This morning we finally set out to find the last of the Portswood Titanic crew houses. It was yet another stupidly hot muggy day, not a cloud in the sky or a hint of wind, probably not the best for walking the streets looking for houses. We only had eleven to find though and a fairly small area to cover. Roadworks on the corner near Bitterne Park Triangle meant a short detour and a walk on the park side of the bridge rather than the railway side. It made no real difference to distance but gave us different views to admire. The little houseboats moored on the bank seemed especially appealing in the searing heat of the morning.
Sleeping in a tent in the rain isn’t easy. This year though, we’d dispensed with the, frankly, useless air beds that never seem to stay inflated for more than an hour or two and bought proper camp beds with us. They looked narrow and uncomfortable but were surprisingly good to sleep on. Because of the rain and the fading light we’d gone to bed quite early and I woke equally early. Commando was still sleeping but I sneaked out of the tent and went off for a wander. It was just after five in the morning.
Summer came late this year but, when it hit, it hit hard with weeks of high temperatures and high humidity. The thought of a little camping at Thunder Run in mid July was a bright spot on the horizon. Both Rob and Commando said they were going to take things easy this year, do a few laps but also relax a little. We didn’t really believe them but I still imagined Kim and I chilling in the gazebo in the sun, sipping cool drinks and walking a lap or two ourselves.
In the end, after much dithering and discussion, we decided to find the last of the houses in the southern half of Portswood before finding somewhere to have a coffee and a rest. There were just seven of them and three were in one street so it didn’t seem like it would take too long or mean too much walking in the baking sun.
The plan for today was to try to find at least some of the Titanic crew houses in Portswood. As there are a lot of them, covering a large area, and the weather was incredibly hot and humid, I was resigned to the fact that we might not be up to the job of finding all of them. When CJ and I set off the mood was hopeful and doubtful in equal parts. Originally I’d hoped to tick of the handful of houses in Highfield on this walk too but I already knew that was a step too far.
One of the great joys in my life is walking in the quiet places. I am a connoisseur of secluded little cut ways, hidden footpaths, trails and walkways. Finding a way to get from a to b that doesn’t involve walking along a road makes me smile, especially when it is beside a river. On my walks I’m always on the lookout for these hidden gems and the ones I know I use regularly, even if they add miles to my walks. Today I chose a route bursting at the seams with away from the road delights for my early morning walk. Unfortunately some of them are not as accessible as they should be though.
Kim and I are loosely following a marathon walking training plan to get ready for Clarendon. Loosely being the operative word because Kim works shifts and we live on opposite sides of the city. During the week we walk separately, each trying to fit in miles as and when we can. The plan is to have one long walk together a week. Much like I did for my last Moonwalk training, the long walks alternate between one long walk week and the next half the previous week’s distance. Each long walk week is two miles longer than the last. It sounds complicated but it really isn’t.
Yesterday, after Commando’s Running School appointment we drove into town to get something from the bike shop in Cumberland Place. There was a coffee in it for me so I didn’t much mind. It was also a chance to walk through East Park and have a look at the Cenotaph.
This afternoon Commando had an appointment to be tortured at The Running School, so I thought I’d go and take a look at the new housing development on North Stoneham Park. From the outset I knew it was going to be another kind of torture. When CJ and I walked this way, back in January 2017, we knew it would most likely be our last chance to see the unspoilt park. When I came this way a year later, work had already begun and the area was unrecognisable. It wasn’t certain what I’d find today but I knew it wouldn’t be gorgeous green fields and footpaths.
Very few of the crew members aboard Titanic came from Sholing. Back in 1912, it was a rather isolated, largely rural area. Surrounded by the toll gates, at Northam Bridge, Lances Hill, Hedge End and Bursledon Bridge, the only toll free exit was the floating bridge, or a long, roundabout journey to Cobden Bridge. The one and a half thousand or so people who lived in Sholing were mostly involved in strawberry growing, market gardening or brick making, so there was probably less need to go to sea to earn a living.
There were just six Sholing men working on Titanic and, of those, two did not give full addresses when they signed on to the ship. This made our task of finding crew houses more difficult than usual. The first of these was the aptly named Henry William Sparkman, a fireman, who lived somewhere along the mile and a quarter long Spring Road. Kelley’s directory told me there was a Jane Sparkman living at 282 Spring Road, and, as Henry’s mother was called Jane I guessed this was probably his address.
