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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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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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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. **
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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This morning CJ and I took advantage of the second warm day in a row to search for the Itchen Titanic crew houses. This was not going to be an easy task. The area was a prime target during World War II, due to the waterside Spitfire factory, Supermarine. By the end of the war much of Itchen was gone and despite hours spent staring at old maps of the area, there were some houses and even streets I couldn’t find. The first house on our list was one example.
When Richard Royston Proudfoot signed onto Titanic, he gave his address as 2 Peartree Green. There is a Peartree Avenue, a Peartree Road and a Peartree Close. Peartree Green though is a grassy area with a church, Jesus Church or Peartree Church, at its centre. Where exactly Richard lived was a mystery so we took a few photo of the green, the church (including the grave of another unfortunate sailor called Richard) and the sorrounding roads and left it at that.
Richard was born in Plymouth in 1890, the eldest of Royston and Jane Proudfoot’s five children. Royston was a seaman and, after living in Devonport with Jane’s parents for some time, the family moved to Southampton, living in Firgrove Road, Sholing and, later, Peartree Green. Just before his fifteenth birthday, Richard joined the Royal Navy, having lied about his age. He served aboard Boscawen III, Hawke and Caesar. When he was discharged in 1906, he appears to have gone straight into the merchant service.
Richard was unmarried and living with his parents and siblings when he signed on to Titanic as a coal trimmer. His wages were £5 10s a month. His job would have began with loading the coal onto the ship. The trimmers then worked inside the coal bunkers above and between the boilers. With shovels and wheelbarrows they moved the coal around the bunkers, both to keep it level and stop the ship listing and to move it down the coal chute to the firemen who shovelled it into the furnaces. They often had to put out fires caused by the heat from the boilers and furnaces. As there was a fire raging in Titanic’s bunkers for the whole of the voyage, the trimmers were probably kept very busy.
The trimmers were the most poorly paid of all the engineering crew. They worked in dim light, sweltering heat and air thick with coal dust. Titanic had 73 trimmers. While the ship was sinking they stayed below deck and kept shovelling coal to keep the generators running for the lights and pumps. Just 20 survived. Richard was not among them and his body was never identified. His mother, Jane, died in Southampton in 1932. His father died in Florida in 1927. His last surviving sibling was his sister Helen who died in Portsmouth in 1961.
Still none the wiser about where Richard lived, we left the green and walked along Poole Road to Mortimer Road where our next two crew members had lived. The first, John Coleman lived at number 7 and I knew from the outset we wouldn’t find his house. The bottom half of Mortimer Road from Poole Road to Bridge Road is now a series of small streets of modern houses, presumably due to war time bombing, and the only older houses existing on the remains of Lower Mortimer Road are even numbers.
John was born in Queenstown, County Cork in 1854. His father, also called John, was a farmer and his mother was called Mary. At an early age John joined the Royal Navy as a shipwright and carpenter, serving on Thunderer, Duke of Wellington, Asia, Excellent, Humber, Euphrates, Republic and Champion. When he was not at sea, he lived in Liverpool and it was here, in 1979, that he married an Irish girl called Rose Ann Campbell. Tragically, their only child died in infancy.
John left the navy in 1886 and, some time afterwards, joined the merchant service. By 1911, John and Rose were living at 7 Mortimer Road and John was working as a steward for White Star on Majestic. Their move south almost certainly coincided with White Star’s move from Liverpool to Southampton.
John signed on to Titanic as a mess steward. His wages, according to Encyclopaedia Titanica, were £6 a month. This is far more than the normal mess steward’s wage of £3 10s a month so this may be a mistake. There were six mess hall stewards, four serving the engineering crew and two serving the deck crew. Only one mess steward, from engineering, survived. It was not poor John. He died in the sinking and his body was never identified. His widow, Rose, returned to Ireland and died just a year later. Perhaps her heart was broken?
The next house on our list was easier to find. Number 172 Mortimer Road was a mid terrace, close to the junction with Wodehouse Road. It also had a black plaque remembering Charles Painter, its former resident. Charles was born in Southampton in 1880, the eldest son of Frederick, a seaman and Caroline, both from Southampton. The couple had five children and lived in Golden Grove and then Cumberland Street. Exactly what happened to Frederick isn’t clear but, when Caroline died, in 1894, Charles and his siblings had no alternative but to find work, despite their youth. Charles seems to have chosen a life at sea.
