Titanic tales from Portswood

The bow of the RMS Titanic taken June 2004 by the ROV Hercules.

11 July 2019

The plan for today was to try to find at least some of the Titanic crew houses in Portswood. As there are a lot of them, covering a large area, and the weather was incredibly hot and humid, I was resigned to the fact that we might not be up to the job of finding all of them. When CJ and I set off the mood was hopeful and doubtful in equal parts. Originally I’d hoped to tick of the handful of houses in Highfield on this walk too but I already knew that was a step too far.

The first of the houses on my list was in Rigby Road, not too far from some of the Bevois Valley Houses we found on our last search. This is not a part of Portswood I know well but we found the road fairly easily. With the vibrant colours of the Mexican Restaurant on the corner, we could hardly have missed it.

As soon as we turned the corner I felt sure we would find the house still standing. Rigby Road is a short cul -de-sac of red brick Victorian terraces, each neat and tidy, with arched doorways and bay windows. Right away I could see one with a plaque so, without even looking at the numbers, we headed right for it. As it happened, it wasn’t the right house but it was interesting all the same.

Number 2 Rigby Road was where artist Eric Meadus was born in 1931. Although he was born in Portswood he grew up in Lobelia Road, next door to my Mother in Law’s childhood home. She even had a painting of his, oil on hardboard, which was used as a fire screen. Meadus painted scenes from the city in a primitive style, inspired by Lowry. His work was exhibited in the Royal Academy and Paris Salon. His house may not have been what we were looking for but it was an interesting find all the same.

Meadus, Eric; Suburban Housing in the Southampton Area; Hampshire County Council’s Fine Art Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/suburban-housing-in-the-southampton-area-25862

At the other end of the road we finally found the house we were looking for. Number fourteen Rigby Road was where Percy Edward Keen once lived. The son of James, a house decorator from Wiltshire and Southampton born Ellen, Percy was born in Portswood Road on 9 August 1881. He was one of four children. He began his working life as a printer but, by 1905, he had gone to sea.

In 1908, he married Adelaide Martha Jane White, a Southampton girl and two years later they had a daughter, Kathleen Frances. When he left Oceanic to join Titanic as a first class saloon steward, the little family were living at 14 Rigby Road. He would have earned £3 15s a month and supplemented that with tips from the wealthy passengers he served. 

Exactly what happened on the night Titanic struck the iceberg isn’t known, although it’s thought Percy somehow managed to get onto lifeboat fifteen. This was the eighth boat lowered from the starboard side. It had been partly filled on the boat deck where a number of crew boarded. Possibly Percy was amongst them. The boat was then lowered to A deck and there picked up passengers. Eyewitness accounts are quite contradictory. At the inquiries some said the boat was mainly filled with women and children, others said the majority were men, many from third class. The inquiries chose to believe the former, although the latter is probably nearer the truth. Whatever really happened, the boat was almost lowered on top of lifeboat thirteen, which had become tangled below.  At the last moment someone managed to cut the falls and release the boat so disaster was narrowly averted. It took between fifteen and twenty minutes for lifeboat fifteen to get away from Titanic. It didn’t pick anyone up from the sea and was the tenth or eleventh boat to reach Carpathia. 

After his lucky escape, Percy returned to England and quickly went back to sea. Later that year his father died and, in 1913, he and Adelaide had a second daughter, Vera Winifred Lucy. Percy had a long seafaring career, continuing until at least the late 1930’s. During this time he worked on many ships beside another Titanic survivor, his friend Edenser Wheelton. It must have been a comfort to find a friend who’d also lived through the disaster. 

In his later years Percy, Adelaide and their daughters lived in Hillside Avenue, Bitterne Park. Percy died in November 1954. His ashes were scattered in the Garden of Rest in South Stoneham Cemetery. Adelaide died in 1964. 

14 Rigby Road

Right beside Percy’s house we spotted an interesting cutaway. Sadly it didn’t looked like it would lead us anywhere we needed to go so, slightly reluctantly, we retraced our steps. Our next house was on Lodge Road and, as we turned the corner, I was quietly confident we would find it.

As it happened, it was a little more complicated than either of us expected but we did find two pieces of interesting local graffiti as we searched.

The house we were looking for was number 29, once the home of William Farr Penney. We walked along the road counting off the numbers but, when we reached 27, on the corner of Spar Road, we were confused to find the house on the opposite corner was 31d. The terrace of three houses looked as if they had been converted into offices and partly rebuilt. As the house after these three is numbered 35, I’m fairly confident the corner house was once number 29 but it has changed a great deal since 1912.

