Titanic tales from Bevois Valley

10 April 2019

Engraving by Willy Stöwer: Der Untergang der Titanic

We were close to the railway crossing at Mount Pleasant, just a stone’s throw away from Northam Bridge. Tempting as it was to head for home and leave the rest of the Bevois Valley houses for another day, we decided to head back towards Bevois Valley and keep searching, at least for a while. Our next house was on Rockstone Lane.

Rockstone Lane

The terraced houses of Rockstone Lane look as if they haven’t changed much since Titanic sailed so I was confident we would find the house where the unimaginatively named Humphrey Humphries once lived. Humphrey was born in Southampton in 1880, the second son of Henry and Emma Humphries. Henry, was a gardener, originally from Devon and Emma was from Herefordshire. They married in Worcestershire in 1879  and moved to St Mary’s in Southampton shortly afterwards. By 1891 Emma had been widowed and the family were living in the St Michael’s area of the town centre. Emma was working as a charwoman to support her family, but, in 1892, she married widower, John Toms, who was an ironmonger and coppersmith. 

By the turn of the century Humphrey was working as a night porter at the South Western Hotel, where so many of Titanic’s wealthy passengers would spend their last night on land. It isn’t clear when he first went to sea but the hotel was popular with steamer passengers so perhaps this was where the idea came from. 

Poor Emma didn’t have much luck with husbands. By 1906, she’d been widowed again and by 1911, was living at 10 Rockstone Lane with Humphrey’s widowed brother Harry and his two young children, Harry and Stanley. Humphrey was already working at sea but 10 Rockstone Lane was the address he gave when he signed onto Titanic so it’s likely he was living there between voyages. He’d previously been working as a steward on Oceanic. 

10 Rockstone Lane

As a second class steward, Humphrey would have earned £3 15s a month and supplemented this with tips from passengers. A good steward could do very well from tips, although the stewards in first class obviously got the lion’s share as their passengers were often extremely wealthy. Poor Humphrey never got to spend his wages or his tips though. He was lost with the ship and his body was never identified. His heartbroken mother posted an announcement in an unidentifiable newspaper.

HUMPHREYS–April 15th, at sea, on s.s. Titanic, Humphrey Humphreys, the beloved son of Emma Toms, of 10 Rockstone Lane, Southampton, aged 31 years. May his dear soul be at rest. “Nearer my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.”

She died in Southampton in 1928 and Humprhey’s brother, Harry, died in 1932. What became of Harry’s sons isn’t known. 

The next house on our list was in Cedar Road, which meant retracing our steps back to Bevois Valley Road. We stopped for a moment to admire the golden dome of the Gurdwara Nanaksar on the triangle of land between Bevois Valley Road and Peterborough Road. This was once the Bevois Town Methodist Chapel, built in 1861 and enlarged in 1906. After the church was damaged by wartime bombing it remained empty for many years and was even used as a furniture store at one point. In around 1970, the Sikh community purchased the building and turned it into a temple.

Now we were in for a bit of a climb. Peterborough Road led us up the hill towards Cedar Road. This was where Thomas Holman Kemp once lived. Thomas’ father, John, was from Southampton and his mother, Sarah was born in County Cavan, Ireland. John was a master mariner and he met and married Sarah, who had emigrated to Australia, in Brisbane in 1865. Their first child, Matilda, was born in Australia but, shortly afterwards, they returned to Southampton and this was where Thomas was born in 1869. 

Thomas Hulman Kemp From Encyclopedia Titanica

The family settled in the St Mary’s area and, when he left school, Thomas followed in his father’s footsteps and went to sea as a marine engineer. In 1893, he married Southampton girl Kate Feilder and they set up home in Forster Road Bevois Valley. Their daughter Kate Evelyn was born the next year. By 1911, the little family had moved to 11 Cedar Road and young Kate was working as an apprentice milliner. This was where Thomas was living when he left the White Lady to join Titanic as Extra Assistant 4th Engineer. His wages were £10 10s a month.