Unfortunately, when we found the house it was obvious it was built long after 1912. Perhaps the original was bombed? There were other houses nearby more in keeping with the date so I took a couple of photos, wondering what Henry’s house would have looked like?
Henry was born in St Mary’s in 1876. His father, also called Henry, was a mariner and he and his wife Jane had ten children, although only eight survived infancy. Henry was their second born son. When he was still a child the family moved to Hound and, by the time he was fifteen, he’d left school and was working as a telegraph messenger. Within a year he’d joined the Royal Navy. He served aboard the St Vincent, Australia, Grafton, Resolution, and Victory I.
He was a small man, just five foot one and a half inches tall, but, despite being invalided out of the navy in April 1897, obviously quite strong and fit. He later joined the merchant service as a fireman. Shovelling coal in hot, dirty boiler rooms was not a job for the weak and feeble. By 1901, Henry and his family had moved to Sholing and were living in Firgrove Road. They later moved to Spring Road and this was the address he gave when he signed on to Titanic as a fireman, earning £6 per month. He had previously been working aboard Olympic.
Two days after he signed on to Titanic Henry married Londoner Ida Lilian Chambers in Christ Church, Norwood, London. He sailed just two days after the ceremony. Poor Ida must have been devastated when she heard news of the sinking. Thankfully, Henry was one of the lucky few to survive, although the details of how or in which lifeboat he was rescued are not clear. He must have been off duty at the time, as, once the ship began to list, getting up the steep ladder out of the boiler rooms would have been impossible. The chances are his muscles saved him. Like most of the firemen who survived, he was probably ordered into a lifeboat to help row.
Undeterred by his experience, Henry continued to work at sea throughout World War I and beyond. In 1913, he and Ida had a son, Edwin. Tragically, three years later Ida died giving birth to their second child, a daughter called Lilian and little Lilian died aged just two. Henry remarried in 1927. He and his new wife, a New Forest girl called Olive Ward, went on to have a son, William, the following year. Poor Olive died when the child was just a few months old and Henry never remarried. He died in October 1947, after a long illness. He was 71.
The next house on our list posed a bit of a puzzle too. We had two conflicting addresses and no idea which was correct. Some sources had George Edward Kearl living at 37 Botany Bay Road, while others had him living at 27 Bay Road and Kelly’s Directories had been no help. Luckily both roads are close together and near Millers Pond. CJ and I made our way to the end of Spring Road and sat by the Pond for a while peering at Google Maps and wondering if we’d be able to work out which was the right house just by looking at them. It seemed unlikely but all we could do was try.
We crossed the nature reserve, emerging on the leafy part of Botany Bay Road. It’s quite an odd road in some ways, with one side filled with large expensive houses and the other with small mobile homes. The first people to live in this area, back in the 1790’s, were poor Romany families. They used bricks from the nearby brickworks to build little brick bungalows and kept their caravans in the gardens. In winter they lived in the houses and in summer they’d use the caravans to go fruit or hop picking. Things have changed a bit since those days but the descendants of those Romanies still live here. Sadly, the mobile homes are not quite as pretty as their old painted caravans.
It was clear fairly soon that number 37 was going to be at the far end of the road so we turned off onto Bay Road to check out the house there first. It was a pretty little bungalow with a very tall chimney and a well kept garden. Whether it had been standing since 1912 wasn’t clear but it was certainly possible.
The second possible house, 37 Botany Bay Road, was amongst the 1930’s built properties overlooking Sholing Common. The old maps told us there had been houses there back in 1912, just not these houses. My gut told me the house we were looking for was probably the first one we’d seen on Bay Road but there was no way of telling for sure.
Either way, one of these houses was once George Edward Kearl’s home. His parents, Courtney William and Isabella Maria Kearl, were both Hampshire born and were married in East Boldre in 1883. George was the second of their four children, born in Southampton in August 1886. The family lived in Kent Road, Freemantle, and Courtney was a coal porter. By the time George was 14 he’d left school and was working as a boiler sealer.
When he first went to sea isn’t clear but he was absent for the 1911 census and was probably working aboard Olympic. This was certainly the ship he left to join Titanic as a trimmer. His monthly wages were £5 10s and the work would have been hard. The trimmers worked in the boiling hot coal bunkers, shovelling coal down to the boiler rooms. They also had to make sure the weight of the coal was evenly distributed or the ship would begin to list and to put out any fires caused by the unbearable heat of the boilers. They kept working even as the ship was sinking and only 20 of the 73 trimmers aboard survived. Poor George was not one of the lucky ones. His body was never identified.
