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.
The biggest grumble seems to be that some of the accommodation will be for students. For some reason there are people who strongly object to the young people studying at our universities to become the scientists, doctors and teachers of the future. They certainly don’t want to see them living in the city and blame every party, piece of litter and social problem on them. Like most young people, they’re not all angels but, surely, it’s far better they live in purpose built halls of residence than share large houses elsewhere, houses that could be used by families. They certainly contribute to the local economy, even if the money they spend comes from their parents.
In my eyes, the new development, like the Watermark, is, on balance, a good thing. As for the moaners, I guess they just like to have something to gripe about. I’m very glad I don’t live in their world.
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It’s been a while since we’ve done any parkrun tourism, so, when Mark and Nicole said they were going to run at Whiteley this weekend, we decided to go along. It’s a relatively new parkrun and has been on our list to visit for a while so today seemed as good a day as any. As it turned out there were a few things we should have known beforehand.
Commando has run several CC6’s and RR10’s at Whiteley. One of the things I remembered most clearly about it was the Costa Coffee near the car park. This was obviously a huge bonus to my way of thinking. The other thing I remembered was the route, a fairly narrow track, with lots of gravel, trees water and even little bridges. While they were running I thought I might enjoy having a wander if I could find a trail that wasn’t part of the parkrun. Of course I didn’t say any of this, which was just as well because I might have looked a little foolish.
When we arrived the first thing I did was get my wonderful reusable take away coffee cup (thanks for that Commando) filled up at Costa. I was then expecting us to turn left, cross the road and head into the trees. We didn’t. It turns out the parkrun isn’t in the same place as the cross country series at all. It is, in fact, behind the shopping centre on a large L shaped field surrounded by houses.
Finding the start was relatively easy. There was a parkrun flag and a small knot of people in bright coloured Lycra. We had a little while before the briefing and the start so I took a team photo and we stood around chatting and people watching. Before very long we began to notice a lot of the runners seemed to be in fancy dress. There were several superheroes, people in Christmassy gear and even a couple of chaps dressed as beer bottles. It was all very odd.
In normal circumstances, the only people dressed up at parkrun are the ones completing a milestone run, unless, of course, it’s Christmas or some other special occasion. Either there were an awful lot of people with milestones, which would be quite a coincidence, or we were missing something.
We puzzled on this, thinking perhaps the people of Whiteley were just an odd bunch who liked dressing up for no particular reason, until the RD started his briefing. This was when we discovered we’d accidentally turned up on their hundredth run! Suddenly it all made sense. We also all felt slightly underdressed.
Luckily there wasn’t much time to worry about it because, in a very short time, the running began. From my point of view, as a spectator, it was both good and bad. The good part was that I had a great view of the stream of runners as they made their way around the outside of the field. The bad part was there was no where for me to go for a walk. Of course I could have gone for a wander around the shops but that isn’t really my thing.
So I stood and watched the runners go around the field until they disappeared around the corner. Then I watched as they appeared again. Commando and Mark, are both quite fast runners (although Commando would tell you he is slow), but today they were both running with Nicole who is a little slower. They all appeared around the corner more or less together. This wasn’t the end of it though.
Unlike Southampton which is basically a big figure of eight of the Common, Whiteley is three laps of the two adjoining fields. From a runner’s point of view this is not ideal. Commando, in particular, isn’t keen on courses that are several laps. He likes a change of scenery. On the plus side, it’s more or less flat. On a different day Commando might have been tempted to go for a PB, although all those sharp corners might not make this as easy as it looks on the face of it.
Once they’d gone past on their first lap I went for a little wander across the field. It was muddier than expected and quite slippery, so I didn’t go quite as far as I’d planned. Commando, Mark and Nicole all spotted me as they came around the corner from the second field. They’d all started off wearing sweatshirts because it was quite a chilly morning, now they all ran up the bank to meet me and throw their, by now, unneeded clothing at me. This is not the first time I’ve been a runner’s clothes horse and I’m fairly sure it won’t be the last.
Once they’d all gone past I thought I’d better head back towards the finish funnel. Their next lap would be their last. The finish funnel at Whiteley is very short, at least when compared to the monster funnel at Southampton. As I stood waiting I could hear the RD talking about finish tokens, wondering if they would run out as they only had four hundred or so. As a contingency plan he’d brought some raffle tickets to use. As their average attendance is just over two hundred this morning was probably a record breaker for them. They had 347 finishers in the end so the raffle tickets went unused.
The final plus point about Whiteley was that we had Costa just around the corner for our post run coffee. Would we run it again? Maybe, but next time we will make sure we have all the facts beforehand.
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It was still raining when we’d finished our coffee and the temptation was to give up and head for home. The next house on the list was at the bottom end of Victoria Road, quite close to the beginning of the Rolling Mills path along the shore. It wasn’t far from Centenery Quay and it seemed such a shame to do half a job so we decided to keep going, at least for a while.
As we walked down Victoria Road I was confident the house we were searching for would still be there. When I lived in Woolston a friend lived next door to it so I had a good idea where it would be. Once you get past Centenary Quay and all the new buildings on the old Vosper’s site not much has changed at this end of Woolston, at least if you’re looking away from the water. Of course I was no longer pushing CJ in a pushchair, or rushing to miss the Vosper’s lunch time crowd. The house, 207 Victoria Road, was exactly where I expected it to be. It even had a black plaque.
This unassuming little terraced house was once home to Albert Edward Lane. Albert was born in Nottingham in 1879, the second child of Albert and Elizabeth Ann, a laundress and later a hosiery machinist. At some time in the first ten years of Albert’s life his father either left or died. He was certainly not living with the family at the time of the 1881 census and, ten years later, Elizabeth described herself as a widow.
In early 1899, Albert junior married Florence Agnes Cushing, a lace finisher, in Nottingham. Their story was a tragic one. Their daughter Florence Sarah arrived late that year but died in early 1900. They had no more children. When Florence was born Albert had already enlisted in the Royal Marine Artillery as a private aboard Jupiter. Florence, probably grieving the loss of her daughter, went to live with her widowed mother.
By 1911 the couple had moved to Southampton, perhaps because Albert now had a job as a steward with the American Line, and were living at 207 Victoria Road. Albert soon got a job with White Star, a far larger concern, and was, at first, on Oceanic, then he signed on to Titanic as a saloon steward. It was not a good move. He was lost with the ship and his body was never identified. What became of Florence is unknown.
The road running up from the shore towards the Archery Ground is called Swift Road these days. Back in 1912, it was called Onslow Road. Our next crew member, Thomas Mullin, lived at number 12. He was born in Maxwelltown Dumfriesshire in 1891, the eldest of Charles and Mary Jane’s five children. Charles was a Turner in a mill. Both Thomas and Titanic bandsman John Law Hume attended St Michaels School in Dumfries and may well have known each other.
Thomas began his working life as a pattern weaver in the same mill as his father. By 1911 though, his parents had both died within a short space of time and Thomas was living almost four hundred miles from his home town, with his Aunt, Margaret Beattie, in Onslow Road, Woolston. He was now working as a pattern maker in the shipbuilding industry and, no doubt, missing his siblings who’d all stayed in Scotland with their maternal grandmother.
Failing eyesight put paid to Thomas’s weaving and pattern making work and this and a need to send money home to Scotland to help his family, was possibly what led him to go to sea. After a spell working on the St Louis, he signed on as one of Titanic’s third class stewards. His monthly pay was £3 15s.
Thomas did not survive the sinking but his body was at least recovered by the Minia. It was numbered 323 and the notes simply say Male, estimated age 12, hair. He was buried at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia. In his home town a large Obelisk was erected to Thomas and his shipmate John Law Hume, inscribed, In memory of John Law Hume, a member of the band and Thomas Mullin, Steward, natives of these towns who lost their lives in the wreck of the White Star liner Titanic which sank in Mid-Atlantic on the 14th day of April 1912. They died at the post of duty.
The further from the water we got the less the wind whistled and we were soon standing in front of 40 Swift Road, our next crew house. It was an unassuming semi detached house that would have looked far better without a skip in the driveway, debris in the garden and the rain falling. Obviously someone is having some building work done and it will likely look much better in a few months. This was where John Hall Hutchinson once lived. His parents, Edward and Dorothy Ann both came from Sunderland and moved to Woolston in 1876 with their three young daughters. They had two more daughters and a son and then, in 1884, John was born followed by another daughter and a son. In the 1891 census they were listed as living at New Road Woolston. This road was later renamed Onslow Road and is now Swift Road so it is possible that John was actually born in this house.