By 1903 Charles married a local girl, Mary Ann Edith Houghton. The couple had four children, Lillian, Charles, Frederick and Dorothy and set up home in North East Road, Sholing. Towards the end of 2011 their youngest son, Frederick died, aged just three, Charles was working as a fireman, possibly aboard Olympic at this time. Exactly when they moved to 172 Mortimer Road isn’t known but it’s possible the loss of their child may have precipitated the move and they were living at this address when Charles signed on as one of Titanic’s firemen, earning £6 a month.
Within a very short space of time poor Mary had to deal, not only with the death of her child but also the death of her husband. Like the majority of the firemen aboard Titanic, Charles was probably down in the boiler room frantically shovelling coal to keep the boilers running when the ship went down. He was lost when Titanic sank and his body was never identified. Mary remarried in 1914. She and her new husband,William H Turner, had several more children but, sadly, tragedy never seemed far away. In 1915, little Dorothy, her last child with Charles, died, aged just four. Mary herself died in Hampshire in 1956 and it is not known what became of Charles’ other son and daughter.
Next, CJ and I turned right onto Wodehouse Road and, on the corner of Manor Road North, stopped to check the house numbers and decide which way we needed to turn next. As it happened, we discovered we were standing right in front of number 163, where William Barnet Bedford once lived. This time there was no plaque, but we were fairly sure we had the right house.
William was born in Pontefract, Yorkshire in 1880. His father, Hector, was born in St Helena and his mother, Susan Ann, was from Aldershot in Hampshire. The couple married in Alverstoke and had ten children, eight of which survived infancy. Hector was a sergeant in West Yorkshire Militia so the family moved around a great deal, living in Rotherham, Aldershot, Gosport and Pontefract. By 1881, Hector had left the army and was working as an inspector of telegraph messages in Alverstoke.
At some time around the turn of the century, William went to sea. His family, seemingly unable to settle in one place, were living in London. They later moved to 163 Manor Road and this was where William was living when he signed on to Titanic as assistant cook. His wages were 4 10s a month. He had previously worked for the American Line as a cook and left Olympic to join Titanic. For William, it was the final of his many moves. He died when the ship sank and his remains were never identified. Hector and Susan stayed in Hampshire, moving to Gosport in their later years. Susan died in 1924 and Hector in 1935. William is remembered on their headstone in Ann’s Hill Cemetery Gosport.
Now we had to head back towards Poole Road, keeping an eye on the house numbers as we walked. Not long after we’d crossed the Peveril Road junction and passed the unusual arched frontage of the Woolston Methodist Church, we found our next house.
Number 94 Manor Road is another narrow fronted mid terraced house. It was once home to J Taylor, one of Titanic’s brave firemen. We may have found his house with relative ease but finding anything else about him was next to impossible. After a long and fruitless search I discovered he was approximately 42 and married when he joined the ship. He embarked in Southampton and was lost with the ship. Unsurprisingly, his body was never identified and there isn’t even a record of his first name.
All this seems incredibly sad. As a fireman, the chances are he would have been working to the very last to keep the boilers running so the pumps and lights would keep working. It was a hot, dirty and dangerous job at the best of times but, when the ship was sinking, they must have known there was no escape for them, yet they still kept working to the end. Their sacrifice gave others time to escape and saved many lives that would otherwise have been lost.
By the time we found our final Manor Road house, we were almost back on Poole Road again. Number 61 was another mid terraced house, much like the last but on the sunny side of the street at this time of morning. This was where John Edward Puzey and his family once lived. John, known to his friends as Jack, was born in London in 1868. His parents, Nathaniel and Rosetta were both from Middlesex and Nathaniel was a marine fireman. When Nathaniel died, in 1884, Rosetta was expecting her eighth child. She remarried in 1890 and moved to Windsor with her new husband, William Henry Gregory, a bricklayer who was eleven years her junior. By this time John had already joined the British Army Serving with the Dragoon Guards.
In 1896 John married Rose Stone in Wiltshire. They already had one son, Frank, and their second son, William, was born in 1901 in St Denys, Southampton. By this time John had followed in his father’s footsteps and was working at sea, although as a steward rather than a fireman. This may explain why the family moved to Southampton. By 1911 they had moved to 61 Manor Road.