George was unmarried, so the only ones to mourn his loss were his parents and siblings. It seems so sad that we couldn’t even find out for sure where he lived but at least we could tell his story.
We were now almost in the middle of South East Road, where our next house was. South East Road is three quarters of a mile long and includes the calf busting Bunny Hill. Luckily for us, a quick look at the house numbers told us we were quite close to it. Counting the numbers as we climbed the hill we soon discovered number 140 was another 1930’s built house, close to the junction with Kathleen Road. This may have been the spot where George Henry Cavell once lived but it certainly wasn’t the same house. There are plenty of others nearby dating for earlier times though so I took a photo to give an idea what the house might have looked like.
George was born in December 1889 in Southampton. His parents, George Henry and Alice had only been married a year but at least one of their five daughters was born long before their wedding. George was the first of their two sons. By the time of the 1901 census the family were living in Chantry Road in the town centre and George Senior was working as a general labourer. Ten years later the family had moved to Russell Street and George was already at sea. When he signed onto Titanic he’d already worked on Adriatic, Oceanic, and Olympic and, while not at sea, was living with his family in South East Road. Like George Kearl, George was a trimmer and like Henry Sparkman, he was not a tall man, standing at just five foot one.
On 14 April 1912 he was on the 8 to 12 watch and alone in the coal bunker by boiler room 4. He felt the shock of the iceberg hitting the ship, then the coal collapsed on top of him. Somehow he managed to dig himself out and emerged into the stokehold just as the lights went out. Not knowing what had happened but aware something was badly amiss, he climbed up to the port alleyway on E Deck, known as Scotland Road, and found the lights there still burning. Some third class passengers heading aft told him the ship had hit an iceberg. A lesser man might have joined them and tried to save himself but George did not. He found some lamps and returned to the stokehold, where, it transpired, the lights had already come back on. For some time he helped the firemen keep the boilers alight, although water was soon coming over the floor plates.
When the water was about a foot deep he finally climbed the steep escape ladder. Had he left it any longer he’d almost certainly have been trapped there as, once the ship began to list, the ladder would have become virtually unclimbable. He eventually emerged on the boat deck on the starboard side where he found two lifeboats, one, probably number 13, in the process of being launched. He was ordered into the other, lifeboat 15, by an officer, along with three other trimmers and a fireman, Frank Dymond, who took charge.
The boat was lowered to A deck and, according to George, they called out for women and children to board but only five got into the boat. The boat then descended to B deck where there were crowds of people, mostly from third class. George later testified that around sixty people got into the boat and all were women and children, mostly third class and Irish. He said there were men on the deck but they stood back and did not try to board, despite there being no one to stop them. Records show this was not the case. The majority in the boat seem to have actually been men, although the testimonies from other crew members mostly overestimate the number of women aboard and underestimate the number of men. Whether this is down to the darkness and confusion or the crew telling the enquiry what that wanted to hear isn’t clear. The one crew member who testified that the boat was mainly filled with men was called back the next day and more or less forced to change his story. By all accounts, lifeboat fifteen was one of the few to be filled more or less to capacity.
The boat was the eighth lowered from the starboard side and almost landed on top of lifeboat 13, which had become entangled and was unable to get away from the ship. Luckily, someone in lifeboat thirteen managed to cut the falls, the ropes used to lower the boat, at the last moment and disaster was averted. Sitting in lifeboat 15, George seems to have been unaware of the drama and didn’t mention it in his testimony. Once on the water the crewmen, including George, rowed as fast as they could. It took them between fifteen and twenty minutes to get away from Titanic and they did not go back or pick anyone up from the water. They were the tenth or eleventh boat to be rescued by Carpathia.
After testifying at the British Inquiry into the sinking, George went back to sea, later serving on Olympic, Braemar Castle, Carnarvon Castle, Armadale, Warwick Castle and Rothesay Castle. In 1919 he married local girl Kate Barber. As far as I’ve been able to tell they did not have any children and George died in Winchester in 1966. His wife died a year later.