Edward was a publican and a cooper and, by 1901, the family were living at the Lin Inn Public House in Weston. This is, I think, a typing error as I can find no record of a Lin Inn in Weston and I believe it is probably the Sun Inn at the bottom end of Weston Lane. By this time John was working as a joiner. Later the family moved back to Onslow Road and John went to sea. In 1912 he left Olympic to join Titanic as ship’s joiner earning £6 a month, a very good wage for an unmarried man living with his parents.
John was one of two joiners on the ship. It is unclear exactly what their duties would have been but I imagine they were there to make running repairs should they be needed. Perhaps there wasn’t much for the joiners to do because John didn’t confine himself to carpentry. He became friendly with a first class Passenger, Marie Grace Young, who was taking some expensive poultry to America. Every day John took her below deck to check her birds and, as a thank you, she tipped him some gold coins. John was delighted with this and, apparently, told her it was good luck to receive gold on a first voyage. After the ship hit the iceberg it was reported that a carpenter rushed ono the bridge to tell Captain Smith that the forward compartments were flooding fast. This may well have been John.
Sadly, the gold Marie Grace Young gave him did not bring him luck. While she was rescued in lifeboat 8, he perished with the ship. In all probability body number 170 was John, although it was never formally identified as such. The corpse was estimated to be around twenty five years old and keys marked Carpenter’s Locker were found with it, along with a wood rule, silver watch and chain. The other joiner on board was John Maxwell, John’s senior colleague who was thirty.
John is remembered on the family headstone in St Mary Extra Cemetery in Sholing. He was also immortalised in the 1997 film Titanic. Portrayed by Richard Ashton, he is shown checking the hold and reporting to Captain Smith on the bridge. This is one of the more factually accurate scenes in the film.
The rain was getting harder again as we turned onto Church Road but at least we were now walking in the general direction of home. After almost a mile of walking we reached Enfield Grove, the cut way that runs from Inkerman Road to the Cricketers Arms on Portsmouth Road. To be honest I didn’t even remember any houses being on the lane, even though I’ve walked along it several times. Obviously I must have been walking with my eyes closed in the past because there are actually two houses hidden away there, one of which bore a black plaque.
Number 2 Enfield Grove was once the home of Henry Philip Creese. Henry was born in Falmouth, Cornwall in 1867, one of at least six children. His father, Charles, was a coastguard, originally from Devon, and his mother, Jane, was Cornish. The crease family seem to have moved between various coastal towns including Westport County Mayo, Falmouth, and Belfast, where Charles presumably worked as a coastguard. Henry served an apprenticeship at Harland and Wolff, earning a second class engineer’s certificate.
His nomadic upbringing seemed to influence his adult life. He went on to work at various shipping companies, including Head Line Shipping, the Ulster Steamship Company and the Isle of Wight Steam Packet Company before joining White Star in 1898. In 1894 he’d married Elizabeth Anne Incledon Napton, a Cornish girl from Falmouth. The couple married in Cardiff and, by 1901, they were living in Poole Dorset. At some point in the next few years they moved to Enfield Grove. During their travels they had three children, Dorothy, Henry and Gladys.
Henry left the Olympic to join the Titanic as a deck engineer. His monthly wages were £10 10s a month. All twenty five engineers aboard perished, including Henry, whose body was never identified. Their valiant efforts to keep the engines and pumps running and the lights on, saved many lives, but their families received nothing from White Star. In fact, as soon as the ship sank, all wages stopped. Instead, Henry’s family were assisted by the Titanic Relif Fund charity.
Elizabeth never remarried and stayed in Southampton until her death in 1937. Henry’s last surviving child, Gladys, died in Southampton in 1983. The titanic Engineers Memorial, opposite the Cenotaph in Southampton, the Liverpool Titanic and Engineers memorial, the Glasgow Institute of Marine Engineers memorial and the Institute of Marine Engineers memorial, London remembers all these brave men and Henry is also remembered on family graves both in Hollybrook Cemetery Southampton and Ford Park Cemetery, Plymouth.
Our next houses were on Portsmouth Road. We had a number for one but we only had a name, Hollydene, for the other. Number 77 Portsmouth Road was easy enough to find. It once belonged to John Jospeh Shea, born in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1872. John’s father, also called John, was from Ireland and his mother, Sarah Jane, from Glastonbury. They had ten children. John senior was in the army so the family moved around during his early married life, even living in India for a time. When he left the army he became a publican and the family settled in Hampshire. By 1891, the family were living in Clarence Road, presumably in Southsea. John senior was now a lamplighter and John was a domestic coachman.
In 1900 John married Jessie Sowen, a Sholing girl, in Woolston. Around this time he appears to have gone to sea. Between 1994 and 1906 the couple had two sons, John George and Leslie Thomas, both born in Woolston. They lived at various Woolston addresses, including Sarah’s parents house, Mariner Cottage in Obelisk Road and Hazeleigh Avenue but, when John left Olympic to sign on to Titanic, they were living at 77 Portsmouth Road. It would be John’s last address.
John was one of Titanic’s first class stewards earning £3 15s a month. Around sixty stewards survived but John was not one of them. His body was recovered by the steamship MacKay-Bennett and numbered 11. The notes describe the corpse as male, estimated age 45, with a light moustache and dark hair. He was wearing a black coat, blue trousers and black boots and carrying a watch, keys marked 2nd Steward, gloves and a pipe. He was identified because his clothing was marked with the name Shea. He was buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 7 May 1912.
A death notice was posted in the Hampshire Advertiser on 27 April 1912. Shea-on the 15th inst., on board s.s. Titanic, John Shea, 77 Portsmouth road, Woolston, Southampton aged 39. Jessie never remarried and died in Winchester in 1966 at the age of 89. John’s son, John George, served in the Merchant Navy during World War II but what became of him afterwards is unknown. His other son, Leslie Thomas, was married to Winifred Perry in Southampton in 1936. He died in Southampton in 1974.
Portsmouth Road runs from the waterside in Woolston to Hamble Lane in Bursledon. It’s more than two and a half miles long, although only around a mile or so is in Woolston. From the waterside to Enfield Grove there are no private houses and we’d been looking out for a house named Hollydene as we walked. A few of the houses had names but most looked to be modern ones. Most only had numbers. Searching the whole road for a house name that may or may not have been there didn’t appeal to us very much, especially in the rain.
We decided we would keep walking and searching until we got to the traffic lights at the Station Road junction. The stretch of road from there to the railway bridge at the bottom of Wright’s Hill is mostly 1930’s houses and I’m fairly sure is no longer in Woolston. We never did find a house called Hollydene. It may be that it was bombed during the war or was eaten up by modern buildings such as doctor’s Surgeries or schools. Then again it may still be there but no longer have it’s name.
Whatever has become of Hollydene, it was once home to Charles Edwin Smith. Charles and his father George, were descended from Mark Diaper who owned several houses in Itchen Ferry Village and controlled the Itchen Ferry crossing. Diaper was a wealthy man and left a large sum of money to his daughter, Jane Diaper, Charles’ great grandmother. Charles’ mother, Mary Ann was originally from Yorkshire.
Born in 1872, Charles was the second youngest of George and Mary Ann’s six children. Charles was brought up in Itchen. In 1896, he married Martha Hannah Gibbens, from Sholing and it was likely at around this time that they moved to Portsmouth Road. Charles was, by then, probably already working at sea. Charles and Martha had five children but one died in infancy, the surviving children were Doris, George, Tom and Sybil.
Charles joined Titanic from Olympic as a bedroom steward and died when the ship sank. His body was recovered on 10 May 1912 by the Montmagny and numbered 329. There is no note of any effects found with the corpse. He was buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 20 May 1912. A death notice was posted in the Hampshire Independent. SMITH- April 15th, on the s.s. Titanic, Charley, the dearly beloved husband of Martha Smith (nee Gibbens), of Hollydene, Portsmouth road, Hound. Martha did not remarry and lived at Hollydene until her death in 1938. Charles is remembered on her gravestone in St Mary Extra Cemetery. His last surviving child was Sybil who died in 2001.
The last two houses on our list were in Portchester Road, just around the corner. We turned left onto Station Road, stopping briefly to take a photograph of the ghost sign for Alexandra Bakery, and then left again on to Porchester Road. Woolston Secondary School once stood on this corner but it’s now been replaced by new apartments and houses. The rain was still falling steadily and were were both rather fed up with getting wet. Now, at least, every step was taking us closer to home.
The houses we were looking for were about half way down the road. James William Cheetham Witter lived at 56 Porchester Road. The youngest of six children, he was born in Lancashire in 1880, the son of James, an agricultural labourer and Ann. The family lived at several addresses in Lancashire. It’s not known when James came to Southampton or why, although it’s probable that he relocated because he was working at sea.
In 1908 he married Hannah Graves, of Selkirk, Scotland.. By 1911 the couple were living at 56 Porchester Road. In August 1911, their first child, James Richard, was born and, in April the next year, James transferred from Olympic to Titanic as a second class smoke room steward.
