oak Bank Road car park

Joseph’s parents were given £120 compensation  by White Star, along with outstanding wages of £2. They also received £85 from the Titanic Relief Fund. There is a memorial to him in Salvan, Switzerland.

The next house on our list was 16 Ivy Road. In 1912 Ivy Road ran from the bottom of Oak Bank Road, up towards the railway line roughly between the pillars of the bridge today. Ivy Road is no longer there but the old maps told us it roughly corresponded with the top of modern day Laurel Close. So we crossed the car park, walked under the bridge and headed towards it.

Unlike Ivy Road, Laurel Close curves up from Hazel Road, so we climbed the hill until we were on the part of the new road that follows the line of the old. The modern houses were nothing like the originals would have been and the whole area was dominated by the bridge but it was the best we could do. Things would have been very different when Charles Hodge lived there. 

Laurel Road, once Ivy Road

Charles, or Charley as he was known, was born in Devonport, Devon in 1883, the only child of Charles Cornwall Hodge and his wife Esther. Charles Senior, a paintworks salesman, was from Cornwall and Esther was a Devon native. Charley served an apprenticeship as a fitter with Davey, Sleep and Company of Plymouth and joined White Star after his mother’s death in 1907. He moved to Southampton, along with his father at around this time, probably because it was White Star’s main port. He was obviously ambitious and was soon appointed sixth engineer on Teutonic then worked his way up the ranks to Assistant Second Engineer. 

In 1909, Charley married Mabel Holloway in Wiltshire. Mabel’s father was in the British Army and she was born in Lucknow, India. The couple had two daughters, Ester, born in 1910, at around the time Charley’s father died, and another whose name and date of birth is not known. For a while they lived in Foundry Lane, Shirley but, by the time Charley signed on to Titanic they’d moved to 16 Ivy Road in Itchen. He was Senior Assistant Third Engineer earning £12 a month. 

Charley Hodge

None of the engineers survived the sinking and nothing is known of Charley’s final moments. He was almost certainly below decks working to keep the engines running as long as possible and well aware of his imminent demise. His body was never identified. What became of Mabel and his daughters isn’t known. 

The next houses on our list were in what was once the top part of Itchen Ferry Village but, before we climbed the hill, we paused for a moment to remember the people of this lost village. The slipway where the little ferry boats were once launched is still there, or maybe it’s a modern version of it. Either way we stood and looked across the Itchen and thought about the Itchen Ferrymen rowing back and forth.

A handful of houses on the waterfront here are the only surviving remnants of the village and the closest thing to the houses our crew members would have called home. Once there were pubs, streets, shops and a thriving industry revolving around the ferry boats, plus a little smuggling if the stories are to be believed.

So, we climbed the hill, walking under the railway bridge where the air raid shelter for Supermarine once was. Nothing beyond the bridge now existed in 1912, apart, perhaps, for the green to our left but even that has changed enormously. Our next three houses were all in Cliff Road, now called Wharncliffe Road. We climbed the steps just above the bridge knowing full well we were not going to find them

Today there are modern terraces and flats built after the terrible bombing destroyed everything in 1940. The houses that were once there were probably similar to the ones we’d just photographed on the waterside though.

Itchen Frey Village, Wharncliffe Road Posted on the Southampton Heritage Facebook Page by Rod Andrews

Whatever they looked like, Edward John Buley once lived at number 10. Edward was one of fourteen children born to John and Mary Ann Buley in Portsmouth in 1885. Five of his siblings died in infancy. His early life was spent living at the coastguard station in Bexhill, Sussex, where his father was a boatman for H.M. customs. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the family were living in Sholing, Southampton and Edward was at sea with the Royal Navy. He had previously been working as a messenger. He served on ships including Agincourt, Exmouth, Excellent, Crescent, Orion I and Dreadnaught and rose from seaman, to able seaman, then gunner.

Wharncliffe Road today

Edward was a slight man, standing just five foot four and a half inches tall, with light brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. He had bought his discharge in order to “better help” his mother, who was by now living in Britannia Road, Northam. To this end he joined White Star as an able seaman, with wages of £5 a month. His first merchant ship was Titanic and he gave his address as 10 Cliff Road, Peartree Green, Itchen. 

Edward John Buley

When Titanic struck the iceberg, Buley was in the mess reading. He felt a slight jar, as if something was rubbing along the hull. Concerned, he put on a coat and went out on deck to investigate. There he met some off duty firemen who said they’d seen an iceberg. He could hear water rushing from the hatchways on the forescatle and their covers were inflating under the pressure of air being forced out by the water. 