We climbed the hill feeling fairly sure we’d easily be able to find Thomas’s house but, of all the old terraced houses in the street, the terrace including numbers 9 to 11 were obviously modern houses, probably the result of wartime bombing. We took a photo anyway and, for good measure, took another of the older houses a few doors away to give an idea what Thomas’s house would have looked like.

9 – 11 Cedar Road
The older Cedar Road Houses

The engineers on Titanic took turns to keep watch in the engine and boiler rooms and supervise the firemen, greasers and trimmers. The Extra 4th Engineer was also known as the Refrigeration Engineer. Titanic had a huge self-sustaining brine refrigeration system throughout the ship, to keep the provision rooms cool. There were separate cold rooms for mutton, beef, cheese, mineral water, fish, game, poultry, flowers, wines, spirits and champagne. Each was maintained at the optimum temperature for the goods stored there. There was also a chilled compartment at the aft of the ship on the starboard side to store perishable freight. Thomas wold have been involved in making sure the refrigeration system kept working and, if anything was to go wrong, to fix it. 

Exactly what his role was when the ship was sinking isn’t clear but, none of the engineers survived and Thomas’ body was never identified. Kate never remarried and died in Southampton in 1951. Kate Evelyn married William Claud Stent in 1918. She had two daughters, Joyce and Beryl and died in Winchester in 1985. 

Our next houses were on Forster Road and Earls Road. Rather than go back to the bottom of the hill and climb it again one street further along, we decided to climb to the top and work our way back down. It was a sensible plan, although it didn’t seem like it when we were trudging upwards. From the top of Earls Road we were rewarded with a wonderful view across Northam, including the huge gasometers next to the football stadium.

The top of the hill

Number 20 Forster Road was the highest house on our list today. It was where Thomas Henry Edom Veal once lived. Henry was born in Sholing in 1874. His father, John, was a carter and his mother, Ann, was a laundress. They had five children. John would later open his own grocer’s business but, whether he was related to Alan Veal who opened the very popular cash and carry superstore in Sholing in the 1980’s, isn’t clear. 

Thomas was brought up in Botany Bay, Sholing and appears to have gone to sea in the 1890’s. In 1902, he married Agnes Leonora Veal, the daughter of Ernest Veal, a joiner, and Sarah Hibberd. They had one son, Leonard, born in 1903. 

In 1911 the family were living in Hartington Road and Thomas was working as a steward on Olympic. By the time he joined Titanic as a first class saloon steward, they had moved to 20 Forster Road. We were pleased to find the house still standing, just before the junction with Clausentum Road. Apart from the row of wheelie bins outside, a satellite dish and a parking sign, it looked much as it must have done in 1912. We could almost imagine Thomas walking out of the front door and heading off towards the ship.

20 Forster Road

As a saloon steward, he’d have been responsible for serving food and, between meal sittings, clearing the tables, changing the linen, dealing with spillages (a common event on a moving ship) and preparing the tables for the next meal.  It would have been a busy job but there were plenty of opportunities to earn tips from the rich and famous passengers and boost his £3 15s wages.

Tragically, Thomas did not survive the sinking and his body was never identified. Agnes remarried in late 1913. She and her new husband, Wynhall Richards, did not have any children and died within weeks of each other in 1942. Thomas’ son Leonard never married and died in Southampton in 1985. 

Slowly we retraced our steps back to Earls Road where we hoped to find our next three houses. A look at the house numbers told us we had quite a bit of walking before we found number 49. At least it was all downhill.

Earls Road

We last walked this way on CJ’s birthday a couple of years back so we were in fairly familiar territory. That day we’d been looking for graffiti and we’d stumbled upon an interesting building on Ancasta Road. What we thought might have once been a church, turned out to be St Faith’s Mission Hall, now used as the Southampton Chinese Christian Church Centre. Just after we passed it today we found the house we were looking for, or where it once stood.