On the night of the disaster James was on duty in the smoke room. He was due to close the room at midnight. At 11:40, when the ship struck the iceberg, some of the passengers in the smoke room asked James to find out what had happened. This he did but, believing the ship had simply dropped a propeller blade, he then closed up as normal and headed back towards his quarters. On the way he stopped to chat to a few shipmates. While they were talking John Hutchinson, the ship’s joiner and Woolston resident, came past and told the men “The bloody mail room is full!” And that the bulkheads were not holding. While they were still reeling from this news, saloon steward William Moss came past and said, “it’s really serious, Jim.”
James went straight back to his cabin, number seven glory hole. He gathered a few personal possessions, matches and cigarettes, and told his bunkmates to get up because the ship was sinking. One said. “What the hell are you talking about? Get out of here!” another threw a boot at him, annoyed at being woken. They either thought he was playing some kind of practical joke, or couldn’t believe that Titanic, with her watertight compartments, could possibly be sinking. Knowing there was no way he could convince them otherwise, James simply said “Good night Gentlemen,” and left.
Up on the deck James helped to load some of the lifeboats. He was standing on the rail trying to help a thrashing, hysterical woman into lifeboat 11 when she lost her footing and fell. James tried to grab her to stop her fall but they both tumbled into the boat. The boat was in the process of being lowered and the officer in command ordered James to stay where he was. This saved his life. Lifeboat 11 was the sixth to be lowered and the sixth or eighth to reach Carpathia.
James’ ordeal did not stop him going back to sea. Within three months he had signed on to Oceanic and he continued to work for White Star and then with Cunard on the transatlantic liners, including Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. He and Hannah had two more children, Betty and Jack. In 1916, the family briefly moved to Liverpool. They later returned to Southampton.
The horror of the sinking stayed with James for the rest of his life. He rarely spoke about that night but, in the 1950’s, he helped Walter Lord, who was then writing the book and film Night to Remember. He was reunited with several of his old shipmates and other survivors, including Edit Rosenbaum, who he remembered from lifeboat 11 as the lady with the musical pig who had tried to cheer and entertain everyone. Hannah died in 1956 and James followed her in 1961 aged 81. In his final delirium his mind returned to that fateful night on Titanic and he took his last breath believing her was still on the ship. He is buried in South Stoneham Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
Directly opposite James’s house was number 59, the home of Ernest Edward Archer. Ernest was born in Whitenap, near Romsey in 1876, the son of Richard, a Farm labourer, and Ann. He was one of eight children and lived in Romsey throughout his childhood. In 1888, when his father died, his mother married local sawyer, Joseph Annett.
Ernest’s first job was as a grocer’s labourer but, within a year or so, he’d gone to sea as an able seaman. In 1896, he married Elizabeth Mary Spencer, whose father was also a seafarer. They married in Woolston but set up home in Dukes Road, St Denys. They had nine children. Seven, Ethel, Ernest, Walter, Amy, Florence, Elsie and Hilda, survived infancy. After the turn of the century the family moved to Albert Road, St Mary’s and then to 59 Porchester Road, which was where Ernest was living when he signed on to Titanic. He had previously been working on Oceanic. As an able seaman he was paid £5 a month.
There were twenty nine able seamen on board Titanic, all had completed addition training and had seniority over other crew members. They carried out the day to day operations aboard 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.
Ernest, a light sleeper, was asleep in his bunk when Titanic struck the iceberg. The noise, which he later described as a grating, like the anchor being dropped and the cable running through the hawse pipe, woke him. He did not feel a crash but he knew something must be wrong so he got up, pulled on some trousers and headed to the forward deck. There he saw lots of small chunks of ice scattered along the starboard side.
He was barefoot, having not stopped to put on shoes, so he went back to his cabin where he donned shoes, a jumper and cap. As he was doing this the boatswain arrived and ordered all men up on deck. Once on the boat deck, Ernest and the other men began to prepare the lifeboats for launch. Ernest’s assigned lifeboat was number 7. He helped lower three starboard boats and was then ordered to the port side by an officer. There he helped load and lower lifeboats 12 and 14 before returning to the starboard side and helping to launch lifeboat 15. Once this was done he returned to the port side where an officer ordered him to check the plug was in place in lifeboat 16. While he was in the boat checking, passengers began getting in. He helped them. Later he would say there was no panic and everyone entered the boat in an orderly fashion.
When around fifty people were aboard the lifeboat the officer ordered it to be lowered. Ernest was still aboard, having by now, missed the launch of his own lifeboat. The boat reached the water and cleared the ship easily. Master at arms Henry Joseph Bailey, slid down the falls to take command of the boat and Ernest, along with another able seaman, James Forward, assisted. They rowed away from the ship but, after about a quarter of a mile, stopped. None of the seamen believed the ship would sink and they were sure they would soon be called back.
While they were waiting, Ernest heard two explosions, about twenty minutes apart. He later believed this was when the seawater reached the boilers. By this time it must have been clear there was no going back. Still they sat in the cold and dark. Ernest, in the bow of the lifeboat watched the dark silhouette of the ship as it gradually sank. Then, finally, Titanic’s lights went out and all they could see was a black mass.
Once the ship had disappeared a female passenger asked the crewmen to return to the wreck and try to rescue people from the water. They did not, perhaps because they didn’t believe there would be anyone alive to rescue, or maybe for fear of their little boat being swamped by desperate survivors. One of the stewardess asked to help with the rowing because she was so cold.
Once the ship’s lights had disappeared they saw a light in the distance and began to row towards it. Moments later someone spotted the lights of Carpathia in the opposite direction and they turned around and rowed towards her instead. There must have been other lifeboats all around them and a great deal of shock and confusion. At one point a fireman climbed into lifeboat 16 from lifeboat 9 to help with the rowing.
Ernest’s experiences coloured his views enough for him to forbid his sons from going to sea, although he continued to do so himself and even worked in troop transport during World War I. Ernest’s boys served apprenticeships in the shipyards.
The family remained at 59 Porchester Road for the rest of Ernest’s life. He died in 1917, at the Royal Southants Hospital aged just 42. In the years following the disaster he’d suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, blamed by his family on the shock and exposure he’d suffered on that terrible night, He was buried in an unmarked grave in St Mary Extra Cemetery. An announcement was posted in the Echo, ARCHER–On October 18th, at the R.S.H. Hospital, Ernest Edward, the dearly beloved husband of Elizabeth May Archer, of 59 Porchester-road, Woolston, aged 42 years. “Rest in peace, dear heart” Elizabeth never remarried and died in Southampton in 1960.
Now we’d found the last of the Titanic crew houses in Woolston it was time to head for home. The rain was still falling intermittently as we headed up Manor Road North and cut back along Poole Road where our Titanic journey had started. Thinking about what even the survivors of the disaster had had to endure though, the rain suddenly didn’t seem quite so bad,
When we set out, we’d thought about searching for the crew houses in Itchen too. In the end though, soaked through and tired, we decided to leave them for another day…
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CJ was eager to look for more Titanic Crew houses so, last night, I spent a few hours mapping the ones in Woolston and Itchen and planning a route. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t play nicely. It was a dismal, drizzly day, the kind that fogs my glasses and makes me grumpy. If it was down to me I’d probably have postponed the walk until the weather was better but CJ was having none of it. The one consolation was that there would be no real hills. The first house on our list was going to be easy to find too. It was in Poole Road, where Commando was born.
Back in 1912, Poole Road was called Brook Road and it’s really more Itchen than Woolston. On the Titanic crew list it was down as Woolston though, so we counted it as our first Woolston crew house. Number 16 was a little end of terrace cottage, not unlike the house Commando was brought up in, although his was semi detached. Once it was the home of George Frank Bailey.
George was born in 1866 in Newport, Wales, the son of James, a labourer, and his wife Annie. The couple had nine children. Little is known about George’s early life but, by 1886, he had moved to Gosport and married Eliza Martha Turnbull. At the time they already had one child, George, and went on to have eight more. Seven survived to adulthood, George, Thomas, Eliza, Ellen, Sarah, Frank and Frederick. The family lived in Alverstoke and Gosport for some years and, in 1895, after a spell in the Royal Monmouthshire Militia, George joined the Royal Navy as a stoker. He served aboard many ships including Victory II, Victory III, Porpoise, Australia, Revenge, Apollo and Firequeen II. In 1905, he left the navy, sporting a number of tattoos, light brown hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion.