29 Lodge Road, probably

Whatever the truth, this was as close as we were going to get to William’s house. He was born in Barnsley, Middlesex in October 1880. His father, William George Penney, a clothier manager, was from Shoreditch, London and his mother, Annie Maria Farr, was from Huntingdonshire. The couple married in 1871 and had seven children. The family seem to have moved around a fair bit. William’s first years were spent in Islington. The family later moved to Hackney. By 1901 William appears to have gone to sea. 

By 1909 he was living at 29 Lodge Road, Southampton and had married a local girl, Phylis Maude Harrison. Within the year they had a son, Lionel William. According to his family, William had been working for White Star for around six years. Before he joined Titanic as a second class steward he was working as a medical steward aboard the SS New York and had plans to stay in the United States and become a doctor. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Poor William perished in the disaster and his body was never identified. It’s unknown what became of Phylis, but his son, Lionel, remained in Southampton where he married Elizabeth Bacon in 1941. He died in 1978.

William Farr Penney, From Encyclopedia Titanica by his great nephew Tony Evans

Our next house was 122 Avenue Road, a very long road running Parallel to Lodge Road from the Avenue all the way to Portswood Road. We’d almost walked to the Avenue before we finally cut through a side street onto Avenue Road and discovered the house numbers there ran in the opposite direction. We were hot and tired by this time and CJ was not impressed that I’d added an unnecessary half mile to our walk. He was even less impressed when we found the house and discovered it was almost opposite the little cutway we hadn’t taken on Rigby Road!

122 Avenue Road

This house was once home to Benjamin James Thomas, born in Clapham, London in May 1881. His father was also called Benjamin and his mother was Jane, a native of Shrewsbury Shropshire. By the time he was ten his father had died and he was living with his mother and younger half brother, Ernest Charles in the boarding house she was running in West Ham, Essex. In 1896 she took a second husband, John Ryan, who was probably Ernest’s father, and they ran a shop together. 

By 1901 Benjamin had gone to sea and his mother, widowed for a second time, was living in Canning Town with his brother. Benjamin married Polly James from Bicester, Oxfordshire in 1906. A year later they were living in Digswell, Hertfordshire and had a daughter Bertha Annie. They later moved to Southampton and set up home at 122 Avenue Road. Benjamin was working as a ship’s steward aboard Olympic, which could explain the move. He was on Olympic when she collided with the Hawke in 1911. Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith was in charge of the Olympic at the time. The two ships were sailing beside each other out of Southampton on the Solent when Olympic turned to starboard. This caught the commander of Hawke by surprise and he wasn’t able to take evasive action in time. The Hawke rammed Olympia’s starboard side near the stern and tore two large holes in it, flooding two watertight compartments and twisting a propellor shaft. Thankfully no one was seriously injured and Olympic managed to limp back to Southampton. Hawke was badly damaged and almost capsized. 

Benjamin joined Titanic for her delivery from Belfast and signed on as a first class steward for her maiden voyage. Like Percy Edward Keen, he was rescued in lifeboat fifteen. Although he was not required to testify at either of the inquiries into the disaster, he was detained for a while, possibly in case his testimony was needed, and was paid expenses of £11 17s 6d as compensation. He never returned to England. Later that year Polly and little Bertha sailed on Oceanic to join him in Plainfield, New Jersey.   He did not go back to sea. Instead he found work as a steward on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Benjamin spent the rest of his life in Plainfield but kept in touch with and visited fellow Titanic survivor Fred Toms, who’d moved from Bitterne Park to Los Angeles. 

Benjamin died in 1937 in the Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield, after a short illness. He was just 56. He was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Poly remained in Plainfield for the rest of her life. She died in 1949 and was buried with her husband. Bertha worked as a stenographer and married Halsey Saint Mills, an office clerk. They had one son, Thomas, who sadly died aged five. Bertha died in 1978 and was buried with her parents.

The next house on my list was a couple of streets away in Livingstone Road. Luckily, it wasn’t too far to walk. We found number 93 on the corner of Earls Road. It was a surprisingly large, grand looking house for a mere Pantry Steward like our next crew member James Marks. In all likelihood this was just a lodging house back in 1912 though.

James Marks was one of seven children born to Irish parents, Robert John and Mary Jane, in Wishaw, near Glasgow, in October 1884. Robert was a steel worker, who later became a travelling sewing machinist. James began his working life as an iron worker but moved to Portsmouth in 1904 and enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry. Two years later he joined the Royal Navy as a stoker, serving aboard the Nelson, Victory II, Sapphire and finally Canopus. His conduct was not always good and he spent time in the cells for misconduct, abandonment and poor demeanour. In 1908, he married Portsmouth girl, Minnie Reynard, who was pregnant at the time. He was discharged in 1909, probably because of his poor behaviour, and their son, Ronald James, was born later that year. Minnie and her son lived at her father’s house in Landport Street Portsmouth. James appears to have gone straight back to sea in the merchant service. 