Before John joined Titanic he had been working aboard the White Star ship RMS Majestic. Walter Boothby, one of John’s in-laws (Rose’s brother’s wife’s brother) was also signed on as a steward. Sadly neither man survived the disaster. A memorial to them both was posted in the Portsmouth Evening News – 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.
Rose went on to marry twice more and died in Southampton in 1938. John’s son William died in the New Forest in 1979. Frank, who had served an apprenticeship as a billiard maker, followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and joined the merchant navy but it’s not known what eventually became of him.
Back on Poole Road once more, we turned left towards Ludlow Road. There were no less than five crew houses to find here. Unfortunately, the bottom end of Ludlow Road, around the school, was destroyed during World War II and our first two houses, 45 and 60, have been replaced by modern terraces.
George Knight lived at 45 Ludlow Road, opposite the school. Little is known about his early life except that he was born in 1865 in Brighton and his mother was called Mary. His later life is well documented as, after a spell working as a cobbler, he joined the army aged eighteen. He was soon transferred to the Army Medical Corps, perhaps because his eyesight was very poor and own health was blighted by catarrh, dyspepsia and gonorrhoea.
Despite his health issues, he married Clara Amy Hopkins, a seaman’s daughter, in Chatham in 1888. Two years later their only child, Olive Blanche was born. In 1891 he was posted to Egypt where he served until 1896. His next posting was to South Africa in late 1899. Clara and Olive remained in England, living at the Royal Victoria Hospital. By the time he returned to England in 1902, he’d become a staff sergeant and been awarded the King and Queen’s South African Medal.
George was discharged from the army in 1904 and the family moved to 45 Ludlow Road. Tragically, within a year Olive had died, just before her fifteenth birthday. Before very long poor Clara was all alone again and George had gone to sea, perhaps to assuage his grief? He left Olympic to join Titanic as a saloon steward, serving the rich and famous in the first class dining saloon. The wages of £3 15s plus tips would supplement his army pension so Clara, while lonely, was relatively well off.
George was saved on lifeboat thirteen, the seventh boat to be launched at around quarter past one. The boat was filled with around sixty five people, mainly second and third class women and children. It was first filled from the boat deck and then lowered to A deck to take on more people. When no more women and children could be found the nearby men were told to get in. George was probably amongst them. It was very nearly his undoing. As the lifeboat hit the sea it got caught up in a stream of water being pumped from the ship. The ropes became jammed and lifeboat fifteen, launched at almost the same time, was fast coming down on top of it. At the last moment someone cut the ropes and the lifeboat moved away just in time. Lifeboat thirteen was the seventh or eighth to reach Carpathia.
In late 1914, George re-enlisted in the army. The family were still living at 45 Ludlow Road at this time and George was soon back with them. By April 1915 he’d been discharged due to a nervous condition, which, given his generally poor health and his experiences on Titanic, was hardly surprising. During the Second World War George worked as a night watchman for H.M. Customs. He seems to have been the master of lucky escapes because, when the bombs dropped and destroyed 45 Ludlow Road both he and Clara survived. Clara died in Winchester in 1944 and George followed her in 1945.
The unfortunately named Florence, Thomas Donoghue lived at the second missing house, 60 Ludlow Road. Florence, known as Frank for obvious reasons, was born in County Kerry In 1882. Quite why his parents Margaret and Timothy, a tram conductor, decided to give him a girl’s name is a mystery but I’m sure it must have been a burden to him. A couple of years after ‘Frank’ was born the family moved to Liverpool and had six more children with more conventional names.
Around the turn of the century, ‘Frank’ seems to have gone to sea and, in 1900, he married Annie Furlong. Their son, Frankie was born in around 1906 and, in 1910 Annie and her son emigrated to America, settling in New York. At this time it’s likely ‘Frank’ was working for White Star on Olympic regularly travelling between Southampton and New York so the move was not as surprising as it seems.
When ‘Frank’ joined Titanic he was probably lodging at 60 Ludlow Road when he was in Southampton and living with his family when he was in New York. As a first class bedroom steward he would have been responsible for cleaning up to five rooms and making the beds. He’d also have had to keep the rooms well stocked, help passengers with dressing and serve them food if they decided to eat in their rooms.