When he signed on to Titanic on 6 April 1912, he gave his address as 16 Brook Road. It isn’t clear if his family were also living there. Titanic had one hundred and sixty three firemen, or stokers, earning £6 a month. George was one of them. Each was assigned to one of the ship’s twenty nine boilers and three of its one hundred and fifty nine furnaces. Next to each boiler was a coal chute leading from the overhead bunkers. The fireman’s job was to shovel this coal into his three furnaces. It was hard, dirty, hot work. The firemen worked shifts of four hours on and eight hours off because the boiler rooms were so hot and the work so hard. Most worked in just their undershirts and shorts. Several of the forty five or so firemen who survived the sinking got into lifeboats dressed this way, although it was an extremely cold night. Sadly, George was not one of them.
When the ship struck the iceberg all off duty engineering and boiler room crew were called to help with the pumping operations or to keep the boilers running to power the ship’s lights. Their actions saved many lives and George was probably among them. There was little chance of escape for these brave men, as the ladders out of the boiler room were steep and, with the ship listing, probably impossible to climb. Most did not drown, but were either crushed by the huge boilers as the ship listed ever further or killed by the escaping steam as the pipes ruptured.
George’s body was never identified. His wife, Eliza, remarried in 1919. She lived in Gosport until her death in 1933. George’s last surviving child, Sarah Ann, died in Portsmouth in 1987 aged 91.
The next house on our list was also more in Itchen than Woolston but, as it was on our Woolston list, we crossed Bridge Road and went in search of it. It was soon clear that Shamrock Road had just one house on it, it was modern and it wasn’t number 17. This was hardly a surprise as this whole area was once part of Itchen Ferry Village, which was more or less wiped out during the Southampton Blitz.
The house may not have been there any more but 17 Shamrock Road was where John Conner once lived. John was born in Portsmouth in 1871, or 1872, the youngest of three children. His father, William Henry, a general labourer, was from Chichester and his mother, Mary Ann, a dressmaker, was from Portsmouth. They had three children and lived at various addresses in Portsmouth.
John went to sea at an early age and joined the Royal Navy in 1890. He served aboard the Asia, Victory I, Victory II, Excellent, Gibraltar, Duke of Wellington II and, finally, Australia. He left the navy in 1902, after a less than perfect career with several spells in the cells. He was five foot four inches tall, with dark hair, blue eyes and tattoos on his left arm.
John, who was unmarried, joined Titanic as a fireman. As he’d served on some of the same ships as George Bailey, it’s possible the two knew each other. Like George, he did not survive the sinking and his body was never identified.
We took a couple of photos of Shamrock Road to show we’d been there, including one of some rather nice, but puzzling graffiti., then we headed for the real Woolston.
Anyone local will tell you Woolston proper doesn’t begin until you’ve passed under the railway bridge on Bridge Road. There is even a small sign right in front of it telling you you will be in Woolston once you’ve passed through the long, tile clad tunnel. Since the building of the Itchen Bridge there are actually two bridges to pass under.
We stopped at the Millenium Garden for a moment or two to photograph the soldier shilouette there. It was now raining steadily and I was beginning to wish we’d stayed at home in the dry where I could actually see where I was going.
The next houses on our list were in Woodley Road, the road running between the shops on the high street and the modern houses facing the river. These days it’s a one way road and most of it is taken up with a car park. To say I wasn’t confident of finding any of the houses still standing would be an understatement. It turned out I was right. The three crew members houses on this short stretch of road either had no house number or had even numbers. The only houses still standing were odd numbers. With the rain and the Shamrock Road disappointment, it was an inauspicious start.
John Barnes did not give a house number when he joined Titanic so one of these remaining houses could have been his. He was born in 1872 in Boscombe, the son of Henry, a Railway platelayer, and Annie. John was the eldest of seven children. In 1890, John married Amelia “Minnie” Beale. The family were now living in Christchurch and both John and his father Henry were working as brick makers. John and Minnie had nine children, only Thomas, Alice, Rose and William survived to adulthood. By 1901, the family had moved to Netley Green in Hound and, from there, to Woodley Road. John was either working at sea or as a labourer. He left Oceanic to join Titanic as a fireman. Sadly, he did not survive and his body was never identified.
Amelia and her children were left to survive on money from the Titanic relief fund and there are several entries in the Mansion House Titanic Relief Fund minutes about money given to her. In 1913 an allowance of 3/6d per week was paid for her youngest son, William, to be treated for St Vitus dance, caused by rheumatic fever, and she continued to receive money from the fund for groceries until at least 1924. She eventually remarried and died in the 1930’s. John’s daughter, Alice, married Reginald Baker and died in Portsmouth in 1991. His Daughter Rose married William Miles and died in Southampton in 1983. What became of his surviving sons is unknown. There is, however, a memorial brick in the Woolston Millenium Garden in John’s name. Maybe one day I will find it?
James Kelly lived at 12 Woodley Road, somewhere above what is now the car park. He was born in County Meath, Ireland in around 1868. He left Ireland when quite young and went to sea. He served on several ships including Teutonic, Lucania, Oceanic, Cedric, and Campania. In around 1897 he married Mary Conlan, an Irish girl from County Monaghan. Whether they met and married in Southampton is not clear but their first son, James, was born there in 1900. Two more sons, Francis and John, were born between 1902 and 1908 in Liverpool. James was working as a fireman for White Star during this time and it seems the family moved between the cities depending on which port the ship he was on departed from. By 1911 the family were living at Woodley Road and James regularly attended mass at St Patrick’s Church in Woolston.
He left the St Paul to join the crew of Titanic as a greaser, earning £6 10s a month. There were thirty three greasers on Titanic, working in the turbine and engine rooms to oil and lubricate the mechanical equipment. It was, perhaps, a less demanding job than that of a fireman, but would have been equally dirty and dangerous. It was also slightly better paid. Poor James did not survive and his body was never identified.
James’ widow, Mary, returned to County Monaghan, Ireland with their children, probably to be nearer her family there. She died in the early 1920’s. His son, Francis, became a member of the IRA during the Irish War of Independence. In 1923, he emigrated to America where he married and had four children. During the Depression he returned to Ireland and, for a while, worked in Cork at an automobile plant. He later returned to America and worked in the printing plant of the Courier Express in Buffalo. He died in 1997. His brother John also settled in Buffalo and worked for a newspaper printer. He married an American woman, Violet Stebbins. John died in 1987. James, the eldest son, went to Ontario but it isn’t known what happened to him.
Frank Bendell lived at 26 Woodley Road, also where the car park is now. He was born in Christchurh in 1888. His father, William Thomas, was a labourer and his mother, Charlotte, came from Portland in Dorset. They had nine children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. At some time in the late 1890’s the family moved to Sholing, Southampton and, by 1911, were living at Woodley Road. By then Frank was working at sea as a fireman. He left the Kildonan Castle to join the Titanic. It was a move he would regret.
Like most of the firemen aboard Titanic, Frank went down with the ship and his body was never recovered. He was not the last of his siblings to be lost at sea. His brother Bertie was among the lost when the SS Galway Castle was torpedoed during World War I. Another brother, Frederick Charles, was aboard HMHS Britannia in November 1916 when she struck a mine in the Aegean. He was luckier than his two brothers and survived.
Woodley Road led us to Keswick Road where our next house should have been. The only houses on Keswick Road these days are new builds though so I knew from the outset we would not find William James Pitfield’s house. All we could do was take a photograph of the street sign and head up the hill towards the High Street. At least the rain had eased off a little.
William lived at 13 Keswick Road, although, back then, it was called Albert Road. He was born in Woolston in December 1886 to William Henry, a shipyard labourer, and Louisa. He had five siblings. The family lived at various Woolston addresses and, by the time he was 14, William was working as an errand boy. In 1908 he married Haidee Ethel Diaper, a member of a well known Itchen family, and moved to 13 Johns Road, at the end of the terrace where I once lived. William was, by now, working as a greaser, probably on Oceanic. Two years after their marriage they had a son, William Frederick.
When William left Oceanic to join Titanic as a greaser he and his family were living at 13 Albert Road. When the ship sank just four of the thirty three greasers survived. William was not one of them and his body was never identified. Poor Haidee was pregnant at the time and, tragically, her daughter, Haidee Doris, died before her first birthday. In 1919 she married Edward Wells and had two more children. She died in Southampton in 1950. William’s son, William Frederick, lived in Southampton all his life. He married Dorothy Victoria Thorp. The couple had children but it isn’t known what became of them. William Frederick died in 1973.
Our hunt for Woolston crew houses was, so far, proving almost as dismal as the weather. Given how badly the area was bombed during World War II in an effort to destroy the Spitfire factory, this was hardly surprising. Our spirts were raised a little when we turned onto Victoria Road and discovered the next house on our list was still standing. This section of Victoria Road acts as Woolston’s high street and the house in question, 34 Victoria Road, was actually a shop.