When James left the Avon to join Titanic as an assistant pantry steward, first class, he was living apart from Minnie at 93 Livingstone Road. He seems to have abandoned his wife and child and had little contact with them. Whether they ever saw any of his £3 15s monthly wages is unclear. James died in the sinking and his body was never identified. His parents benefitted from the Titanic relief fund but it doesn’t seem as if poor Minnie was provided for at all. She married William Butler in 1921 and they had a son, Anthony John the following year. She died in Gosport in 1971.

93 Livingstone Road

James’ son, Ronald worked in communications for the RAF and spent some time in Palestine. During World War II he served in Malta. He later returned to the UK and was involved in the D-Day landings. In 1947 he married Sheila Irvine from Oxfordshire. They had two children. Ronald retired from the RAF as a Wing Commander in 1963. He then joined NATO’s Allied Radio Frequency Agency in a civilian capacity. He died in 1972 in Brussels.

Our next crew member lived at 23a Gordon Avenue, a short walk away. We found the neat little bay fronted terraced house quite easily. It was numbered 23, so I’m guessing it was divided into flats in 1912. It looked much as it must have back then, except I imagine the red brick was unpainted back then and there certainly wouldn’t have been a satellite dish or wheelie bins in the front garden.

23 Gordon Avenue

Henry Samuel Etches was a local lad, born in Freemantle, Southampton in October 1868. His father, John, a master painter, was originally from Scotland and his mother, Caroline, was from Southampton. They had eleven children. Little us known about Henry’s early life but the family lived in Park Road Millbrook for a time. By 1891 Caroline had been widowed and was living in a boarding house in St Mary’s Road. It seems Henry had gone to sea.

In 1896, Henry married a Worcestershire girl, Lilian Rachel Smith. The couple did not have any children. For a time Lilian was living with friends or family at 114 Derby Road while Henry was at sea and  it isn’t clear exactly when they moved to 23a Gordon Avenue but they were certainly living there at the time of the 1911 census. This was also the address Henry gave when he left Oruba to join Titanic as a first class bedroom steward. His job involved assisting some of the most rich and famous passengers aboard the ship and tips from them would have certainly bolstered his wages. 

He was in charge of eight cabins on the aft port side of B deck and one on A deck. The latter was the cabin of Thomas Andrews, the Chief Designer of Titanic. Every morning at seven o’clock he went to Andrews’ cabin to take him fruit and tea. He then visited him at a quarter to seven each evening to help him dress. He had also met him several times in Belfast when both were on Olympic. 

Henry was off duty at the time of the collision but curiosity led him to head forward along the working alleyway on E deck known as Scotland Road. In the third class accommodation he witnessed a passenger dropping a chunk of ice onto the floor with the words “will you believe it now?”

Once Henry understood the gravity of the situation he went to B deck and began waking his passengers and helping them into their lifebelts. With just nine cabins under his charge this should have been a simple task but it was not. Benjamin Guggenheim, the mining magnate, was reluctant to wear a lifebelt. Even when Henry had persuaded him he said it was too uncomfortable and hurt his back. Henry took it off, adjusted it and then put it back on. After this Guggenheim was more comfortable but he and his valet, Victor Giglio, still had to be persuaded not to go out onto the cold deck in just their evening clothes. Eventually, Henry managed to pull heavy sweaters over their lifebelts and both men went out onto the boat deck. At another cabin the passengers refused to open the door and, even when Henry had explained the situation and warned them of the danger, they wouldn’t open the door or let him in. 

One passenger who did not have to be woken or helped was Thomas Andrews. He was more aware than most of the danger. He’d gone to survey the damaged straight after the collision and knew with certainty the ship would sink. Henry met him on B deck and walked with him down to C deck. The pair walked along C deck together, rousing passengers as they did. They found the purser outside his office surrounded by a large group of ladies. He was trying to persuade them to go to the boat deck. Andrews said, “that is exactly what I have been trying to get them to do,” and walked down the staircase to D deck. This was the last Henry saw of him because the purser ordered him to tell all the other bedroom stewards to get their passengers onto the boat deck and stand by. It was now twenty past twelve, the time Carpathia received Titanic’s distress signal.

By the time Henry got to the boat deck lifeboat seven was being loaded. He saw Guggenheim and his valet going from one lifeboat to the next helping women and children into the boats and shouting “women first.” He was surprised to see they had removed the sweaters and life jackets he’d had so much trouble persuading them to wear. When he asked them why, Mr Guggenheim replied, “we’ve dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.” He also gave Henry a message to pass on to his wife. 