Sadly, Titanic’s maiden voyage would be ‘Frank’s’ final trip between his two homes. He was lost in the sinking and his body was never recovered. A memorial was posted in the Liverpool Echo, DONOGHUE–In loving memory of my dear husband Frank Donoghue, a Titanic victim. R.I.P. Annie and Frankie returned to England briefly, possibly aided by the Red Cross, to claim compensation from the British Workmen’s Compensation Act. She was awarded £300 and returned almost immediately to New York, where she believed there were more opportunities for her and her son. In America she worked as a domestic and is thought to have later found work as a stewardess. There is certainly a census record of an Annie Donoghue, retired stewardess, living in Southampton in 1939. What became of Frankie is not known.
Our next Ludlow Road crew member’s house was easier to find. Number 97 Ludlow Road was opposite the Junior School, close to the junction with Peveril Road. This little terraced house, with its slightly overgrown garden, was once home to William Alfred Cross. When he was born, in 1868, his parents Cornelius, a brick maker and Mary, were living in Portswood, Southampton. The couple had seven children.
In 1890, at around the time Cornelius died, William appears to have gone to sea. In 1907, he married local girl Annie Webb and they set up home in Sholing, moving later to Ludlow Road. They had no children. William left the Oceanic to join Titanic as a fireman. Like so many of the firemen on Titanic, William was lost when the ship sank and his body was never identified. What became of Annie isn’t known, although she did benefit from the Titanic Relief fund,
The last two Ludlow Road houses took us back towards Wodehouse Road once more. We found the first, number 114, just before the junction. It was home to William Chapman Peters, the youngest son of Joel and Eliza, born in 1886 in London. When they married, the year before William was born, they already had four children. William grew up in London where his father died in 1898 and his mother in 1909.
Just after the turn of the century, William began his working life as a bricklayer, possibly working with his brother, Joel. During the first decade of the 1900’s, he joined the Royal Navy. Not much is known about his naval career but he was an able seaman aboard the Jupiter and left HMS Hercules to join Titanic. He gave his address as 114 Ludlow Road, but this may have just been lodgings. As an able seaman his wages were £5 a month and he would have had seniority over other deck crew. Able seamen carried out the day to day deck duties and were trained to operate lifeboat davits and man the lifeboats. Each able seaman was assigned a lifeboat to take charge of if no officer was present. For this reason 21 of the 29 able seamen aboard survived.
William was amongst the crew in charge of lifeboat nine. This was the fifth boat, lowered from the aft end of the starboard side. Purser McElroy and First Officer Murdoch supervised the loading. It was lowered with around forty people aboard, many second class female passengers. Several stewards were also aboard, ordered into the boat to help the ladies, some reluctant, others half hysterical, get in. One woman became so afraid she refused to get in and ran back inside the ship. It’s likely she perished.
When no more women, at least willing ones, could be found, Purser McElroy allowed some nearby men to get into the boat. Boatswain’s mate, Albert Haines was placed in command of the boat. At first it stayed closed to the ship, possibly because everyone believed they’d soon be called back onboard. When it became clear the ship was sinking, they rowed away, fearful of being sucked down with Titanic. Once the ship had gone down, Haines asked the other seamen if they should go back to try to rescue people from the sea. It was decided that this would be too dangerous, as those in the sea could swamp the lifeboat and everyone would be drowned.
Undeterred by his experience William continued to work at sea. He married Mary Ann Niblock in Southampton in 1913 and the couple settled in the town and had three children, Florence, Norah and Robert. William went on to serve aboard Lusitania, the Duchess of Richmond and Queen Elizabeth on which he was master at arms. He died in 1950 in Liverpool. What became of his children isn’t known.
Our last Ludlow Road house, number 122, was just above the Wodehouse Road junction. This was where Arthur Ernest Jones once lived and we found a black plaque above the door confirming this. Arthur was born in Shorncliffe, Kent in 1874, one of Julia and Edward Jones’ ten children. Edward was a governmental clerk and the family moved around a great deal. Before the family settled in England in 1889, they’d lived in such exotic places as Sierra Leone and Barbados. They then lived for several years in various parts of Portsmouth and, around the turn of the century, Arthur was working as a labourer for a Portsmouth wine and spirit merchant.