Whether it was a shop when Ewart Sydenham Burr lived there is unclear. Ewart was born in Gloucester in the summer of 1883, the second of six children for Francis Henry, an oil and coal man, and Catherine Anne Maria. Around the turn of the century the family moved from Gloucester to Scotland and Francis Henry became a branch manger in the photography industry. Ewart got a job as a hosier’s assistant. By around 1903 the whole family had relocated again and were living in Southampton. Ewart married Ethel Alice Amelia Burr in 1910 and set up home in Milbrook Road with Ethel’s uncle and his family. In December that year, their son, Cecil Ewart, was born and Ewart got a job as an assurance agent. Before long though he was working aboard Oceanic, presumably as a steward.
When he signed on to Titanic as a first class steward, Ewart gave his address as 48 Above Bar. This was his parents address but it is believed he was actually living at 34 Victoria Road with his wife and child. His wages were £3 10s a month and he seemed to enjoy his work. He posted a letter to Ethel in Queenstown, filled with tales of working in the first class Saloon and of serving at the Countess of Rothes’ table. When the ship sank, the countess was rescued in lifeboat 8. Ewart was not so lucky, he went down with the ship and his body was never identified.
Poor Ethel learned of his death on 19 April. The telegram she received said simply Much Regret Burr not Saved. She never remarried and died in 1983. Cecil, Ewart and Ethel’s son, married Gwendoline Sandy and raised a family in Hampshire. He died in 1996.
From Victoria Road we looped round to Inkerman Road. The next house on our list, number 70, was nearer the top of the road than I’d expected. It once belonged to Horace Leopold Ross. In the 1860’s, Horace’s father, Charles Henry, left London and moved to the south coast to pursue a career working aboard private yachts. In Portsmouth he met local girl, Mary Ann Hinks. They married in 1861 and, four years later, moved to Southampton . Horace, born in 1874, was the sixth of their seven children.
When Mary Ann died, in 1877, Charles and the children set up home in Milton Road, Millbrook with Mary Ann Russell. Mary was married but her husband had left her and she had several children. She and Charles had four more children together. In 1895, Mary Ann’s estranged husband died and she and Charles could finally marry. By this time Horace was married himself, to Florence Cross, living in Naseby Road, Shirley and working as a baker and then a slater.
Horace and Florence had four children but only two survived infancy, Florence and Clifford. By 1911 they were living at 57 Johns Road. A year later, when Horace signed on to Titanic, they had moved to 70 Inkerman Road. It was the first time he’d been to sea but he may have been influenced by his seafaring father, or by the wages of £3 10s a month he earned as a scullion. His job would have been mainly dish washing and other menial kitchen tasks.
When the ship was sinking, lifeboats 13 and 15 were lowered from the starboard side and reached A deck at almost the same time. Once all the women nearby had boarded, the boat was still quite empty so the men nearby were told to get in, amongst them was Horace. Getting into the boat did not mean he was safe though. First it was caught up in water being pumped out of the sinking ship, then lifeboat 15 was almost lowered directly on top of it. At the last moment someone found a knife and cut the ropes, allowing it to float away to safety. It was the seventh or eighth boat to reach Carpathia.
So Horace returned to his family in Woolston and, undaunted by his experience, continued to work at sea until the 1920’s. His wife died in 1936 and Horace followed her on 4 November 1940. By coincidence the notice of his death appeared in the Hampshire Advertiser directly above that of Arthur Henry Rostron, the captain of the ship that had saved him all those years before. He is buried in Southampton Old Cemetery, but I have yet to stumble across his grave. His daughter, Florence, married Mario Occleppo and died in London in 1998. Clifford, his son, never married and remained in Southampton until his death in 1990.
From Inkerman Road we turned right into West Road and headed for Obelisk Road where two more crew members once lived. It wasn’t long before we found 73 Obelisk Road, once the home of Frank Allsop. If there was any doubt we had the right address it was quickly dispelled when we spotted one of the black plaques that are slowly being put up on crew members houses. It was the first such plaque we had seen on our travels. The wheels of the council grind exceeding slow on these matters and I presume not all house owners agree to have a plaque put up when their turn comes.
Frank was born in Torquay, Devon on 28 November 1868 to James and Eliza. James worked as a butler and, during his career, boasted several important employers, including Lord Digty of Misterne Magna, Dorchester, F.G.W. Augustus and Lord Politmore of Politmore Park. Eliza was a housekeeper for a retired army captain and later a cook for James P. Currie, a distiller and director of the Bank of England. Their work meant the couple did not live together and had just one other child, Ellen, born in 1886. The children seem to have moved a great deal, living with one parent or another, or with a paternal aunt and uncle, which must have been quite disruptive. Late in his working life James ran a lodging house in London. As the turn of the century approached he retired and returned to his birthplace in Tissington Derbyshire without his wife and children, telling everyone he was widowed. Eliza actually lived with her daughter in Poole until her death in 1911.
Perhaps influenced by his father, Frank left school and began to work for various wealthy families. He worked in Mayfair, London as a footman for Katherine de Barreto, a rich widow, and later as her butler. By 1901 he was a servant to Lord and Lady Adeline Butler at Willesey House in Kent. He married Elizabeth Purdie in 1904. Their daughter, Ellen, was born the next year but whether they ever lived together is unclear.
For a while he owned a business of some kind in Hertfordshire but what kind of business is a mystery. By 1911, Frank and his daughter were lodging at 83 Alma Road, Southampton. Frank was working as a wholesale grocer but his wife, Elizabeth, seems to have disappeared. Given the lack of stability during his early life it’s not surprising that Frank appeared to flit from place to place and career to career. Going to sea might have satisfied his capricious nature. His first ship was Oceanic and then he joined Titanic as a steward, earning £3 10s a month. By now he was living at 73 Obelisk Road.
His wanderings came to an end when Titanic sank. He was lost with the ship and his remains were never identified. He is remembered on his father’s grave in Tissington. Also of Frank Richard, Son of the above, James Allsop who was drownded (sic) on the Titanic, April 15th 1912 aged 43 years. Nearer my God to Thee.
We carried on down Obelisk Road towards the river and, near the junction with Church Road, we found our next black plaque on 49 Obelisk Road. The large, double fronted house of ochre bricks was once the home of Herbert Gifford Harvey. Herbert was born in Belfast in 1878, the sixth of James Thompson and Elizabeth Garson Harvey’s children. James was a partner of Belfast ship owners, Lawther and Harvey and Herbert seems to have had a fairly privileged upbringing, studying at at the Belfast Royal and Portora Royal School. He then served an apprenticeship in the locomotive works of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. In 1899, during the Boer War, he was one of the first volunteers to join the 46th Company Imperial Yeomanry. He was involved in several engagements and was awarded the Queen’s Medal with three clasps and the King’s medal with one clasp.
When he returned to Belfast he worked with the shore staff of Harland & Wolff, then Lowther, Latta & Co, owners of a steamship company, before joining the White Star Line in 1907. On Teutonic he was appointed Assistant Third Engineer and later promoted to Assistant Second Engineer. He then transferred to Olympic and finally to Titanic as Assistant Second Engineer. He was on board for her trip from Belfast to Southampton. He gave his Southampton address as 49 Obelisk Road but it is possible he was just lodging there as his mother, now widowed, was living in an affluent area of Belfast with several of his siblings. Herbert was, however, engaged to be married. Although the identity of his bride to be is not known he may have bought the house for them to live in permanently as Southampton was Titanic’s home port and his wages of £12 10s a month were very good.
At the time of the collision Herbert was on duty in the engine room. John Henry Hesketh, the Second Engineer and therefore his immediate superior, was in Boiler Room 6 with Leading Fireman Frederick Barrett inspecting the coal bunker to see if the fire that had been raging since the ship left Belfast was finally out. The iceberg ripped into this part of the ship but both men escaped through a connecting tunnel to Boiler Room 5 and closed the bulkhead doors. All twenty five engineers stayed below decks. Some were operating the pumps trying desperately to keep the ship afloat, others were keeping the steam up to stop the boilers exploding or keeping the generators running so passengers had light to find their way to lifeboats. These brave men almost certainly understood the sacrifice they were making. Not one engineer survived. Herbert’s body was never recovered.
The rain was getting heavier again and the closer we got to the water the more the cold wind blew it in our faces. It was a good two hours since we left home and, for more than an hour, we’d been wandering the streets of Woolston searching for houses. Our success rate had been variable to say the least and there were eight more still to find in Woolston alone. By now we were close to Centenary Quay and coffee so we decided to stop, have a warming drink and decide whether to call it a day or carry on…
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It was one of those bright, crisp days, perfect weather for the first real walk of the year, one that wasn’t about shopping, or parkrun, or errands. CJ was eager to hunt down more of the Titanic crew houses. Looking for the ones in Bitterne last September had been an interesting exercise, as had researching the crew members who lived in them. Searching for more seemed like a good excuse for a walk.