Right after this Henry was ordered into lifeboat five to man an oar. He waved goodbye to Guggenheim and did not see him or his valet again. Third Officer Pitman was in charge of the lifeboat. After the ship had gone down he began to guide it back towards the site to pick up people from the water but there were so many people swimming the passengers were afraid the boat would be swamped and they would all die. Eventually he was persuaded to stand by and the boat did not rescue anyone from the water. Lifeboat five was one of the first to reach Carpathia.

Henry Samuel Etches  From Encyclopaedia Titanica

Later Henry was asked to give evidence at the inquiries. He also kept true to his word and delivered Guggenheim’s message. He went to the St Regis Hotel in New York on 20 April, hoping to speak to Mrs Guggenheim personally. He was not allowed to see her but instead gave the message to her brother in law. Although the message was short, “if anything should happen to me, tell my wife in New York that I’ve done my best in doing my duty,” he had written it down to make sure it was correct. He told Guggenheim’s brother “there wasn’t time for more,” and that Guggenheim and his valet, Giglio, “both died like soldiers.” Later the press would report that Mrs Guggenheim was greatly consoled by the message. Neither Guggenheim or Giglio’s bodies were ever identified, despite great efforts by the Guggenheim family to find them.

Henry did not return to sea after the disaster. He moved to Pershore in Worcestershire where his wife was born and died of chronic myocarditis, in September 1944. He was seventy five. His widow, Lilian, died ten years later. 

The Gordon Arms, Gordon Avenue

We’d started our walk on the edge of Bevois Valley and had been slowly meandering towards the centre of Portswood. Now we walked down Gordon Avenue, past the Gordon Arms pub on the corner with its bright hanging baskets and onto Portswood Road at the beginning of what is, effectively, Portswood High Street. Our next house was somewhere here but it wasn’t going to be easy to find.

We were looking for 134 Portswood Road and Google Maps told me it was around here somewhere. The problem was most of the shops displayed names but no house numbers and the ones we did find didn’t seem to go in any particular order. We walking up and down peering at the shop fronts trying to work out which might have once been 134. It was incredibly humid and we were both tired. We’d already walked more than four miles on our sinuous search and our water was running out.

We stopped for a while in the shade of the shop fronts while I searched Google, trying to find out which shop was number 134. The most likely one was the large Iceland supermarket, or at least part of it, it was clear none of the modern buildings had been standing in 1912 so our house was long gone.

We may not have been able to find the house, or to even be sure of exactly where it once was, but we did know the story of the man who once lived there. Francis Ernest George Coy was born in Thetford, Norfolk in 1885. His father, also called Francis, was a tool maker and machine fitter from Stretham, Cambridgeshire. He and Francis’s mother, Ada, married in 1884 and went on to have three more children, all girls. Francis Senior was working as an engineer in the dockyards by 1891 and his son followed in his footsteps to become an engine fitter’s apprentice. He served his apprenticeship in Portsmouth Dockyard working alongside his father. 

In 1907, Francis joined the White Star Line as sixth engineer on Oceanic. He was obviously good at his job because he was soon promoted to fifth engineer and then to assistant fourth engineer aboard Olympic. Like Benjamin James Thomas, he was aboard Olympic when she collided with the HMS Hawke in September 1911.

Shortly after this lucky escape, Francis married Beatrice Elizabeth Bridges a bookkeeper from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Beatrice was living with her parents in Oxford Avenue, Southampton at the time and the couple set up home together at 134 Portswood Road. Francis joined Titanic as junior assistant 3rd engineer, another promotion, earning £11 10s a month. None of the engineers survived the sinking. All were most likely below decks doing all they could to keep the ship afloat and give passengers time to get away on the lifeboats. Francis’s body was never identified. Beatrice did not remarry for over twenty years. In 1933, she married James H Cox and spent her last days living in Worthing, Sussex. She died in 1951

Francis Ernest George Coy From Encyclopaedia Titanica

By now CJ and I were both flagging badly. We still had a lot of houses to find but we were in need of a sit down in the shade and something to drink. The problem was, all the places we could have found these things were in the opposite direction to our next houses…

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Rights of way

10 July 2019

One of the great joys in my life is walking in the quiet places. I am a connoisseur of secluded little cut ways, hidden footpaths, trails and walkways. Finding a way to get from a to b that doesn’t involve walking along a road makes me smile, especially when it is beside a river. On my walks I’m always on the lookout for these hidden gems and the ones I know I use regularly, even if they add miles to my walks. Today I chose a route bursting at the seams with away from the road delights for my early morning walk. Unfortunately some of them are not as accessible as they should be though.