When Officer Murdoch ordered the lifeboats prepared, Edward went to the starboard side and helped swing them all out. This took around twenty minutes. He then went to the port side to do the same. While he was preparing lifeboat 10  Officer Murdoch (who in the darkness and confusion he mistook for the chief steward) told him to jump in as the boat had no seaman to take charge. He took seaman Frank Evans with him. This act saved both their lives.

Later Buley described the chaos and terror of the evacuation. In the cold and darkness he recalled physically pushing and even throwing frightened, reluctant women into the lifeboats. With the ship listing, there was a steep drop from the deck to the water, maybe sixty five feet, so many were afraid to get into the boats. Believing the the risk was less if they stayed on the ship, many refused outright. One young woman slipped and fell between the ship and the boat, as she tried to get in. She was later identified as Mrs Hakkarainen, a third class passenger. Bully describes her being grabbed by the ankle and saved, although she later said she was grabbed by the arm and pulled into a seat. 

Edward thought there were between sixty and seventy people in the boat when it was launched. Other estimates are more conservative and suggest just forty people were aboard. Amongst those definitely in lifeboat ten, was Millvina Dean, the youngest survivor, she was with her mother and brother, who was being taken care of by Mrs Thorneycroft. There were seven or eight ladies from first class, fifteen or more passengers from second class, including a man, Mr Hosono who had jumped aboard at the last moment, ten or twelve third class passengers and four crew members.

Lifeboat ten was probably the last boat on the port side to leave the ship, just twenty five minutes before she sank. It stopped briefly to pick a lady up from a lower deck and then they rowed away, getting just two hundred and fifty yards, according to Edward, before Titanic sank. When lifeboat fourteen came alongside them Officer Lowe ordered Edward and Frank Evans to transfer to his boat and between ten and twelve passengers were transferred in the other direction. Lowe’s intention was to return to the scene of the wreck. 

Later Edward described rowing through the wreckage. There were hundreds of bodies floating in the icy water. As they came to each one, the crew of lifeboat fourteen turned them over to check whether they were alive. Many were floating upright, held aloft by their life jackets, their heads laid back or their faces hanging in the water. Edward believed they had not drowned, rather they’d been frozen to death by the cold water. They managed to save just four people from the sea. 

They also rescued survivors who had clambered aboard Collapsable A, one of four collapsable boats that had been on the starboard side. As Titanic went down the crew had been trying to fasten Collapsible A to the davits but it was washed over the side of the ship, empty. Many of those who ended up in the water climbed aboard it. The canvas sides had not been put up and the little boat was half submerged and filled with icy seawater. Around twenty people managed to climb aboard but many died from hypothermia or slipped back into the sea. Thirteen were rescued, just one of them a woman, third class passenger, Rhoda Abbott. Edward describes them as being barely able to walk as their legs and feet were so cramped and frozen. Three bodies were left in the collapsable which drifted away. Lifeboat ten was the last boat to be rescued by Carpathia. 

Both the American and British enquiries into the disaster called Edward to testify.  His horrific experience didn’t put him off going back to sea. When World War I broke out he returned to the Navy. In 1916 he joined the destroyer HMS Partridge. On 12 December 1917, while they were protecting a convoy in the North Sea, HMS Partridge was torpedoed by German destroyers, She sank and Edward, aged just 32, was lost. His body was never recovered but he is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.  

Edward Buley’s next door neighbour was also a crew member and it’s likely the two knew each other. Arthur Albert Howell was one of seven children born in Croydon in 1880, to John and Sarah Howell. Arthur went to sea at some time around the turn of the century. In 1907, he married Annie Jessie Wall from Kent. For the first year of their marriage they lived in London and it was here their son Arthur was born. By 1909 the little family had relocated to Southampton and were living at 12 Cliff Road where their daughter Edith was born. Arthur was now working as a steward for White Star. 

Arthur sailed with Titanic from her launch in Belfast, having transferred from Olympic. Sadly, he did not survive but his body was recovered by the Montmagny and buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 10 May 1912. Arthur has a memorial brick in the Millennium Garden in Woolston. 

Annie never remarried and she and her family benefited from several grants from the Titanic Relief Fund charity. She and her daughter Edith, who also never married, moved to Lancing in Sussex. Annie died in 1962 and Edith in 1966. Arthur’s son, Arthur, also died in Sussex in 1988. It isn’t clear whether he married or had children. 