It might not have been the longest walk we’d ever taken but, what it lacked in distance, it made up for in hills. We began with a march up Lances Hill, stopping briefly near the top to take a photograph of the shadow soldier by the benches. We’ve both passed him many times since November when these rememberance silhouettes appeared but, until now, neither of us had taken a picture of this one.
Lances Hill is a bit of a climb. It certainly warmed us up. It wouldn’t be our last, or our steepest climb of the day though. At the top we wound our way slowly back down to the dip at the bottom of Mousehole Lane and then began to climb once more, gaining around 36 metres of elevation in less than a third of a mile. We ended up at the Castle, once a pub, now a Tesco Express, one of the highest points on the east side of the city. We were both puffing a bit.
All this climbing was worth it, not just for the spectacular views but also because it took us to the site of our first Titanic crew house on Castle Road. Sadly, Athol Frederick Broome’s House, White Lodge**, was either eaten up by the building of Bitterne Park School, or has been renamed but we found a house called Mar Lodge which is probably very similar to the one he lived in. We stopped, caught our breath and took a photograph.
Athol Frederick Broome was born in Wood Green, Harringey, Middlesex in 1881 to Harry, a commercial traveller, and Rosa Ellen. Both Harry and Rosa were originally from Hampshire. Harry died in 1896 and, within a short time, Athol went to sea to work as a steward.
When Athol moved to Southampton isn’t clear, but he was certainly living here in 1910 when he married Alice Schipper. They set up home with Alice’s mother in White Lodge. On 4 April 1912, he left the Oceanic and signed on to the crew of the Titanic as a first class verandah steward. His monthly wages were £3 15s.
Athol’s job involved serving passengers in the Verandah Café. It had the feel of a sidewalk cafe, with large windows and sliding doors looking out onto the ocean. It was elegantly furnished with wicker tables and chairs, a checkerboard floor in brown and beige tiles and potted Kentia palms.
Unfortunately, Athol did not survive the sinking of the ship and his body was never identified. Alice remarried in 1914 and moved to Kidderminster where she had three children. She died in 1974. During the salvage operation on the wreck of the Titanic in the late 1980’s a stewards jacket with the name Broome sewn into it was recovered. In all probability it belonged to poor Athol.
From the Castle the only way is down but it was a fairly short descent from Castle Road to Hillside Avenue. On the corner of Dimond Road we came upon one of the ghost signs that always make me smile. The house must once have been a grocers shop. Perhaps some of the six Titanic crew members who lived around the corner in Hillside Avenue shopped there?
This long curving road would take us down towards the river. As every one of the crew addresses was a house name rather than a number we strolled slowly downwards peering at the fronts of the houses searching for the names on our list.
Our first success was Haiwatha, the home of Gordon Raleigh Davies. Gordon was born in Liverpool in 1879, one of Robert Henry and Sarah Jane Davies’ nine children. Robert Henry was a ship’s steward, as was Gordon’s elder brother Robert. Gordon followed the family tradition and also became a steward.
In 1904 Gordon married Elizabeth Alice Derbyshire of Bootle and, over the next seven years, they had three children, Gordon, Charles and Bessie. By 1911, when Bessie was born, they were living in Southampton. Like Athol Frederick Broome, Gordon left Oceanic to join the crew of Titanic. He became a bedroom steward in first class and would have earned £3 15s a month. For this he would have been responsible for five first class rooms. His jobs included cleaning rooms, making beds, serving passengers food in their rooms and helping them get dressed. When the ship sank he was lost and his body was never identified. His widow, Elizabeth, along with his children, returned to Liverpool and Elizabeth died in 1940.
The next house we found was Linden, the home of Arthur Henry Derrett. Arthur was born in Wooten-under-Edge, Gloucestershire in 1883 the second of Thomas Henry and Louisa Derrett’s four children. Thomas was a labourer who later became a newsagent. When Arthur left school he became a servant at Boxwell Court in Leighterton, Gloucestershire. Before long though, he’d moved to London where he joined P&O and went to sea. From P&O he moved to White Star and signed on to the crew of Olympic. His first brush with death came when Olympic collided with HMS Hawke in the Solent in 1911. The ship was holed and her watertight compartments flooded but she limped back to Southampton with no loss of life.
This incident didn’t put Arthur off returning to sea and he signed on to Titanic in Belfast for her delivery voyage to Southampton. Once in Southampton he found a home in Hillside Avenue and signed on to Titanic again as a first class Saloon Steward, with wages of £3 15s a month. Sadly, he died in the sinking and his body was never identified.
A little further along the road we found Nestleton, the home of Walter James Brown. Walter was born in Ormskirk, Lancashire in 1871. His father, William Whittle Brown was a chemist and he and his wife Jane had four sons. Walter was the youngest. William died just a year after Walter was born and his mother started a grocery store. When Jane died, in 1896, Walter and his brother William took over the business. He also painted ceramics and porcelain for Royal Doulton and was an accomplished musician.
When he became a ship’s steward in around 1902, his intention seems to have been to work his passage to America and set up home there. Ten years later though, he was still working at sea and, on 1 April 1912, he left Olympic and joined Titanic in Belfast to sail with her to Southampton. He found a house in Hillside Avenue and signed on to Titanic again for her maiden voyage. Like Athol, his job was bedroom steward.
Walter was lost when Titanic sank. Like so many others, his body was never identified. He never married but his family still have a Royal Doulton vase he painted as a christening present and a notice of his death was posted in the Hampshire Independent. BROWN–April 15th, on s.s. Titanic, Walter Brown, aged 36. Gone, but not forgotten.
Our next find was Allandale, the home of Frederick Toms. Fred was born in Southampton in 1882, the fourth child of John and Mathilda Ann. His elder sister, Fanny, died the same year he was born, aged just two, and he was followed by two more sisters and a brother. In April 1912 Fred was working on the Olympic but signed on to the Titanic as a first class steward in Belfast and signed on again in Southampton for the maiden voyage.
Fred was one of the lucky ones, he was rescued in lifeboat 15, along with his friend, Saloon Steward, Benjamin Thomas. This was the eighth lifeboat lowered from Titanic’s starboard side, partly filled from the boat deck and partly from A deck. Although reports say everything was calm an orderly as the boat was filled there is some confusion about how many people were aboard. From eyewitness accounts there may have been as few as sixty eight or as many as eighty two, what is certain though, is that the majority were men, quite a few were crew and many were from third class.
When the boat was launched it almost landed on top of lifeboat 13 but the disaster was narrowly avoided and they rowed away as fast as they could. Lifeboat 15 was the tenth or eleventh to reach the Carpathia.
Back in Southampton, Fred soon went back to work. On 12 July, he signed on to Oceanic. Sadly, his health had been damaged by his experience on Titanic and he soon returned to Southampton where he married Nora Louisa Phillips. Soon after they married the couple emigrated to Los Angeles where Fred found work as a railway clerk for the Southern Pacific Railway. Fred never forgot his hometown and regularly wrote to his family in Southampton.
In 1937 Fred died of heart disease. He was cremated and his remains buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery Los Angeles. Norah continued to live in America but she later had Fred’s ashes returned to Southampton where they were buried in Hollybrook Cemetery.
On we walked, peering at the fronts of the houses we passed looking for names and probably looking fairly suspicious. Our job wasn’t easy. Not all of the houses have names above the doors and some names have been covered over or are weathered beyond reading. Some of the older houses have been replaced by more modern ones, possibly as a result of wartime bombing.
One of the Hillside Avenue crew members houses eluded us. Seftonmount, belonged to Thomas Benjamin Kirkaldy. He was born in St James, London in 1876, the son of Robert Alexander and Sarah Kirkaldy. He had a younger sister Catherine Emily and the family were quite well off with at least two servants.
Thomas started his working life as a bar tender at the Savage Club in London but soon moved to Liverpool and signed on as crew of Majestic. Oddly he gave his name as Thomas Clark. In 1899 he married local girl Martha Ann Price. In 1904, when their son Frank Alexander was born, they were living in Southampton at Seftonmount on Hillside Avenue and Thomas was working aboard Olympic. He signed on to Titanic as a first class bedroom steward on 4 April 1912. Curiously, he again gave his name as Thomas Clark.
Thomas was lost with the ship and poor Martha never remarried. She died in Trowbridge, Wiltshire in 1961. Their son, Frank, married Elizabeth Sarah Adams in 1933. He died in 1986 also in Trowbridge.
We very nearly missed the last house on our Hillside Avenue list. Hillside was close to the end of the road and the name etched on a stone square above the door was so worn we could barely make it out. It was once the home of William Henry James Slight.
William was born in Southampton in August 1875, one of at least seven children born to William Henry and Mary Slight. After William senior, a house decorator, died in 1880, the family continued to live at 3 Browns cottages in South Stoneham until Mary died. WIlliam and two of his siblings, Harry and Mary then moved to Bevois Valley Road to live with their married sister, Clara Poynter. William and his brother worked as errand boys, no doubt to earn their keep.