The family finally settled in Southampton at some time in the first decade of the 1900’s and, when Albert left Olympic and joined Titanic as a second class plate steward, they were living at 122 Ludlow Road. As far as I can tell a plate steward’s job involved cleaning and polishing all the silver plate dishes, napkin rings and cutlery used in the dining rooms. Plate stewards earned £3 15s a month,
Arthur was still unmarried when he joined Titanic and, sadly, did not survive, nor was his body identified. His parents placed a death notice in the Southern Daily Echo – JONES–April 15, at sea, on board the S.S. Titanic, Arthur Ernest, the dearly loved second son of Robert and Jane Jones, of 122 Ludlow Road, Woolston, Southampton. May his dear soul rest in peace. His parents remained in Southampton until their deaths in the 1930’s.
We had been zig zagging up and down the grid of streets between Poole Road and Wodehouse Road for almost an hour searching for houses. All the ups and downs and turns were slightly disorienting so we were glad to finally say goodbye to Wodehouse Road one last time and turn onto Bishops Road. There were still seventeen more Itchen houses to find but now there would be less going back and forth. There would also be less chance of finding any surviving houses…
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When I’d seen all I could of the Bargate Quarter progress I crossed the road and headed towards some more building work. This has been going on for a lot longer, although things are moving on apace right now. There was a time when I thought I’d be looking down on this project daily and watching things unfold, but a lot has changed since then.
In 2013 I was working on the top floor of an office block overlooking the old East Street Shopping Centre. The views, especially the sunsets, were spectacular. The shopping centre, built in the 1970’s, was the first in the city but it was never completely successful because it was too far removed from the centre of town. In 2012 the last retail unit closed but the building remained open as a car park and for the public to walk through from St Mary’s.
In the summer of 2013, the doors were closed for good and, shortly afterwards, we watched from our office window as the demolition work began. Often I’d take a photo from the window of our little kitchen while I was making coffee. It felt like watching history in progress. Soon we learned that a supermarket was going to be built on the site and a new walkway joining St Mary’s to East Street. We watched the old shopping centre disappear with interest and anticipated watching the new building go up and then popping into the supermarket at lunchtime to buy our groceries.
None of these things were meant to be though. Not long after the work began we learned our office was closing. We were all being made redundant. Watching the building slowly disappear became a metaphor for our jobs. Then the supermarket owners pulled out and, for a long time, work stopped.
No longer working in the city centre meant I lost touch with what was happening at the bottom end of East Street, although I occasionally walked past and looked through the site gates. Driving past recently I noticed some new apartments have been built and Commando told me about a pedestrian walkway that has now opened. Today I thought I’d take a closer look.
Since I last came this way the row of shops opposite Debenhams has also been demolished. Often in my lunch hour I’d walk past them and occasionally go into the little bric-à-brac store, Scoops, to look around. This row of shops was where an IRA bomb exploded in the late 1970’s. In those days there were bomb scares all the time but this was the only actual bomb I remember exploding. Luckily, no one was hurt although the carpet shop where the bomb was planted and the surrounding area, including Debenhams, was damaged by the blast.
The bomber was caught some years later and jailed for seventeen years. Now the shops have gone. They weren’t especially attractive or busy. In fact, the whole area always felt a little down at heel. Soon there will be new commercial units, car parking and apartments. From the plans they look much nicer that anything there before and the whole thing will complement the Bargate Quarter.
A little further on a few shops still remain. These are older buildings with character. Hopefully they won’t be torn down but time will tell.
What I really wanted to see was the new walkway and buildings. The first thing I came to was the tall office block where I was offered a job before I accepted the one at Silver Helm. For a while I thought it was going to be pulled down like the shopping centre and pub beneath it but it’s now had a revamp and is looking very swish.
Just past the office block are the first of the new flats. As they are student accommodation I imagine the moaners hate them and are complaining bitterly but I quite like them. They’re made of light coloured brick and have the look of old fashioned warehouses to me.
The walkway is wide and paved in light coloured stone. It feels a safe and pleasant place. Between the buildings there are little areas of greenery. This is something else I like and will like even better if some seating appears at some point. My only frustration was that I couldn’t see through the hoardings and find out what was going on on the rest of the site.