Living across the road from Edward and Arthur, was Bentley Harold Neal, known as Henry. It seems likely the three men knew each other. Henry was born in Portsea Island, Hampshire in 1886, the son of Bentley and Alice Neal. Bentley senior was a warehouseman who later turned to selling bibles and religious texts. Later still he became an evangelical minister and pastor at the East End Congregational Church near Lymington. Henry was one of seven surviving children. The nature of Bentley senior’s job meant the family moved around a lot, living in Norfolk, Burley in the New Forest and then settling in Southampton in around 1900 at the Soldier and Sailor Institute, Albert Road, St Mary’s.

Henry began his working life as a shop assistant but joined the Royal Navy in 1905. He served aboard just two ships, Duncan and Victory I, and left the navy at his own request in the same year. Why he chose to leave the navy so quickly is unclear but, he joined the merchant service shortly afterwards. In 1911 he married Louisa Ellen White in Southampton. 

Henry left the New York to join Titanic as an assistant baker. His wages were £4 10s. It isn’t clear what Henry was doing when the ship struck the iceberg but it is likely he managed to get into lifeboat 13, the lifeboat that was almost crushed by lifeboat 15 when it became entangled. Thankfully, someone found a knife and the ropes were cut.

Bentley Harold Neale in later life from Encyclopedia Titanica

Henry had more reason than most to want to be saved. Louisa was pregnant and, no doubt the thought of never seeing his first child was in his mind on that cold dark sea. His daughter, Kathleen Ellen, was born on 28 May 1912. Two years later, Dorothy Nellie was born. Henry did return to work for White Star for a while but an incident while he was onboard the Olympic, spooked him enough to make him retire from the sea. What that incident was is unknown but he went on to work for more than thirty years at Jose’s Bakery in New Milton. The family lived in the New Forest until Henry died, aged sixty four, in 1950. Ten years later Louis followed. Kathleen, the daughter who was about to be born when Titanic sank, married Leonard Clark and died in the New Forest in 2002, Dorothy married Victor Doe and died in Poole in 2004. 

From Wharncliffe Road we turned onto Defender Road which roughly corresponds to Highlands Road where our next crew member, John Lovel, lived at number 21. The only reminder of the old road is a block of flats called Highlands House. John had an inauspicious start, born in 1875 in the South Stoneham workhouse, which later became Moorgreen Hospital. His mother Louisa Diaper, from the well known Itchen Ferry family, was not married to his father Benjamin Lovell, which in those days was frowned upon. The couple had three more children, one born in Southampton and the other two in Lancashire. When Benjamin died, aged just twenty nine, Louisa moved back to her family in Itchen and finally, in 1885, married. Her husband was James Sellar. They went on to have two more children. 

Highlands House

John began his working life as a clerk for the Clyde Ship Company and later joined White Star as a cook. He left Olympic to join Titanic as a grill cook, earning £6 10s a month. Anyone who has worked in a kitchen knows it’s hot, hard work but, with Titanic’s exacting standards, it must have been even more so. Most of the kitchen staff would have been asleep at the time of the collision and may well have been bewildered when called to don their lifejackets and get on deck. Some helped provision the lifeboats but very few got on them. Just thirteen survived and John was not among them. His body was never identified. **

Titanic kitchen from Pintrest

Running from Defender Road to Bridge Road is Tankerville Road. This roughly corresponds to Itchen Ferry’s Britannia Road, where W Hodges lived at number 6. His is amongst the saddest crew stories, but not because of what happened when the ship sank. It’s the lack of information about Hodges I find lamentable. There isn’t even a record of his first name. He was twenty six years old and single. He worked as a fireman and his body was never recovered. 

Tankerville Road

The firemen, otherwise known as stokers, worked in hot, dark conditions at the best of times, shovelling coal to feed the ship’s boilers. After the collision they tried to keep the furnaces burning. If they didn’t, they knew the pumps and lights wouldn’t work, Titanic would go down faster and fewer passengers would be able to escape. They also knew, if the cold sea water met the hot boilers, they would explode. Of the 163 firemen aboard, just 43 survived and all who were saved owe them a debt of gratitude. W Hodges remains almost anonymous and it breaks my heart to think there was no one at home to miss him, shed a tear for his passing or remember him.