In 1897, William married local girl Catherine Lawes. The couple lived at Gordon Avenue in Portswood and had one son, Henry William in 1898. By this time it is likely that William was already working at sea. Sadly Catherine died in early 1912 and, at the beginning of April, William left Olympic and joined Titanic in Belfast. When he signed on again on 4 April, he gave his address as Hillside, Hillside Avenue. His brother Harry also signed on as a third class steward.
William was a larder cook on Titanic, earning a fairly princely sum of £7 a month. Neither brother survived the sinking and neither of their bodies were ever identified. Whether they managed to find each other in all the turmoil is a mystery but I’d like to think they did. William’s son, Henry, married Emily Elizabeth Painter in 1924. They had one daughter. Henry died in Southampton in 1977, what became of his daughter, William’s granddaughter, is unknown.
Hillside Avenue led us to Bond Road where another member of the victualling crew once lived. William Harold Welch was born in Southampton in December 1890. His father, Charles William, owned a grocers shop in St Mary’s and was originally from Weymouth. His mother, Mary Jane, was a Southampton lass. William had one younger brother, Charles Leslie.
By 1911 William was working aboard the Edinburgh Castle and the family had moved from St Mary’s and were living in St Catherine’s Road Bitterne Park. Perhaps the grocers store on the corner of Dimond Road belonged to them? William was living around the corner from his parents in North Haven, Bond Road when he signed onto Titanic as an assistant cook. He would have earned £4 10s a month, quite a sum for an unmarried man in his early twenties.
CJ and I walked up and down Bond Road looking desperately for house names. We found a few but, like in Hillside Avenue, many of the houses no longer had readable names or had no names at all. Despite going twice up and down the road we never managed to find North Haven and I had to content myself with photographs of other houses that may or may not have been similar to William’s. Sadly, William did not survive the sinking of Titanic and his body was never identified. His parents lived in Southampton until their deaths.
From Bond Road CJ and I turned right onto St Catherine’s Road and then right again onto Newton Road. Now we were going uphill again. Luckily, before we’d climbed too far, we found Egremont, the home of second class steward Alan Vincent Franklin.
Alan was born in Long Compton, Warwickshire, in 1883. His mother, Mary Ann, was just twenty three, unmarried and already the mother two year old Rupert, which, in those days, must have caused quite a scandal. Mary Ann evetunally married William Joseph Fessey in 1893 and went on to have two more children, Elizabeth and Elsie. Within four years she was widowed and it seems Rupert and Alan were brought up by their grandparents, Sam and Hannah Franklin. Sam was an agricultural labourer in Long Compton and he and Hannah had already raised nine children of their own.
By the turn of the century Alan was working as a coachman and still living with his grandparents. At some point in the next ten years he went to sea and, by March 1911, was living in London and had married Ada Blanch Couzens. Their first child, also called Alan Vincent, was born just three months after their wedding.
In 1912 Alan was working on Olympic but, on 4 April, he signed onto Titanic as a saloon steward earning £3 15s a month. He gave is address as Egremont, Newton Road, Bitterne Park but it is likely he was just lodging there as the house the belonged to Joseph Boles.
Ada was pregnant again when Alan set sail on Titanic. Whether she was also lodging in Newton Road isn’t clear but Alan never saw his daughter, also named Ada. He went down with the ship and his body was recovered by the MacKay Bennett.
Alan’s body was numbered 262. He was described as aged around 30, with light hair and was wearing a steward’s coat, vest, pants and a green overcoat. He was identified because his shirt bore the name A Franklin. He also had a corkscrew, no doubt part of his steward’s kit, a metal belt, keys, a nickel watch and chain, knife, rubber and purse.
Sadly White Star did little to help repatriate the bodies of lost crew members and poor Ada was in no position to pay to have her husband returned to her. Alain was buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax Nova Scotia. His grave remained unmarked for many years.
What became the of Ada Blanche is unclear, although it’s thought she remarried within the year. Alan junior married Ada Rice in Norfolk and had at least one child. He died in Cambridge in 1991. Ada, the daughter who was born after Alan senior died, married Frederick Collier in Norwich in 1934, she also had at least one child but, like her mother, seems to have simply disappeared.
The next house was surprisingly easy to find. Harry James Smither lived at 1 Ash Tree Road, at its junction with St Catherine’s Road and directly opposite the flat Commando used to own when he was young and single. Better still, it didn’t involve any hills.
Harry was born in November 1888 in Kilburn, Middlesex. His father, also called Harry, was a policeman from Hampshire and his mother, Louisa, was from Paddington, London. They married in 1882 in Hampshire. Harry was the fourth of their seven children.
Harry was brought up in London and educated at Netherwood Street School. By the time he left school the family had relocated to 1 Ash Tree Road, Southampton. Harry became a stoker at a stationary engine, quite was this involved or where he worked isn’t clear.
In late 1911 Harry married Daisy Farmer from Eastleigh and, shortly afterwards, they had a daughter, Louisa Mary. At the time he was working as a fireman on Olympic but, on 6 April 1912, he signed on to Titanic. As a fireman he could expect to earn £6 a month but he and his small family were still living with his parents in Ash Tree Road. Luckily, it’s quite a big house.
Harry didn’t survive the sinking of Titanic and his body was never identified. Poor Daisy remarried two years later and she and her new husband, Edmond George Whitlock, went on to have three more children. She died, aged just 23, in 1917 and no one knows what became of Harry’s daughter, Louisa. A little while ago though, I stumbled upon the grave of Harry’s parents in the Old Cemetery. It was cracked and broken but their memorial to Harry was still visible.
The next house on our list was close by on Oak Tree Road, the road that runs parallel with Ash Tree Road. Like so many on the list it had a name rather than a number so we went back to walking along peering at houses looking for names. Surprisingly no one called the police to report us as would be burglars.
About half way up the road, up being the operative word, we found two semi detached houses called Myrtle Bank. Albert Edward Coleman lived at number 2, which appeared to be having some building work done because there was a giant skip outside. This made it difficult to take a decent photo but I did my best.
Albert was born in Hampstead, London in December 1883. His father, Joseph, a coachman and groom, was from Rutland and his mother, Fanny, was from Boston Lancashire. They had five children and might have had more but Albert’s mother died in around 1896 and his father remarried soon after. Albert and his younger brother George moved to Rutland to live with his paternal aunt and uncle, where George became a pageboy (basically an apprentice footman). The life of a pageboy obviously didn’t suit him because, by 1897, aged just 13, he joined the Royal Navy, having lied about his age. He served aboard Impregnable, Lion, Agincourt, Magnificent, Pembroke I, Wildfire, Encounter and, finally, Dido. He was discharged from the navy in 1908.
Albert married Harriet Seagrove Heather in London two years later and within the year they were living in Myrtle Bank in Southampton where their son, Albert junior, was born. At the time Albert senior was working as a ship’s steward aboard Oceanic and, on 4 April 1912, he signed on to Titanic as Saloon Steward.
When Albert set sail Harriet was expecting their second child. Albert would never see his son George. He was lost with the ship and his remains were never identified. Poor Harriet never remarried and continued to live in Myrtle Bank until she died in 1929. She left more than £239 to her two unmarried sisters. What became of Albert’s two sons isn’t known but Albert himself has a memorial on a family grave in Hollybrook Cemetery.
Our penultimate house had both a name and a number so we strolled back down towards the river feeling fairly confident of finding it. The house was on Manor Farm Road, the long, long road, curving from Bitterne Park Triangle along the edge of Riverside Park to Woodmill Lane. We were both hoping number 47 was closer to the Triangle, and therefore us, than to Woodmill. As luck would have it, it was, but having a number made discovering this much easier.
Bulkeley House, 47 Manor Farm Road, was home to George Bulkeley Ede, born in Southampton in 1889. Both his parents, Arthur George and Ruth, were from Southampton and George was the first of their seven children. Arthur was a man of means, the son of the councillor for the St Denys Ward who came from a privileged West Indies plantation background. Around the turn of the century the family moved from Cambridge Road, St Mary’s, to Baulkeley House in Bitterne Park.
Like many other Titanic crew members, George left Olympic to Join the Titanic crew as a third class steward. He did not survive the sinking and his body was never identified but his parents lived in Manor Farm Road until they died and their beloved son is commemorated on their headstone in the Old Cemetery. Oddly, I discovered it on the same day I found Harry Smithers grave.
We now had just one house to find but we’d been walking for around an hour and a half and the hills had taken their toll. When we got back to the Triangle we both agreed we needed a coffee before we continued. Luckily the Songbird Cafe was open.