Our next three houses were all somewhere on the almost mile long Middle Road. We had numbers for two but not for the third and, as both with numbers were on the southern part of the road, nearest Millers Pond, we turned into Kathleen Road and began to head in that direction. As we walked we wondered if any of the Middle Road houses would still be standing. Kathleen Road merges seamlessly with St Monica Road. Here we passed St Monica School and St Mary’s Church, both places we’d have liked to explore further if we’d had the time.
On Station Road a house with a beautifully graffitied front wall and an interesting garden sculpture lifted our spirits a little but it still felt as if our mission was doomed. My senior school was on Middle Road so it’s an area I know fairly well. The houses are a mixture of pre World War I and post World War II with a few modern ones thrown in for good measure. We took photos of some of the older ones at the beginning of the road just in case. Perhaps one of them was once home to Henry Dorey Stocker, the Middle Road crew member who didn’t give a house number when he joined the ship?
Henry was born in Highfield in 1892. His father George and mother Mary, were both Hampshire natives and had at least eight children. By 1901 the family had moved to Commercial Street in Bitterne and George was working as a gardener. George died in 1904 and Mary became a live in domestic servant in Battenberg House, St Georges Place. The younger children seem to have all gone off to live with different relatives. Before Long Henry had gone to sea. He left Olympic to join Titanic as a trimmer. Exactly what happened to him on the night of the sinking isn’t clear but he was lost with the ship and his body was never identified. His poor, heartbroken mother continued to live in Southampton until her death in 1921.
The next house on the list was number 19 and, true to form, it turned out to be one of the post war houses. Even so, this was the spot, if not the house, where Thomas Moore Teuton once lived. Thomas was born in Blackburn Lancashire in February 1877, the son of Irish immigrant parents William Teuton and Mary Jane Moore, both from Belfast. The couple married in around 1870 and came to England six or so years later, probably so William could get work as a driller and general labourer. They had at least five children. For a while the family lived in Barrow in Furness but soon moved back to Blackburn and it was there that Thomas had his first job as a cotton weaver at the tender age of fourteen. He later joined the British Army with the First Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was at the relief of Ladysmith during the Boer War and in China during the Boxer Uprising. He left the army as a colour sergeant. Back in England he was presented with the Royal South African medal.
In October 1910, Thomas married Ada Mary Swain, a Sholing girl, and they set up home in North East Road, Sholing. For a while he worked as a dock labourer and later went to sea on Oceanic. A year after their marriage the couple had a son, William John. By the time Thomas signed on to Titanic as a second class steward the little family had moved to 19 Middle Road. His monthly wages would have been £3 15s, but he could easily have doubled this with tips from grateful passengers.
Tragically, Thomas died in the sinking. His body was recovered by the Mackay Bennett and numbered 226. Records describe his remains as having light hair, a moustache and two tattoos, a Japanese woman on his left arm and a snake on his right. He was wearing a steward’s coat, singlet and flannel shirt and had an army discharge book, papers, a corkscrew, razor, keys, knife, brush and soap about his person. The presence of the papers seem to indicate he knew he might not survive and put them in his pocket so his body would be identified. He was buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 10 May 1912.
Ada and her son William benefitted from the Titanic Relief Fund as did Thomas’ parents. When Ada gave birth to a daughter over a year after the disaster though, the fund administrators, the Mansion House Committee, suspended her claim. The child, Elizabeth, died within the year and it isn’t clear who her father was. In 1918 Ada married George C Bryant and had two more children, Norman and Ruby. She died in Southampton in 1972, aged 90. Thomas’ son, William married and had a family but nothing further is known about them. He died in Plymouth in 1983.
We carried on up Middle Road, past Sholing Baptist Church, looking at the house numbers and searching for the last house on our list. After a whole morning without finding a single original crew house we finally struck lucky with our very last one. Number 81 Middle Road was an older style house and, although it looked to have had a lot of work done to it, had almost certainly been standing in 1912. This was where Thomas Ranger, the last of our Sholing crew, once lived.
Thomas was born in Northam in December 1882. His parents, George and Ann, were originally from Salisbury and had nine children. George was a general labourer. At some time in the first ten years of Thomas’ life the family moved to Whites Road in Sholing and George got a job as a coal Porter at Southampton Docks. By 1901 the family had moved to Church Road in Sholing and Thomas had joined the Royal Navy as a stoker. He served aboard the Duke of Wellington, Formidable, Caesar, Vivid II and Firequeen II. He was discharged in 1994 when he was described as being five foot three and a half, with brown hair and of very good conduct. He then worked as a bricklayer building houses before going back to sea in the merchant service.