The final story from Itchen Ferry is of Henry Noss, who lived at 12 Back Lane Itchen. Unfortunately, as Itchen and Itchen Ferry are riddled with little back lanes, none of which are named on old maps, there is no way of knowing where his house was but I believe it was probably in Itchen Ferry. While all the stories I’ve uncovered during my research are interesting, some of the crew members really capture my imagination. Henry is one of these. As soon as I found his photograph on Encyclopaedia Titanica, I felt I knew him. He had such a sad but kind face, like someone you’d want to chat to in the pub. 

Trimmers delivering coal to stokers, Royal Navy official photograph
Henry Noss from Encyclopedia Titanica

He was born in Southampton on 29 December 1881, the youngest of Henry and Ellen’s eight children. Ellen was from Southampton while Henry Senior was from London and worked at various jobs, including trunk maker, printer and general dealer. 

By 1901, Henry had gone to sea as a fireman and in 1908, he married Annie Elizabeth Collins, also from Southampton. Between 1908 and 1911 they had three children, Henry, William and Winifred. When he signed on to Titanic he gave his address as 12 Back Lane Itchen. He also got a fireman’s job for his nephew, Bertram Arthur Noss, son of his brother William. 

Annie Elizabeth Collins thanks to Cheryl Jensen

When the ship struck the iceberg the firemen did all they could to keep the boilers running but not all of them could be in the boiler rooms at once. In normal circumstances they worked shifts of four hours as this was the longest anyone could be expected to work in the hot dusty conditions. When the imminent disaster became apparent, off duty firemen may have tried to get into the boiler rooms to help but, with the ship listing, getting up or down the ladders, no easy task at the best of times, would have been nearly impossible. Luck played a huge part in who lived and who died.

Henry Noss from Encyclopedia Titanica

Henry, who must have been off duty and may even have been one of the firemen who spoke to Edward Buley, was lucky enough to be on the boat deck at just the right time. He was ordered to man lifeboat fifteen with another fireman, Frank Dymond, from Kingsland Southampton. This was the lifeboat that was almost lowered onto lifeboat thirteen. As it was lowered it struck the side of the ship and was damaged. Consequently, it leaked. It was also very heavily laden and difficult to row. It took them quite some time to get away from Titanic and the occupants were wet and very cold, especially the firemen who were dressed for the hot boiler room not the cold sea. Henry and Frank took turns on the tiller. They were about three hundred yards from the ship when the boilers exploded and the ship split in two. They watched as the lights went out and Titanic slowly plunged into the blackness. The boat had been the eighth to be launched and was the tenth or eleventh to reach Carpathia. 

Henry returned to Southampton and his pregnant wife. Their son, Herbert James, was born on 29 September 1912. They had thirteen children in total, although, sadly, two died. They later moved to a three bedroom house in Merryoak.

The experience didn’t put Henry off going back to sea where he worked on many more ships including Caronia, Orbita, Vestris and Berengaria. He never got over the shame of surviving though, as his granddaughter, Cheryl Jensen told me when she contacted me after my post about the Woolston crew. Many of the crew who survived felt the same and were often branded cowards. Some kept their stories secret for this reason. Harry also felt terribly guilty about getting his nephew Bertram a job on the ship as Bertram did not survive. In a cruel twist of fate, when the names were posted outside the White Star office a mistake was made and Bertram was posted as saved while Henry was posted as lost. Annie didn’t believe it though, after a dream she was convinced her husband was safe. This was confirmed when a telegram arrived the next day. 

Annie and Henry in later life thanks to Cheryl Jensen

The shame and guilt of Henry’s survival was felt so strongly in the family that, when he died in 1961, his daughters burnt all the Titanic memorabilia he had kept. Henry was buried in St Mary’s Extra Cemetery, Annie died two years later. 

The Itchen Ferryman sculpture

We may not have found many surviving houses in Itchen but we had certainly uncovered some wonderful stories. Before we left Itchen Ferry we paused for a moment to admire the Itchen Ferryman sculpture in the little park off Tankerville Road. Close by is a climbing frame in the shape of a sinking ship. It seemed quite apt. Now all we had to do was walk across the green towards home. As we did we talked about where we would go hunting for crew next…

** more can be found about the Diaper family and the history of a Itchen Ferry on the Diaper Heritage Website

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More Titanic tales from Itchen

27 February 2019

In 1912, the road running beside Ludlow Road was Itchen’s High Street. It ran from Sholing Lane (now Sholing Road) to the houses beside the railway line on Avenue Road (now Radstock Road). These days it’s called Bishops Road and our next three Titanic crew houses were on it somewhere. Once we got our bearings it was a matter of counting down the house numbers until we came to number 53, about half way between Wodehouse Road and Peveril Road.