Fifteen minutes or so later, fortified by coffee, we were heading upwards again. This time our aim was Cobden Gardens, a short cul de sac rising up from the Triangle end of St Catherine’s Road. We quickly found number 14, once the home of Joseph Thomas Wheat.
Joseph was born in Rock Ferry, Cheshire, the first of William and Mary Jane Wheat’s three children. William was a seaman and this may well have influenced Joseph’s choice of career. When and why Joseph came to Southampton is unclear but, in 1911, he married Ellen Gertrude Whitley on the Isle of Wight. Shortly afterwards the couple moved to a boarding house in Queens Park Terrace, Southampton.
By 1912 Joseph and Ellen had moved to Cobden Gardens and Joseph was at sea on Olympic. He signed on to Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast and then again for her maiden voyage. He was Assistant Second Steward, earning £8 a month.
Our last Titanic tale of the day has a happy ending. Joseph was rescued in lifeboat 11. This was the sixth starboard lifeboat lowered. When it was lowered onto A deck several stewards were ordered to board it to help the passengers over the railing and into the boat. Most of these passengers were ladies who would have been severely hampered by their long skirts. This almost certainly saved Joseph’s life. There were between 58 and 80 people in lifeboat 11 when it was lowered into the sea. There were claims that the boat was lowered at a dangerous angle and several reports of a baby, without its mother, being thrown in at the last moment. Once they were in the water it was discovered there was no lamp in the boat but a sailor lit a piece of rope to use instead. It was the sixth or eighth boat to reach Carpathia.
Despite his experience Jospeh continued working at sea until the 1920’s. He and Ellen had one son, John Joseph William, born in November 1912. They later resettled in Bromley, Kent where Joseph died in 1961 aged 79. Ellen died eighteen years later in Worthing, Sussex, aged 95. Their son, John, married Doris Townley in Southampton in 1938. He died in 1976 but it’s unclear whether he had any children.
As for us, we had one final hill to climb to get back home. Thankfully it wasn’t too steep. Maybe our next Titanic mission should be somewhere a little flatter.
** Addemdum thank you to Mark Painter for telling me a little more about White Lodge and pointing me in the right direction to find photographs. The house was, he believes, burned down in the 1970’s and flats built on the site. The photograph is below.
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The second parkrun of 2019 began with a first. Young Cameron Sommerville-Hewitt, aged just 16, was trying his hand at Run Directing for the first time. This fine young man has somehow notched up more than one hundred runs and has a PB most people would envy (Commando certainly does). He’s been learning the ropes for a few weeks now and today, under the watchful eye of Event Director Rob, he donned the RD jacket and did a great job of organising things. When he turns eighteen he will be able to officially Run Direct on his own and will probably set the record for the youngest RD ever.
Despite all the brightly dressed runners, the morning was a dark, dismal affair but it quite suited my mood. The last few weeks seem to have been filled with losses. The first was my lovely neighbour of almost thirty years, then came a mother from my days waiting in the playground for my boys. They say these things come in threes and this was proved when we learned of the death of our martial arts instructor and friend, George. The first two deaths were not unexpected, both lovely ladies had been ill for some time. George’s death, however, was quite sudden and, although he was 83, it was a shock. His funeral was yesterday and today we planned to take some flowers to put on his grave. First though there was a parkrun to get through and some other graves to visit.
A walk in the Old Cemetery under a leaden, drizzle laden sky in the biting cold felt like a fittingly melancholy way to start a mournful day. While the runners were racing round with joyful abandon, I slowly wandered among the graves. Some, like that of William and Zillah Gear, felt like old friends. How many times have I passed by, smiled at the unusual name and wondered about the woman who once bore it?
The narrow path I chose turned out to be muddier than I’d expected but it led me to another familiar grave, that of Rebecca Arabella Dimmock and her husband, Charles. This grave first caught my eye because the name reminded me of TV gardener Charlie Dimmock and Rebecca Arabella seemed like a name that ought to be in a novel. Perhaps one day I will write it?
With no real aim I wandered this way and that, surprised to find Christmas baubles still clinging to some of the trees. Then I came across the grave of George Staur Madge, a wonderful name and an intriguing story. George was born in Southampton in 1834 but, at some point, emigrated to South Africa. Why is a mystery but he lived in Port Elizabeth, probably amongst the four thousand British settlers who’d set up home there in 1820 to strengthen the border region between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa people. How long he stayed there is unclear but, in 1881, when he died, he was living back in Southampton.
Close by I stumbled upon the grave of Ethel Bertha and Hector Young. Hector was mayor of Southampton between 1929 and 1930. He accompanied Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI) when he laid the foundation stone for the Civic Centre and was involved in the planning of the Sports Centre in the early 1930’s. Poor Ethel Bertha was killed in the Southampton Blitz on 24 September 1940 and Hector never forgot her. In 1962 he donated a window to St Michael and All Angels Church in Bassett in her memory. The window, showing the Archangel Michael defeating Satan, was designed by Francis Skeat. He also formed a charitable trust, The Berta And Hector Young Trust for the relief of hardship for members of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.
My meanderings were taking me towards the oldest part of the cemetery and, as I approached the chapels, I came upon a bench overshadowed by a tree whose branches were positively weighed down by festive baubles and trinkets.
This is not a part of the cemetery I visit often so there were a few interesting graves I hadn’t spotted before. One belonged to Hubert Napoleon Dupont. Born, Alphonse August Dupont, in France in 1805, he studied in the College de Valogues and the theological school in Coutances and was ordained as a catholic priest in 1854 but later abandoned Catholicism and became an Anglican minister. Whether this decision and his marriage to Suzanne Charley in 1857 were connected is unclear. Between 1856 and his death in 1876 he was minister of St Julien’s, the French church on Winkle Street. The inscription on his grave shows he was held in high regard.
The next belonged to Andrew Lamb, although the decorative script made this difficult to fathom. Born in 1803, he was Chief Engineer of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, later better known as P&O. Lamb was an innovator. He introduced, among other things, a boiler system to stop the build up of salts, patent life boats, a boiler with flat sided flues, a steam superheating device and an improved method of feed water heating for boilers. All these things would probably be of great interest to Commando Senior, who would understand them far better than I.
Lamb didn’t confine himself to engineering feats. In 1861 he became the first chair of the amalgamated Isle of Wight Steam Packet Co and Red Funnel Steamers. Ten years later he became the chair of the publishing company producing the Southampton Times and he was a JP and alderman. He built St Andrew’s Villa off Brunswick Place, and raised funds to build St Andrew’s Church on the lane near his house. Lamb was, undoubtedly, a very clever and philanthropic man and his death in 1881 must have been a loss to the engineering world and the town. Beside his grave is the grave of his son, Andrew Simon Lamb.
The grave beside these two was intriguing. It is a simple wooden cross surrounded by a kind of low wooden fence. The cross is engraved with the name Hugo P Hickman. The really curious thing is a painting of a house leant up against the cross. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a painting on a grave and I couldn’t help wondering if this was Hugo’s house or if Hugo was an artist. Sadly Googling didn’t satisfy my curiosity. All I discovered was that the grave belonged to Hugo Pendennis Hickman, born 23 June 1925, who died on 30 July 2003. Still wondering I headed back towards the cemetery gates and parkrun.
As if the day hadn’t been filled enough with graves, after a coffee and a bite of lunch, we headed out again to visit George’s grave in Shedfield. The drive there was a sad reminder of so many other, happier, drives to George’s gym on Black Horse Lane. This one ended with a pretty Church and a lych gate, beyond which was a graveyard.
The grave was already heaped with flowers but CJ bent to add ours to them all the same. George was a very popular man. So popular it had been standing room only in the church the day before. He was a real character. In his youth he joined the Royal Marine Commandos and became an instructor in unarmed combat. In later life he turned to teaching martial arts and this was where he met Commando, CJ and, much later, me.
Commando and CJ were rather good at martial arts. Commando learned Kung Fu before CJ was born and, under George’s tutelage, along with CJ added jujitsu, Karate and mixed martial arts to his repertoire. Fighting has never been my thing but George insisted on teaching me self defence. He found it amusing that I could only bear to train with Commando, as he was the only person at the gym I wasn’t scared to hurt. I can still hear him saying, “I’m going to teach you a naughty little trick now, in case someone comes out at you one dark night.”
George was a tiny man, not much taller than me and slightly built. Looks can be deceptive though. Even in old age he was more than a match for even the youngest and strongest of men. He was also full of interesting stories. The little grave seemed far too small to contain such a giant personality.
We couldn’t linger too long in Shedfield because, predictably, Commando had a race at Fairthorn Manor in nearby Curdridge. It was his last race as a Spitfire and my last stint as Spitfire photographer. We went. He ran. I took photos. There is little else I want to say about it except that a chapter has ended and our integrity is intact. So far this year seems to be all about endings.
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