One of my favourite diversions is one my friend Gigi showed me years ago when we worked together for a cruise company. It adds a little distance to the walk from my house to Northam Bridge but takes me away from the main road for almost a mile. The trade off is worth the extra couple of hundred yards walking, especially when you consider the beautiful views of the river.

This walk uses a hidden cut way between the houses. It takes me over a little railway bridge and around Chessel Bay with views of all the little ships at Kemps Quay. Back when I was working with Gigi it was part of my walk to work and I loved watching the seasons change from bare branches to blackthorn blossom, berries to autumn leaves. There is a beautiful eucalyptus tree along the bay with peeling bark revealing smooth pale wood that makes me gasp whenever I pass.

Further along there is a wooden viewing platform where swans often gather. This used to be the place where it was most likely to see a black swan before they all moved up river and started breeding. The path takes me past houses and a school but, if I keep my eyes on the river, I can imagine I’m in the middle of nowhere.

After a short walk along a quiet road past the Quay there is another quiet path. This one runs behind the flats on the riverside and takes me all the way to the bridge. Looking over the low brick wall I can see all the ships and wrecks, the old jetty filled with sea birds and the skeleton ship slowly rotting away. The people in the flats have enviable views and the right of way allows walkers like me to enjoy them briefly.

The final part of this diversion takes me along the embankment beside the bridge. As far as I can tell this was once the beginning of the original bridge, built in 1799 for David Lance who owned the Chessel Estate. Part of the embankment is bordered by an old stone wall and then a chain fence. Walking along the grass between the trees, the roar of the traffic zooming along the road belies the serenity of the river view.

Eventually, of course, I have to leave all this peace and quiet and climb the steps onto the road. On the far side of the bridge though, there is another diversion. Today, before I went down the steps to the rowing club I stopped for a moment to look at the progress on the tall flats being built on the opposite side of the road. They seem to be shooting up into the air very fast and I can’t help wondering how high they will get?

Through the gate and down the steep steps are the rowing club slipways. Often I’ve seen rowers here preparing their boats or climbing exhausted from the water. This is close to the spot where Northam Wharf marked the beginning of the Itchen Navigation, although you’d never know it. There are no triangular markers or signs and the council seem disinterested in this part of the city’s heritage.

From here it is possible to walk under the bridge rather than cross the busy road above. Northam Bridge was the first major prestressed concrete road bridge to be built in the UK and, recently, it seems to have become a bit of an unofficial graffiti tunnel. Not that I’m complaining because it brightens my walk.

On the other side of the bridge a public footpath runs all along the riverbank. Until quite recently, there was a high chain link fence separating the path from the old television studios. The fence had been colonised by trees and climbing plants but these were all cut down when building work began on the new flats and a high blue fence erected instead. Although I miss the trees and the wooden fence makes the path feel slightly more hemmed in, I quite like the blue colour. It makes a beautiful backdrop for all the wildflowers growing along the path.

In truth it isn’t the best kept of paths. It’s narrow, filled with potholes and tends to get very muddy in winter. My hope is, that when all the building work is finished, the path will be improved and maybe some access provided directly into the new streets. If I was buying one of the flats I’d want to be able to get onto the path without going through the industrial estate. Despite all its faults and the risk of breaking an ankle if you don’t take care, the views across the river are stunning.

This path is also on my list of past walks to and from work. When I worked at the bus mines I used it regularly. Beyond the building site the path curves gently, passing a small industrial estate. Once upon a time I used to work there in an office facing the water. The job was horrible but the views were lovely. In those days there were a young hippy looking couple and their dog living on a boat here. The MD of the company would often take them food parcels. We’d watch them rowing their little boat back and forth to their floating home with the dog swimming beside them. They have long gone but the remains of their boat, sunken now, is slowly rotting on the corner. Sometimes I wonder what became of them.

In those days there was no boardwalk, just a shingle shore that was only accessible at low tide. Sustrans built the walkway in 2010 and it is the most wonderful improvement. Because of it, cyclists and walkers have an off road route from St Denys to Northam, away from traffic and with stunning waterside views. Swans often gather here, mostly on the corner near the hippy ship but, today, they were further along. There were two groups one with two small fluffy cygnets, the other with no less than nine older babies. This seems to have been a good year for cygnets on the Itchen.

Commando Senior’s last ever outing was to visit the boardwalk. He’d read about it on my blog and wanted to see it for himself. When ever I walk this way I can almost see him standing here looking out over the water. Right now the tarmac path leading from the boardwalk onto Horseshoe Bridge is in a bit of a state. Someone has dropped a tin of pale blue emulsion and walkers and cyclists have passed through the wet paint creating an inadvertent work of art.