Out on the street opposite the end of St Mary’s Street I discovered that the underpass that was closed when the demolition began has been reopened. Before I went through it I walked around to the other sid of the remaining building site onto Lime Street to try to satisfy my curiosity. What I discovered was a lot of nothing. Just some containers, probably being used as builders offices and a few cars parked up.
When the underpass was blocked off it was a bit of a blow. It was a nice easy place to cross the road without having to wait for traffic lights to change, important when you’re in a rush to get to work. The murals all along the sides of the sloping entrance ramp always made me smile too. They were representations of the local people in all their diversity. When it was all boarded up I often wondered if they were still there. Today I discovered they still were, albeit faded and, in some places peeling. Maybe the artist will come back and repaint them now?
Emerging on the far side of the underpass felt like a walk back in time for me. I could almost imagine I was going to pop into the cafe in Central Hall and grab a coffee before going around the corner and back to my office to arrange ship visits, entertainers and turnaround days. Sadly, those days are gone now though so I kept walking, past St Mary’s Church retracing the steps of so many walks home.
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Today I had some business in town and, when I’d finished, I thought I’d have a look at the progress on the Bargate Quarter. By all accounts exciting things were happening there, although work wasn’t quite going to plan. In fact, the scheduled opening date of autumn 2019, now looks overly ambitious. In the circumstances, this was understandable but the online grumbling about the development was disappointing, depressing and downright frustrating.
The sky was blue, the sun was out, it was, I later discover, the hottest February day on record. Even though I’d left home for the three mile walk to town rather overdressed and was, by now, way too hot, the parks made me smile as I unbuttoned my coat, unwound my scarf and walked through. Winter is slowly losing it battle against spring. While most branches are still bare there are flowers bursting on the camellias and daffodil clumps brightening the grass.
The ribbon of beautifully tended parks running through the city centre from Chapel to London Road was once the Lammas lands surrounding the old walled town. This common land was used to grow crops by Southampton’s Medieval residents from spring until August each year. After the harvest the cattle and other animals grazed there.
Between 1854 and 1866, the common land was slowly turned into the beautiful, award winning, parks we have today. As I strolled through I couldn’t help wondering if the Victorian residents moaned as much about the changes as today’s keyboard warriors do? Did they gripe about the public money being spent on laying paths, planting shrubs or erecting statues of prominent citizens like Palmerston? Did they despise every new building and hark back to the good old days of stocks, public hangings and the town ditch overflowing with sewage? Maybe they did. Humans, at least some of them, seem particularly resistant to change.
Like the changing of the seasons, change in the city is inevitable. The needs of the population are not static and some buildings and amenities outlive their usefulness or popularity. Some change comes from changed attitudes, stocks, gallows, zoos and bird aviaries are no longer seen as acceptable and sewage thrown into town ditches is now known to be unhealthy. The Victorians cleared away overcrowded and crumbling slum tenaments after several gruesome deaths. Those who lived in them were probably not too happy and some, undoubtedly, ended up on the streets or in the workhouse. Poverty and homelessness were not wiped out. They still exist today but we now have shelters, benefits and food banks instead of workhouses. Whether they work any better remains to be seen.
In the early 1900’s the growth of motorised transport saw parts of the medieval town walls torn down to make way for roads. We may look back and lament some of the casualties but the people at the time saw it as progress. Today we cherish our medieval history and call it a tourist attraction. Even so, some of the destruction, like the forty steps, cut into the walls in 1853, are as useful today as they were back then.
Some change is driven by simple economics, when the dance halls, ice rinks, pubs, arcades and cinemas fall out of favour and stop earning their owners money, they disappear. Today’s young people get their entertainment in different ways and spend their money in different places.
Other change comes from war and disaster. There is no doubt that both have shaped the face of our city. The blitz left Southampton burning bright enough to be seen from Cherbourg and the town centre in ruins. A few pre war buildings, like Alfred Waterhouse’s turn of the century Prudential Assurance Building in Above Bar, survived, along with the walls that weren’t torn down. Most did not.