In 1906 he married Isabel Pendry, a domestic servant and moved to 81 Middle Road. This was where he was living when he left Oceanic to join Titanic as a greaser, earning £6 10s a month. Greasers were very skilled men, basically mechanics, who maintained and ran the ship’ machinery supervised by the engineering officers. Most stayed below with the engineers when the ship was sinking and, of the 35 aboard, only 4 were saved.
When Titanic collided with the iceberg Thomas was working with Chief Electrician, Peter Sloan, in the electrical store room repairing the electric fans. The men felt a slight jar that briefly lifted them off their feet and both knew the ship must have hit something. Even so, they carried on working but, a couple of minutes later, noticed the turbine engine had stopped. Sloan ordered Thomas to stop all the electric fans and went down to look at the main lighting engines. There were 45 fans and the process took Thomas about three quarters of an hour. The last four fans were in the dummy funnel, used for ventilation. Thomas then went onto the boat deck and down to the second class section of B deck where he found a group of around twenty firemen standing and chatting. They told him all the lifeboats had left.
Although all the crew must have known something was badly wrong there seems to have been little panic. Thomas left the firemen and made his way to the port side of the boat deck. Here he met up with another greaser, Frederick Scott. By this time the ship was beginning to list to the port and was badly down at the head. It must have been obvious it was sinking but the deck was empty apart from the two greasers. When they looked down into the water they saw a lifeboat below and, with very little thought for the consequences, both men climbed the davit and slid down the falls towards it. Thomas landed in the boat but poor Frederick ended up in the icy water. Thomas hauled him into the ship, undoubtedly saving his life.
The lifeboat was lifeboat 4. It had been the eighth boat lowered from the port side but, when it reached A deck, there was a delay. Those waiting to board were some of the most important and influential passengers aboard, including the Astors, the Carters, and the Thayers. John Jacob Astor pleaded to join his pregnant wife in the boat. Second Officer Lightoller, who took the order ‘women and children first’ to the extreme, refused. Lightoller even tried to stop 13 year old John Ryerson from joining his mother in the boat, although he did eventually relent. The boat finally left with about thirty female passengers aboard, mostly from first class. There were just two, or possibly three crew members aboard, with Quartermaster Walter Perkins in charge.
According to Thomas’ testimony to the British Inquiry, there were not enough men to successfully row the boat and it had either returned to the ship, or been unable to get away from it. With Thomas and Frederick now onboard manning the oars the lifeboat finally moved away from the sinking ship. They made it in the nick of time. Thomas described watching the forward section of the ship sink beneath the water then break off from the stern. He remembered hearing the band playing. The stern then seemed to right itself momentarily before the propellers slowly rose into the air as it slipped beneath the water. The stern gradually sank with the lights going out one by one as the water got into their wiring.
They managed to pull seven more crew members from the sea, Alfred White, Thomas Dillon, Samuel Hemming, Frank Prentice, Andrew Cunningham, William Lyons and Sidney Siebert. The frozen men were semi conscious and had to be rubbed and warmed to bring them round. Sadly, William Lyons and Sidney Siebert were too far gone and died shortly after being rescued. They later took around five or six people from lifeboat 14, which then left in search of survivors in the water. Then, along with lifeboat 12, they went to rescue the handful of people from the overturned collapsible lifeboat B. They reached Carpathia with around 55 survivors aboard. This was in no small part due to the courage of the two greasers who’d slid down the falls at the last moment.
When Thomas was called to testify at the British Inquiry on 9 May 1912, he and the other crew members were given quarters to stay in throughout the inquiry. They were so rat infested and filthy that Thomas chose to sleep rough instead. He carried on working at sea until the 1920’s and then found work as a plumbers assistant.
After Isabel died, in 1947, he married Emma Elizabeth Prince Elderfield, a Southampton born widow. He died in Southamptin in July 1964, aged 81 and is buried in South Stoneham Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Emma died in 1972
All in all our search for crew houses in Sholing had been pretty unsuccessful. Conflicting information and modern houses meant we only found one house still standing that we could be certain of. Even so, we’d uncovered some interesting stories of the men who worked aboard Titanic and gained an insight into what it must have been like on that fateful night.
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