The next part of my diversion is a little more controversial. There is another walkway along the river on the other side of Horseshoe Bridge, leading to a slipway on Priory Road. This was a path I once used regularly too. It was a peaceful interlude in my walks to and from work with river views, boats and birds. The path runs behind a gated community known to me as the Millennium Flats. Unlike the people in the flats on the other side of Northam Bridge, the residents here do not like sharing their views though.

Some time ago the gates leading to the path were locked and a sign erected. This caused much consternation locally because part of the planning application for the building was to keep this pathway open to the public. The residents excused their actions by complaining of antisocial behaviour on the path, citing prostitutes and drug addicts. As the area on the other side of Horseshoe Bridge has been a red light district for as long as I can remember these things can hardly be a surprise. If you buy a property in such an area, no matter how nice it is, you have to expect to see a few unsavoury things. Some residents said they were in fear of their lives. This seems a little dramatic. The path is separated from the flats by a steep grassy bank a fence and a thick hedge. It would be very hard to get from one to the other and I doubt prostitutes or drug addicts are so inclined.

For almost two years I walked through here, often in the dark due to my early or late shifts, and I can’t say I ever felt especially in danger. Although I did occasionally see some peculiar people, including drunks and prostitutes on the industrial estate or the boardwalk, I never saw them here. The owners of the flats have now applied to the council to have the gates locked permanently. The matter is being decided in a few days time and I, for one, hope the council see sense and make them remove the locks, at least during daylight hours.

Taking the road route around the other side of the flats I couldn’t help noticing a mass of signs warning all and sundry that this was private land with no access. The flats are completely surrounded by high fences and locked gates, giving it the feel of a fortress, or maybe a prison. Despite the lovely views, I would not want to be besieged inside those gates looking out in paranoia at the outside world. It seems to me the real problem is not the social issues in the area but the attitudes of those within the gates.

Although I couldn’t access the walkway, I did take a short detour into the park with the slipway where I’d have come out if I had. From there I had a marvellous view of all the flats on the other side of the river with their walkways, all of which are open to the public. This was somewhere I often used to pause on my walks. Sometimes there would be swans on the slipway or people preparing to launch boats. I always loved the view of the hotchpotch of jetties in the back gardens of the Priory Road houses with their various sheds and boats. This road, with its little Victorian houses may not be in the most salubrious of areas but it has a real community feel about it. It’s a shame the people in the modern flats feel the need to cut themselves off from it. Their lives would be far richer if they didn’t.

Leaving the slipway behind I walked along Priory Road, admiring a garden or two and remembering all those walks to and from work. On either side of the railway bridge it’s possible to get to the river bank behind the houses but, because the rails bisect the two riverside paths, they lead nowhere. Today they were a detour too far so I stuck to the road and carried on to Cobden Bridge where I could see the river again as I crossed.

On the other side of the bridge more new flats have been built, complete with steps and a path along the river. This is also supposed to be a right of way and should join up with the path further along behind some slightly older flats. At the moment the gate here is locked and there is a wooden fence between the two paths. The council have told the builders this has to change but, until it does, there is no way through.

Peeking through the bars of the fence I admired the poppies growing on the bank beside the steps. One day I may be able to walk beside them on another quiet detour beside the river.

Until then I will have to climb the hill past the clock tower and take the side roads back home. This route may not give me river views but at least there are flowers to admire in the gardens I pass.

The River Itchen meanders through the city from Mansbridge to Woolston. Those who live on its banks pay a premium for their beautiful views but that price doesn’t include ownership of the river or the paths along it. Those paths and rights of way belong to all of us and exist so we may all share the glorious views, however briefly.

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Parkrun tourism Southsea

6 April 2019

This week we decided to go for another spot of parkrun tourism. There are eighteen different parkrun venues in Hampshire to choose from but our rather random choice for this week was Southsea, around twenty miles down the motorway.

Obviously, it was an earlier than usual start and a rather crowded car, as we picked up Rob, John and Ian on the way but we arrived in good time, parked up in the Pyramids car park and quickly found the start on the far side of the Rock Gardens. Although the Southsea course, along the seafront to Eastney and back, was pretty familiar, being part of the Great South and Portsmouth Coastal routes, only John had actually run the Southsea parkrun before. It was also the first spot of parkrun tourism for Rob and Commando’s new running group, the Hamwic Harriers. Commando was even wearing his shiny new Hamwic Harriers shirt!

It was a touch on the chilly side on the seafront and, even in my warm coat, I was shivering. The runners in their shorts and thin shirts looked positively frozen. As it happened, we weren’t the only ones trying out the relatively flat, fast Southsea course. While we were waiting for the start, we bumped into Gerry.