53 Bishops Road

This was far grander than the houses we’d found so far. The large semi detached house with bay windows and a side entrance was where George Alexander Chisnall once lived. George was born in Greenwich, London in 1875. Although his parents, Joseph and Janet, were English, they had married in Dumbarton, Scotland and settled in Govan near Glasgow where Joseph was working in the local shipyards as a ship’s carpenter. Quite why George was born in London is a mystery as his four siblings were all born in Scotland between 1869 and 1886.

George began his working life serving an apprenticeship with Napier Brothers in Glasgow. He then joined White Star as a boilermaker aboard the Canopic. After a year at sea he got a land based job with the Fairfield Shipbuilding Company and then with Caird & Company in Greenock. After Joseph passed away in 1891, followed by Janet in 1903, George moved to Liverpool where he got a job with Elder Dempster & Company. Here he married Alice Hardy Day, a Hampshire girl, in 1904. The couple had two children Dorothy and William.

In 1908, shortly after William was born, George returned to White Star as a boilermaker on board Majestic and the family moved to Southampton, setting up home at 53 High Street, Itchen. When George signed on to Titanic as senior boilermaker his wages would have been £12 a month. 

There were two boilermakers on board Titanic and, as she was sinking they would both have been down in the boiler room working hard with the other engineers to pump out the rising water and keep the boilers running as long as they could. They did not survive. George’s body was recovered, although it’s not clear by which ship. He was wearing a blue serge boiler suit and had a knife, razor, pipe, rule, shaving brush, pocket book and silver watch with him, along with £1 10s 1/2d. He was buried at sea.

Alice and her children were assisted by the Titanic Relief Fund. She returned to Liverpool, never remarried and died in 1946. Their son, William, became an insurance clerk and married Everild Robena Patten Thomas in 1936, but what eventually became of him and his sister Dorothy is not known. There is a memorial to George on the family grave in Toxteth Park Cemetery. 

A little further down the road 43 Bishops Road was not quite as grand as George Chisnal’s house. It was a smaller red brick semi, with square bay windows and a tiled path leading to the front door. It belonged to able seaman Frank Osman. 

43 Bishops Road

Frank was born in Gosport in 1885. His mother, Emma, and father, William, were both from Romsey and William was a brewery worker, later a publican.  Frank was the youngest of their six children and joined the navy at fourteen. He remained in the navy for eleven years, during which time his family were living in Alverstoke. In 1907 he married tailoress, Clara Kate Sherwin in Alverstoke and, at around this time, joined White Star as an able seaman. 

Over the next four years the couple had two children, Percy and Frank. Sadly, Frank died before his first birthday. Shortly after this the family appear to have moved to Southampton and were certainly living in Bishops Road when Frank transferred from Oceanic to Titanic. 

Frank Osman from Encyclopedia Titanica

As an able seaman Frank would have earned £5 a month. Able seamen were senior members of the deck crew, responsible for the day to day running of the ship and for operating the lifeboat davits in the event of an emergency. Each was also assigned a lifeboat to take charge of if no officers were available and, as each of the boats needed several strong, capable men aboard to row, navigate and take control, this meant the majority of the 29 able seamen aboard Titanic survived. 

When Titanic collided with the iceberg Frank was outside the seaman’s mess on C Deck. He heard the ice scraping along the hull and rushed to the Forward Well Deck where he found chunks of ice and noticed the ship was beginning to list. Although he didn’t believe the ship would sink, he was soon helping to load lifeboats on the port side. 

After he’d loaded four lifeboats and seen them launched, he was ordered into emergency lifeboat 2 by Fourth Officer Boxhall. There were three other crew members in the lifeboat, Boxhall, a cook and a steward. The rest of the boat was filled with women, eight from first class, six from third and one third class man. After they’d pushed off from the ship they tried to get to the starboard side to see if they could squeeze in another passenger or two but, by then, the ship was listing too much and they turned around. 

When the ship went down they were around a hundred yards from it. Frank did not notice any suction but he heard explosions which he believed were when the cold water met the hot boilers causing them to explode. He then saw smoke and lumps of what he thought was coal coming from the funnels. After the explosions the ship broke in two and the engines slid from the aft into the forward of the ship. The aft then rose, before slowly sinking again. 

By chance a box of flares had been put into emergency lifeboat two mistaken for a tin of biscuits. As Carpathia was approaching, Boxhall fired the flares and, consequently, they were the first boat to be picked up by her at around four in the morning. 

