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…

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