Exaggeration

1 September 2019

On 27 August, the local paper published a fairly sensationalist report about a huge fire at Lakeside. It was titled “Grassland completely destroyed by wildfire.” CJ saw it and was quite upset, even when I told him Kim and I had walked across the country park after the supposed fire and seen nothing out of the ordinary.

Continue reading Exaggeration

Eighteen miles

29 August 2019

This morning I set off bright and early to meet Kim. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the walk along the river to our meeting point at Woodmill was lovely. The morning air was cool and I was singing a little song in my head as I walked. Heat might become an issue later in the day but I was fairly confident this was going to be a beautiful, if rather long, walk.

Continue reading Eighteen miles

A blustery day and a boating lake update

10 August 2019

After a night of alarmingly high winds, Southampton Common looked a little the worse for wear when we arrived this morning. There were leaves, twigs and even small branches littering the path as we headed towards the start area. As this path is also part of the course, it was a bit of a worry but we knew ED Rob, RD Kate and park ranger Ian would have walked or cycled round the course to do a risk assessment.

Continue reading A blustery day and a boating lake update

Blue green algae

3 August 2019

This morning, as we crossed the road to the Common, Ian, the ranger, was letting a black car through the gates. Commando and I wondered what the people in the car were doing but, as it went in the opposite direction to us we soon forgot about it in the hustle bustle of the parkrun set up.

Continue reading Blue green algae

A Thunder Run disaster

20 July 2019

The rain held off for parkrun but, by the time we got back to Catton Park it looked as if the clouds were gathering. This was not good news for the Thunder Runners or for Kim and I who’d been planning to walk a couple of laps of the course for our Clarendon training.

Continue reading A Thunder Run disaster

Titanic tales from Bevois Valley and Mount Pleasant

10 April 2019

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

Empress Road 1900’s

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

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

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

Empress Road today

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

Empress Road today

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

Empress Road today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please see my copyright information before you copy or use any of the above words or pictures. If you’re worried about privacy or data protection, please see my privacy policy here.

Titanic tales from St Denys part two

10 April 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dukes Road today

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

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

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

Titanic cooks from Pintrest

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

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

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


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

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

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

Dukes Road today

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

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

Robert Frederick William Couper From Encyclopedia Titanica

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

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

Dukes Road today

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

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

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

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

Dukes Road today

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

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

Sidney Humphries from Association Francaise du Titanic

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

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

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

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

Please see my copyright information before you copy or use any of the above words or pictures. If you’re worried about privacy or data protection, please see my privacy policy here.

More Titanic Tales from Woolston

16 January 2019

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.

207 Victoria RoadT

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. 

12 Swift Road

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. 

Thomas Mullin

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.

Marie Grace Young from Encyclopedia Titanica

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. 

Richard Ashton as John Hall Hutchinson in the 1997 film Titanic

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. 

Henry Philip Creese

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. 

77 Portsmouth Road

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. 

James Witter

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. 

James Witter in a still from a BBC television program about the sinking 1957

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. 

Ernest Edward Archer

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…

Please see my copyright information before you copy or use any of the above words or pictures. If you’re worried about privacy or data protection, please see my privacy policy here.

Titanic Tales from Woolston

Waiting for news outside the White Star offices Southampton

16 January 2019

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.

16 Brook Road, now called Poole Road

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. 

Woodley Road

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?

The Woodley Road car park

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.

The end terrace is 13 Johns Road, where William and Haidee began their married life

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 Leopold Ross From Encyclopedia Titanica

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. 

70 Inkerman Road

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.  

73 Obelisk Road

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.

49 Obelisk Road

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. 

Herbert Gifford Harvey

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…

Please see my copyright information before you copy or use any of the above words or pictures. If you’re worried about privacy or data protection, please see my privacy policy here.

A last Parisian stroll

16 December 2018

Our stay in Paris was far too short and, sadly, our last morning in this beautiful city was as damp and cold as the previous day had been. We began the morning with breakfast in our hotel. The meal was served in an amazing cellar room that was even quirkier than our lovely little attic room. I could have kicked myself for leaving my phone behind. Luckily I found some pictures on Tripadvisor and have shamelessly stolen them.

Continue reading A last Parisian stroll