Frank was called to testify at the U.S. inquiry into the sinking and later returned to England and continued to work at sea, serving on various ships for the White Star and Cunard Lines, including Olympic, Homeric and Mauritania. He and Clara went on to have five more children, Maud, William, Emily, Grace and George. Frank died in Southampton in 1938 and is buried in St Mary’s Extra Cemetery. Clara died in 1964. 

The last Bishops Road house turned out to be a bit of a conundrum. We found number 16 easily enough but it looked like a modern house, perhaps 1930’s or 40’s, so this is probably not the actual house Walter Alexander Bishop lived in. *Encyclopaedia Titanica has him living at 248 Romsey Road. This is, I believe, a mistake as another crew member, Leonard White, was living there with his wife and her widowed mother and other records show Walter living in Bishops Road. This is the first such anomaly I have found but I will use the address, given on the crew list. Despite the confused information, I took a photograph.

16 Bishops Road

Walter was born in Southampton in around 1878. His mother, Maria, was from the Isle of Wight and his father, James, was a local lad and a ship’s cook. They had eight children. The family lived in the Chapel area of the town centre and then moved to Millbrook.  Walter went to sea himself around the turn of the century. In 1903, he married Mabel Mary Cox and, in the same year, their son, Walter James was born. Tragically, Mabel died early in 1904 aged just twenty three.

For a man working at sea the loss of his young wife must have been difficult to bear, especially with such a small baby to care for. By 1907, he had remarried. His new wife, Martha Dabell, née Castelman, was a widow with two young children, Winifred, who was seven and Percy who was just two when she and Walter married. In 1911 the couple were living in Shirley, perhaps in Martha’s house? When he left the St Louis and signed on to Titanic for her delivery journey from Belfast he gave his address as 16 High Street, Itchen.*

Walter was a first class bedroom steward, earning £3 15s a month and looking after between three and five rooms. Steward’s wages were not especially good but the tips often were, especially from first class passengers. Second and third class bedroom stewards had more rooms to look after, up to twenty five for third class, but the tips would have been much less, or non existent. A first class bedroom steward, if he ingratiated himself enough, could double his wages from tips. 

Sadly, Walter did not live to enjoy the fruits of his labours, both he and his brother in law, greaser Edward Castleman, perished and neither of their bodies were identified. One of Walter’s passengers, Mrs Emily Maria Borie Ryerson  did survive and, afterwards, remembered speaking to Walter after the collision. She asked him why the engines had stopped and he explained that there had been talk of an iceberg and the ship had stopped to avoid it. Whether  he believed this to be true or was trying to keep her calm isn’t known but she was one of the last people to see him. 

Mrs Emily Maria Borie Ryerson  From Encyclopedia Titanica

Martha and Walter’s widowed mother benefitted from the Titanic Relief Fund and he is remembered on the St Augustine’s Church Memorial in Southampton. Martha, having been twice widowed, did not marry again and, some years later, moved to Chichester to be close to her married daughter, Winifred. Walter’s son, Walter James, married Elsie Hardy in Southampton in 1926. They had at least one son and Walter junior died in Norfolk in 1975. 

From Bishops Road we turned onto Radstock Road where there were three more crew houses. Before we went looking for them though, there was one more house to find, on Millais Road. Unfortunately we had no number, just a house name, Cawdor. Millais Road runs parallel to Bishops Road from Wodehouse Road to Radstock Road, CJ and I were both hoping we’d find the house at the Radstock Road end because we’d both had enough of walking up and down by now. As we slowly made our way up the road though, we could see no names on any of the houses.  We walked the whole way back to Wodehouse Road but never did find a house with a name so I took some general pictures of the road to give an idea of the area.

Millais Road

We may not have found Cawdor but it was once the home of James Mull Smith. James was born in 1873, the youngest of Peter and Catherine Smith’s four children. Little is known about his childhood, except that he lived with his grandparents for part of it. Later he served an engineering apprenticeship with J. S. Souter of Elgin, a foundry and engineering works. He then moved to Liverpool and went to sea with the Anchor Line of Glasgow, Union Castle and Red Star, finally joining White Star in 1906. 

James Mull Smith From Encyclopedia Titanica

James’ move to Southampton probably coincided with White Star’s move to the town. He was certainly living in Southampton when he married Hannah Davidson in 1908. Two years later their son, Ian James, was born. James was now working on Majestic and ‘standing by’ for Titanic, still being built in Belfast. His little family were probably living at Cawdor in Millais Road by then, as this is the address he gave when he finally signed in to Titanic as Junior 4th Engineer. His wages would have been £13 10s so I imagine Cawdor was one of the grander houses in the street. 