Today our city centre is filled with mostly post war or modern buildings. Some are architecturally quite attractive, others, put up in haste to replace the wartime destruction, not so much. Even they are not immune to change. Businesses rise and fall. Shops open and, either thrive, or close as the fashions and needs of the people dictate. Disasters happen, like the fire in Waterstones bookshop a while back. The scorched shop is now up for rent. Books have fallen out of favour,
As I walked through the quiet, weekday morning, precinct I thought about all the changes I’d seen there in my lifetime. Once this was a busy road, filled with traffic. Crossing wasn’t always easy and sitting outside on the pavement to watch the world go by or have a coffee was unheard of. Pedestrianisation made this part of Above Bar a quieter and more relaxing place. Now there are trees where once there were buses and cars, and places to sit in the sun.
Of course the changes never stop. The first walled beds and seating areas have gone and the whole place seems lighter and more open now. Even so, some people would rather it had stayed as it was. The shops have changed too reflecting the spending habits of the twenty first century. Some, like Woolworths, I miss myself but, if people don’t buy then shops will close. At the bottom of the precinct more change is happening. It seems that the concrete barriers, erected after terrorist attacks in other cities, are being replaced with something more permanent and, hopefully, more attractive. The world changes and the city changes with it.
The Bargate, newly cleaned and repaired, stands as it has since the twelfth century, watching over it all while everything around it slowly evolves. The most recent change is the demolition of the relatively modern Bargate Shopping Centre, built in 1989. In its day, the Internet cafe, games arcade and specialist teen oriented shops were popular but times and fashions changed and it became a ghost town.
The post war shops have been demolished too and, while some complain about their loss, they were never especially beautiful and hid a whole section of the remaining medieval wall. Most people don’t even know Polymond Tower, York Gate and the walls adjoining them even exist and those, like me, who do and ventured down the narrow back alley to see them did not have a pleasant visit.
Along with the parked cars and overflowing rubbish bins, the narrow back alley was often home to drunks and worse. It never felt the safest place to walk. Then there was Bargate Shopping Centre, built so close to the wall it was touching it in places. Often I would peer through the locked gates and arrow slits and wish it was possible to walk inside. Of course the piles of rubbish, old bikes and other unpleasant things would need to be cleared out first.
Now the Bargate Shopping Centre and the shops beside it have gone, apart from the marble art nouveau facade that was once the frontage of Burtons. This is being saved and incorporated into the new buildings. Those who mourn are really just looking back with nostalgia at their youth and not the buildings they haven’t visited since those heady days. They forget that each generation has it’s own pursuits and fashions. Time marches on and the world changes.
A peeep through the plastic glass opening in the hoardings revealed a landscape of gravel, dirt and debris, along with a new view all the way to Debenhams. The old walls are hidden for the moment behind protective boards and scaffolding but, in time, they will be revealed in all their glory. No doubt the naysayers, like those who protested at a lumpy car park being built over to create the Watermark Development, will soon be enjoying a stroll, a browse and maybe a meal there. Personally, I can’t wait and I’m sure the Bargate, if it had human feelings, would be pleased to be reunited with some of its adjoining walls.
My wait will now be a little longer but I’m not grumbling. Any building work in the centre of the city is accompanied by archeological investigation. In this case, the demolition of the shops on Queensway, has revealed some interesting artefacts and work has been halted while the archaeologists investigate further. This is just as it should be. The history will be uncovered and preserved and then the work will begin again.
When I left the Bargate behind I walked down East Street and along the back of the old Bargate Shopping Centre to see what I could see. Through the wire fence I spotted the archaeologists working away amid the remnants of the old shops. What they’d uncovered I couldn’t tell but I’m sure it’s interesting.
Over the red hoardings I could just see the top of the Bargate. It’s a view of the iconic building I’ve never seen before and it suddenly seemed much closer than it had before. Thinking I might get a better view from Hanover Buildings, I carried on to the bottom of East Street and walked along Queensway. Here I discovered another viewing window. Through it the footprints of the old shops were easy to see but, if there was anything of archeological interest there, I couldn’t tell.
Around the corner, behind Hanover Buildings, I got a different view of the same thing. There was a time when I often strolled along York Walk, past all the rubbish and parked cars to look at Polymond Tower and the walls. Right now all that’s visible is one edge of the tower and the flag flying on top of the Bargate. Soon though, it will be a whole new walk.
Of course, the new Bargate Quarter development will also have shops, restaurants and apartments. The developers are business people and wouldn’t be investing in such an ambitious project unless there was money to be made from it. There were shops and restaurants there before though, so it’s hardly a big difference.