The first ever Southsea parkrun was held on 5 October 2013, with 276 people taking part. These days it averages around theee hundred runners each week, a touch smaller than Southampton, but then almost every UK parkrun is. Weather plays an important role in the number of PB’s here. The course may be more or less flat but a windy day can make running one half a little tricky. Luckily today was relatively calm, if cold, but then, as all of our group were in the final stages of marathon training, none of them was planning on going flat out. Well, that’s what they told me anyway!

Frankly, it was quite a relief when everyone set off along the Esplanade and I could finally warm up with a little walk. As I’ve spent quite a lot of time wandering around Southsea while Commando has been running various events, my main plan for the morning was to dash to grab a coffee and dash back. Unlike most of the other races, parkrun doesn’t really leave much time for wandering anyway, even on a slow day Commando was likely to finish in twenty five minutes or less.

Although there are coffee shops on the seafront, past experience made me wary of trying any of them. The last time I tried that the coffe was so bad I threw it in a nearby bin after just two sips. There is only one Costa in Southsea and I reckoned, if I walked fast, I’d be able to get there, get a coffee and get back before any of the runners crossed the line. As plans go it was fairly unambitious. The most direct route is just over a mile there and back. Of course, I was starting off from a slightly different place than normal and, in typical fashion, managed to take a wrong turn which added a few extra minutes but did show me a rather interesting piece of graffiti I’d not encountered before.

For a moment I thought I’d stumbled upon a crowd of strangely dressed locals queueing outside a building. Closer inspection told me they and the building windows were all painted, along with a map of Southsea. Given that I was now technically lost, the map was quite handy.

The mural, near the roundabout between Clarendon Road and Granada Road, is the work of The Lodge Arts Centre, overseen by Mark Lewis. It’s constantly being updated with new characters so I may return another time for a closer look.

In the end, my coffee was not to be. I made it to Costa but found a rather long queue. There was no time to wait so I simply turned around and headed back towards the parkrun finish line. As walks go it wasn’t one of my most interesting and there wasn’t much time for photographs, although I did snap the slowly rising sun over Southsea Common.

My timing was impeccable. As I walked towards the finish line I could see the first finishers approaching. Moments after I reached the end of the funnel I spotted Commando, Rob and John heading along the Esplanade together. They’d obviously stayed true to their word and had a fairly gentle run. Ian, however, was nowhere to be seen. This was puzzling, as he is the fastest of the group.

Just as I began to worry that something had happened to poor Ian, someone tapped me in the shoulder. When I turned around, there was Ian grinning like a Cheshire Cat and holding up his finish token. He’d actually crossed the line first!

None of the Hamwic Harriers got a PB today and there are no prizes for being first finisher at parkrun but, all in all, I’d say our parkrun tourism adventure to Southsea was a success. The only downside was the distinct lack of coffee. Next time I think I’ll take a flask!

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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.

Traveller photo submitted by GLCASTELUCCI (Jun 2018)


Traveller photo submitted by GLCASTELUCCI (Jun 2018)


Traveller photo submitted by GLCASTELUCCI (Jun 2018)


Traveller photo submitted by GLCASTELUCCI (Jun 2018)


Many of the eighteenth and nineteenth century hotels and buildings in the 10th arrondissement have hidden cellar rooms like this, some dating from much earlier times. In fact, beneath most of Paris, there is a hidden world of cellars, tunnels, sewers and even quarries. We were lucky enough to see the catacombs on a previous visit and the hotel breakfast room reminded me of them a little, although obviously without all the bones. Having said that, there may well have been bones far closer than we thought. A few years back a hidden burial site was found beneath a local supermarket, so you never quite know what is beneath your feet here.

Today there was no time for real sightseeing and the wet, cold weather put us off going too far afield. Once we’d packed our cases and checked out of the hotel we spent a happy and warm half hour or so having one last wonderful chocolat chaud. You really never can have too many in my humble opinion.

By the time we’d finished our drinks the rain had eased off a little so we decided to go for one last stroll before we headed for the station. It was really nothing more than a walk around the block but there were still a few interesting things to see. On Boulevard de la Chapelle we had a great view of the train lines going into Gare du Nord and an interesting mural of the front of the station on a nearby building.

We also passed a delightfully dilapidated doorway. Commando couldn’t understand why I would want to take a picture of such a thing though.

On Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis the front of the Hôpital Fernand-Widal caught my eye. In the sixteenth century, Vincent de Paul built a small hospital of just forty beds on Rue Faubourg Saint Martin, the street running parallel to this one on the other side of Gare de l’Est. It was dedicated to the Daughters of Charity. Over the years the hospital grew and, by the nineteenth century it had three hundred beds and was run by Dr Antoine Dubois. In 1858 the hospital moved to its present location and was later named after Fernand Widal, visiting physician to the hospitals of Paris, prolific writer of medical essays and instrumental in devising the Widal test for typhoid fever. Today the hospital specialises in psychaiatry, addiction and elderly care and is undertaking a great deal of research about memory. The building looks rather dark and forbidding but, what really caught my eye were the words Liberte Egalite Fraternite above the door.