None of the engineers survived the sinking. No doubt James was in the bowels of the ship, bravely trying to keep the pumps running when Titanic went down. His body was never identified but Hannah and Ian benefitted from the  Titanic Relief Fund and remained in Southampton. Tragedy was never far away though. Ian died in 1919, aged just nine. Poor Hannah never remarried and died in Southampton in 1953. 

Millais Road

Our little detour to Millais Road hadn’t been very successful and, as we retraced our steps back to Radstock Road, I had the feeling we wouldn’t have much more luck there. Back in 1912, this was called Avenue Road. It follows the railway line from Cranbury Road, near Sholing Station, all the way to Bridge Road. The houses we were now looking for were all at the Bridge Road end, an area that was badly bombed and is mostly new streets and houses now. As it happened, the first of our three houses was still standing, just below the junction with Bishops Road, before the modern houses of Norton and Cheddar Close start. The neat little semi detached house, 49 Avenue Road, was where Francis Albert Webber lived. 

49 Radstock Road, then Avenue Road

Francis was born in Melbourne Street Southampton in 1881 to Mary and William, a gas inspector who later owned an off licence. Mary and William had seven children and all but one survived infancy. Francis appears to have gone to sea at an early age and, by 1911, the family were living in Portsmouth. In all likelihood this was because William had been admitted to Portsmouth Borough Lunatic Asylum. He had been a “lunatic” for two or three years but, given the definition of madness at the time, may simply have had dementia, epilepsy, depression or something similar. Whatever his actual condition was, he died in May 1911. Francis was, in all likelihood, on Olympic by then but it must have been a difficult time for the whole family. 

Francis left Olympic and signed on to Titanic as leading fireman earning £6 10s a month. Like the majority of the firemen aboard, Francis perished when the ship sank. It is likely he was in one of Titanic’s boiler rooms shovelling coal to the very end. His body was never identified. His poor mother remained in Southampton and died in 1929. His last surviving sibling was his sister Kate, who died in Winchester in 1966. 

As I suspected, the next house, number 28, had been eaten up by the modern terraces. This was where George Fox Hosking once lived. George was the eldest child of Thomas, a master mariner, and Mary, both from Devon. The couple had five children. George was born in Shaldon, Devon in 1875. He attended Teignmouth Grammar School and was then an apprentice at A W Robertson & Company, engineers and shipbuilders of Royal Albert Dock, London, where he earned a first class certificate of competency. He served on several ships, including the Flintshire, Trelask and Georgia. Later he joined White Star and served on Athenic, Teutonic, Bovic, Republic and Olympic. 

The modern houses in Radstock Road

In 1904 he married Ada Alice Shapland from Ramshate. Between 1905 and 1909 they had three children Iris, George and William. Until 1908, the family lived in Bootle but then relocated to Southampton, almost certainly because White Star had transferred its main New York sailing there. The family set up home at Glen Villa, 28 Avenue Road, Itchen. George transferred from Olympic to Titanic as Senior Third Engineer with a monthly wage of £16 10s. 

George Fox Hosking from Encyclopedia Titanica

What part George played on that fateful night is not clear but, like all twenty five engineers aboard Titanic, he remained below decks to the last. These brave men operated the pumps, kept the steam up, or kept the generators running  to give passengers time and light to make an escape. Without them many more would have died. None of them survived and George’s body was never identified. 

His grieving family were helped by the Titanic Relief Fund charity and Ada eventually returned to Essex where she married Mr Henry Alonzo Moore in 1921. She died in 1944. 

Before we went in search of our last Radstock Road House we stopped to look along the modern cut way that more or less follows the line of what was once Drummond Road. The road and the houses no longer exist but John Pearce once lived at 14 Drummond Road. John was the son of Emily Pearce, née Osman, a charwoman from Southampton. There are no details about his father but he had, presumably, died as John spent his early years living with his mother and her parents, William and Mary Ann Osman, in St Mary’s. It is possible, but not certhain, that Emily was related to Bishops Road crew member Frank Osman. 

The cut way that was once Drummond Road

John lied about his age and joined the Royal Marine Light Infantry in 1895 but nothing is known about his career with them. By 1911, he was working as a fireman on merchant ships, including Oratrava and Danube. When he signed on to a Titanic he gave his address as 14 Drummond Road. Census records show this was the home of Samuel Mortimer and his family, so it’s likely John was just lodging there. 