Although many of the houses in Earls Road are much as they would have been a hundred years ago, the area did suffer during the Southampton Blitz. During the climax of the bombing on 30 November and 1 December 1940, three bombs fell on Earls Road. Sadly it seems they destroyed our next three houses as all three were modern buildings standing amid the old.

Bombed houses in a Earls Road

Isaac Hiram Maynard lived at 31 Earls Road. He was born in Shoreham, Sussex in 1880. His father, Hiram, was a master mariner, once coxwain of the Shoreham Lifeboat and a pilot at Shoreham Harbour. He and his wife, Catherine, had ten children. When Isaac was eight his mother died, aged just 44, and, within three years, his father had remarried. He and his new wife, Eliza, went on to have two more children. 

Isaac followed in his seafaring father’s footsteps and joined the merchant service. By 1901, he was living with his married sister, Catherine, in Portswood Road. A year later he was working for White Star as a ship’s cook. Three years later he married Southampton girl, Ethel Louise Gookey, the daughter of a house painter. They had no children. 

Isaac Hiram Maynard from Encyclopedia Titanica

Isaac was no stranger to disaster at sea, he’d been working on Olympic when she collided with Hawke. Perhaps he thought lightning wouldn’t strike twice when he transferred to Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast or maybe he just fancied a change? At the time he was living at 31 Earls Road. As a cook he would have earned £7 10s a month. 

31 Earls Road Today

Isaac was still aboard Titanic as she sank. He later recalled seeing Captain Smith standing on the bridge, fully dressed with his cap on. He saw the water rush over the top deck and the unlaunched collapsible lifeboats A and B swept away. The next rush of water washed him overboard and, by chance, he managed to catch hold of one of the upturned boats and cling on. There were around six other men clinging to the boat in the freezing water. Later they said they saw Captain Smith washed from the bridge into the sea. Somehow he managed to keep his cap on his head and the men saw him swimming. One man reached out his hand and tried to save him but the captain refused to be rescued. He swam away calling to the men ‘look after yourselves boys.’ Isaac soon lost sight of him. There have been several different accounts of how Captain Smith met his end so this story, while interesting, may be apocryphal. He certainly later saw the chief baker Charles Joughin, from Shirley, swimming around the upturned boat. He put out his hand and held onto him. This was corroborated by Joughins testimony at the later inquiry. The men continued to cling to the collapsible lifeboat while some twenty or so men stood on top. Amongst them was Second Officer Charles Lightoller.

When it began to get light Frederick Clench in lifeboat 12 realised that the floating debris he’d initially thought was one of the ship’s funnels was actually collapsible lifeboat B, upside down and slowly sinking with about 28 men standing on or desperately clinging to it. The men, who must have been half dead from the cold, were transferred into lifeboats 12 and 4. Issac was amongst those taken into lifeboat 12. It was severely overloaded by this time, with about 69 people aboard, and was the last to reach Carpathia, some time after eight in the morning. 

Isaac Hiram Maynard from Encyclopedia Titanica

Despite his ordeal, Isaac carried on working at sea into the 1920’s. His wife Ethel died in 1933 and, after he married Mary Annie Henry in 1941 they moved to Portswood Road. Isaac died in the Borough Hospital Southampton in January 1948. He is buried in South Stoneham Cemetery. 

Another crew member lived two doors away at 29 Earls Road, very close to one of the graffiti murals we’d been looking for on our last visit. Lewis Owen was born in Llandudno, Wales in 1862. His parents, Richard and Ann, were natives of Caernarvonshire and Denbighshire, respectively and Richard was a plasterer. They had five children. Lewis was brought up in Wales but, by 1881, the family had moved to Tranmere, Cheshire and Lewis  was working as a plasterer like his father. It isn’t clear how long the family stayed in England but, by 1891, Lewis’ parents and siblings were back in Wales. Lewis was, it seems, at sea. He’d been a general servant aboard Liguria since at least 1888, earning £1, 10s per month, but where he was living when on land isn’t clear. 