We carried on walking, pausing every now and then to look at an interesting shop or a piece of graffiti, until we were back on Rue de Dunkerque approaching Gare Du Nord again.

We still had a while before we needed to check into Eurostar so we had a closer look at Maison Fond in the daylight. It really is the strangest piece of artwork I’ve ever seen.

Our final stop was for a closer look at the strange red metal sculpture we’d passed several times on our travels. This rather fantastical creation by Parisian artist and sculptor Richard Texiers, is called Angel Bear. It was specially commissioned in 2015 by SNCF for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The piece was inspired by the plight of polar bears and the fragility of our planet.

We were still a little early for our check in but, by now, we were frozen so, with some regret, we said goodbye to Paris and went inside the station. Once we’d passed through the airport style security we found a place to sit and wait and got a coffee to warm our hands. There were a few, slightly half hearted decorations in the waiting area to remind us it was almost Christmas and we passed the time with the usual people watching.

After a while a call came for boarding. Commando assured me this was not for our train. The waiting area slowly emptied and we kept on waiting. When the time for our train had come and gone with no further calls I began to get a little concerned.

“Are you absolutely sure about the train time?” I asked.

This was when we discovered Commando had been looking at the outbound tickets all along and the train that had been called twenty minutes earlier and had now left was actually ours. Luckily, it was fairly simple to get onto the next train, although we had rather a longer than expected wait.

We ended up in a rather noisy carriage filled with Welsh rugby supporters. It wasn’t quite the relaxing journey we’d expected but they were a friendly bunch and even shared some of their bottles of red wine with Commando. All in all it had been an eventful trip and I, for one, had learned a few lessons. In future I will be a little more proactive in my research. That way we might actually find the parkrun. Also I will also not be leaving the travel plans in Commando’s hands, especially with his habit of not wearing his glasses.

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We thought it was all over…

13 June 2018

We were approaching the final segment of the Itchen Navigation and had around six miles left to walk. Despite the trail being more overgrown than I’ve ever seen it, bank breaches where they have never been before and a far warmer day than the weather forecast had led us to believe, we had made fairly good time. We’d set off from Winchester Station at around ten o’clock and it was now ten to two. Ok, so four hours to walk around seven miles is positively tortoise like but, taking into account stops and the terrain, I thought we’d done pretty well.  Continue reading We thought it was all over…

West Side wanderings

18 February 2018

The River Itchen meanders through the centre of Southampton dividing it roughly into two halves, west and east of the river. Almost all my life I’ve lived on the east side, so much of the west side of town is something of a mystery to me. Today CJ and I thought we’d explore a small part of it. There was a plan, albeit a fairly vague one, centred around an unusual church we’d seen from a bus some time ago.

Continue reading West Side wanderings

A birthday walk, graffiti, a legend some lunch

28 November 2017

Today was CJ’s birthday. It was also a beautiful, blue sky, late autumn day so what better way to celebrate than with a little walk and a nice lunch? As CJ is fond of both history and graffiti, I thought I had just the walk for him. As for the lunch, neither of us had a clue where to eat but, as our walk would end up in town, we’d be fairly spoilt for choice.  Continue reading A birthday walk, graffiti, a legend some lunch

Underground, overground, making the best of things

8 November 2017

CJ and I left the Bargate Centre with mixed feelings. The new plans look exciting but the ghosts of old memories make the demolition of the building feel a little sad. We walked down East Street in silence, each remembering those far off days. Soon we’d come to another place of memories, the East Street Centre.  Continue reading Underground, overground, making the best of things

Highfield church

26 October 2017

With our coffee and cakes finished we bade a last sad farewell to the Costa in Portswood and walked on towards Highfield. Like most of the city, outside the centre, this was once a rural area and the name, at least according to old maps, originated from a bastardisation of Hayfield. That there were fields is in no doubt and, as the road rises up towards the Common, they were undoubtedly high fields too so the name is quite apt. Today Highfield is home to the main University Campus, built on an old brickfield. This was not what we’d come to see though. Continue reading Highfield church

Beyond Graffiti

19 August 2017

With all the decorating going on there have been no proper walks lately. Life has been one long round of cleaning, sanding, painting and organising things like new blinds for the windows and furniture renovations. Although all this has given me plenty of exercise I’ve missed being out with my camera walking so, today, while Commando was running round parkrun, I took a short wander on The Common.  Continue reading Beyond Graffiti