Drummond Road on the 1910 map

Somehow John survived the sinking of Titanic, although it is not clear how or in which lifeboat he ended up. He did return to sea after the disaster, working as a fireman on Arcadian and as a greaser on Wellpark. What became of him after this is unknown. 

Titanic survivors aboard Carpathia from Encyclopedia Titanica

Despite my misgivings, our final Radstock Road house, number 7, was still standing, close to the junction with Bridge Road. This lovely little semi detached house with weathered mouldings around the door and above the bay window, was where Edgar Michael Kiernan, known to his friends as Michael, once lived. Michael was born in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Ireland in 1872. Today the little village is actually in Northern Ireland. His father, James was an inland revenue officer and his mother, Mary, was from Dublin. Michael had eight siblings, most, like him, born in Ireland. At some time in the first half of the 1880’s the family moved to Liverpool, where the final two or three children were born. Mary died in 1891, possibly in childbirth. 

7 Radstock Road, then Avenue Road

Michael’s first job was as a tramway conductor. In 1898 he married Ann Davies in Everton and between 1899 and 1911, had four children, Annie, Gladys, George and James. At some time in the early 1900’s Michael went to sea with White Star. When the company moved its main terminal from Liverpool to Southampton the family moved too, although the eldest three children remained in Everton with their maternal grandmother. Michael, his wife and the youngest child found lodgings in Lower Bridge Road, St Mary’s. By the time he left Olympic and signed onto Titanic as storekeeper they had moved to 7 Avenue Road. This was probably also a boarding house or lodgings. His wages would have been £3 15s. 

When the collision happened the three storekeepers, Michael, Frank Prentice and Cyril Ricks, knew nothing of it until they were ordered onto the deck. They certainly didn’t think there was any danger and stood around chatting and smoking cigarettes. After a while though, it was clear there was a major problem and, as their position became more and more precarious they climbed onto the poop deck and clung to the rail. By now it was obvious the ship was sinking and, at the final moment, all three men jumped into the sea. Only Frank Prentice lived to tell the tale. 

Michael’s body was never identified and his widow, Ann, returned to Liverpool where she later married William Peck. Michael’s youngest daughter, Gladys, emigrated to America in 1919. A year later Her sister Annie followed her. 

Our Final house in this part of Itchen was in Garton Road, close to Woolston train station. To my mind this is actually Woolston, not Itchen, but staying true to the crew list, we counted it with our Itchen houses and walked under the railway bridge. Garton Road runs along the Woolston side of the railway line towards Porchester Road. It didn’t take us long to find the house, number 11, clad these days in modern stone. This was where William Luke Duffy lived. 

Woolston Station, Garton Road

William was born in Castlebar, County Mayo in 1875 the middle of three children born to, John, an engineer and Ellen. When William left St. Jarlath’s College, County Galway, he became a clerk in Shackleton’s Flour Milling Company in Dublin and then joined James Walker and company, a Dublin printing works. At this time he and his brother Patrick lived in Dublin with a maternal aunt, Mary Ward. 

In 1910, William married an English nurse, Ethel Frazier, from Leeds and soon the couple moved to Southampton. They set up home in Dean House, Millais Road where their daughter, Mary, was born in early 1911. William was now working as a commercial traveller in the colour printing business. 

11 Garton Road

What led William to go to sea is not clear but the national Coal Strike of 1912 saw many men out of work and he may have been one of them. Titanic was his first ship and, by the time he joined it as an engineers writer, he and his family had moved to 11 Garton Road. He was aboard for the delivery from Belfast. His exact duties are not clear but he was probably a clerk, filling out paperwork for the engineering crew. His wages were £6 a month. Sadly, he did not survive and his body was never identified. Ethel and little Mary, along with William’s aunt Mary in Dublin, who he had presumably been supporting, benefitted from the Titanic Relief Fund but what became of them isn’t known. 

As we walked back down Garton Road we had a wonderful view of the Itchen Bridge rising up between the houses. Of course, the bridge wasn’t there in 1912. Back then, crossing the Itchen involved the floating bridge or one of the little Itchen ferryboats. The next crew houses on our list were all in what was once Itchen Ferry Village, where the ferrymen lived. There was no chance of finding any of them still standing but we were determined to find their locations if we could and tell their stories. First though, we needed a rest and a drink…

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