Lewis Owen from Encyclopedia Titanica

By 1903 he was in Southampton, where he married Maud Louise Young, the Southampton born daughter of another seaman. They had no children and, by 1911, were living at 29 Earls Road. Lewis left Oceanic to join Titanic as a second class steward. His brother in law, Francis Young, was also aboard as a fireman. Both were lost when the ship sank and neither was identified. 

29 Earls Road

Poor Maud, who’d lost both a brother and a husband, remarried in 1913. She and her second husband, Herbert J. Slatter, a ship’s chef from Kent, went on to have children, although how many isn’t known, they moved to Kent where Herbert died in 1964. Maud went on to reach her 103rd birthday. She died in 1985. 

John Stewart was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1883. Little is known about his parentage or childhood but, by the first decade of the twentieth century, he was living in Southampton and working as a ship’s steward for White Star. Living with him was Mabel Annie Blyth, a tobacconist Assistant and their daughter Gwendoline Ethel, who’d been born in 1909. The couple finally married in 1911.

When John left Olympic to join Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast Mabel was probably already pregnant with their second child, Florence Mary, known as Mollie, who was born in late 1912. When he signed on again on 4 April, he gave his address as 7 Earls Road. He was a first class verandah steward, earning £3 15s a month, which he could likely double with tips from the wealthy passengers. 

7 Earls Road is the modern house in the middle

John waited on passengers in the Verandah cafe, one of two separate rooms on either side of the ship on A Deck behind the First Class smoke room. The Verandah and Palm Court were beautifully light and airy rooms with a trellised decor and cane furniture. The large windows looked out to sea. The Palm Court, on the port side, had a revolving door leading to the smoke room and was very popular. The Veranda was quieter, often empty, or used as a play room for the first class children. It may not have been the best area as far as tips were concerned but it sounds like it was a very pleasant place to work, serving drinks and light refreshments to the occasional first class passenger and looking out over the sea.

The Verandah Cafe

Exactly what happened on the fateful night of the collision isn’t clear but, somehow, John managed to get onto lifeboat fifteen, the last large lifeboat to be launched. The boat was at the far end of the boat deck on the starboard side and, by all accounts, was the only one launched full. It’s occupants were a mixture of women and children, many from third class, some third class men and several members of the crew. There were certainly between 60 and 80 people aboard and fireman, Frank Dymond, appears to have been in charge. 

Lifeboat 15 was lowered shortly after lifeboat 13, which had become entangled after being caught up in a huge amount of water pouring out of a condenser exhaust. The occupants of both boats shouted out for the lowering to stop but no one above heard. Luckily, someone managed to cut the falls of lifeboat 13 at the last moment and disaster was averted. 

It took them some time to get away from the sinking ship, perhaps because the lifeboat was so heavily laden. It was the tenth or eleventh to reach Carpathia and was the only wooden boat left behind when Carpathia left for New York. Later John discovered that, in all the mayhem of the sinking, he’d inadvertently put the Verandah cafe keys in his pocket. What became of them is a mystery but I imagine they’d fetch a pretty penny today as a small key which opened a life-jacket locker on the Titanic was sold for £85,000 in 2016.

John continued to work for White Star for a short while after the disaster but, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before he left the sea for good and found work as a driver. During World War I he enlisted in the Army Medical Corps and he and Mabel later ran the Richmond Inn in Portswood Road. John died, after a long illness, in 1946 and was cremated at Southampton Crematorium. His ashes were scattered in the garden of rest at South Stoneham Cemetery. Mabel died in 1978. His daughters Gwen and Mollie both married and remained in Hampshire until their deaths. 

Our last Bevois Valley houses were on Bevois Valley Road, which, coincidentally, would take us back towards home. Whether we’d find any of them still standing was another matter altogether though…

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