Short and sweet

2 May 2019

May began with a short, sweet Wedding Anniversary walk around the Old Cemetery where the rhododendrons had painted the paths pink. The early evening light gave everything a slightly surreal feel and the fallen petals felt like a red carpet welcome.

The celebrations continued today with a short, sweet birthday walk. The brilliant blue sky was echoed by the ceanothus in the Millennium Garden where I met my walking companion, Rachel.

After our last adventure, getting lost in Westwood and walking much further than we’d planned, I had a much more straightforward walk in mind. A gentle stroll along the butterfly walk towards the shore seemed like the perfect way to spend the morning. Of course, nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems.

We set off along Portsmouth Road chatting away, putting the world to rights. When we reached the bottom of Wright’s Hill though, we found the gate locked. This put me in mind of a walk with CJ in the opposite direction a while back. That time we were trapped on the wrong side of the gate at the end of our walk. Luckily there’d been a gap in the fence so I managed to escape without any climbing. Today there was no gap.

We stood looking at the gate for a while, trying to decide what to do. Like last time, there were no signs to explain why the path was closed. We could climb the hill and take the high path through the park or we could risk climbing over the fence. After a bit of dithering we looked at each other, then at the fence, trying to decide if we could make it over without breaking either the fence or ourselves. Then, giggling like naughty schoolgirls, we climbed over.

The path was firm and dry. There were no fallen trees that we could see so it seemed very odd for the gate to be locked. We both knew we might find our way blocked further along but we kept on walking, enjoying the moment.

The path runs along the bottom of the valley. A stream runs beside it, mostly hidden by the trees. Its origins are somewhere in Bursledon but, as far as I know, it doesn’t have a name. In 1762, Walter Taylor built a wood working mill beside the stream here. Millers Pond, across the road, was built as a reservoir.

Walter and his father, confusingly also called Walter, had developed a revolutionary new method of mass producing wooden rigging blocks for the navy. When Walter senior died his son took out a patent on the machinery and built the sawmill at Mayfield. By 1781 the business had grown and Walter moved to Woodmill in Swaythling where the water supply was better and there was more room to power his steam engines and equipment. The mill at Mayfield was turned into a private house but, in World War II it suffered bomb damage and was abandoned. Today there’s nothing to show it was ever there.

1898 map showing the mill and Mayfield house

Of course, Rachel and I weren’t thinking about Walter or the mill. We were just enjoying the dappled sunlight and the fresh green leaves on the trees and maybe worrying a little about finding the reason for the locked gate. We passed the fallen tree CJ and I had found on our last ‘locked gate’ walk. It was now beside the path rather than across it and rotting away quite nicely. Then we crossed the steam to the part of the trail where mud is often a problem. This was, I suspected, going to be our undoing. Neither of us were wearing boots and I didn’t much fancy a swim if we slipped. Just after the bridge though, there is a side trail leading up into the Archery Grounds. This would be our get out clause, should we need it.

As it happened there was no mud. Not a bit. The powers that be have been busy laying down a new path of tightly packed gravel and dirt with wooden battens to keep it in place. CJ and I saw the work in progress last spring but whether the new path had survived a wet winter with water trickling down from the high ground remained to be seen. We needn’t have worried. Today Rachel and I discovered the whole of the trail had been completed and had survived the winter.

Not having to watch our feet meant we could appreciate our surroundings better, although chatting meant I didn’t take many pictures. There was one, taken in the general direction of the stream trying to capture the skunk cabbage we smelled rather than saw.

There was another of the fairy door. We almost missed it because the Ivy has become so lush and large it’s almost covered it over. The fairies that live in the tree are going to have trouble getting in and out if it gets much bigger.

We almost made it to the end of the trail on Archery Road before we found anything that could explain the locked gate. Right by the turning where the trail heads upwards some men were working laying down more gravel. They were happy to let us pass though and we made it back to the road without incident.

Our short but sweet stroll ended with a nice cup of coffee in Woolston, sitting outside what was once The Vosper Thorneycroft factory. It may not have been the longest walk in the world but, with good company and an air of adventure because of the locked gate, it was a very enjoyable birthday walk.

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 the last Bevois Valley houses

10 April 2019

When we set out this morning we’d planned to find all the Titanic crew houses in St Denys but we’d kept on going. Now we’d found all but four of the Bevois Valley houses and one in Mount Pleasant too. The last houses on my list were all more or less on our way home but, whether any had survived the last century remained to be seen.

Back on Bevois Valley Road, near the Gurdwara Nanaksar, it was immediately clear that the first houses on this part of the list were long gone. There was nothing left of any real age on the odd side of the road where our houses would have been. All we could do was take a photo and tell the stories of the men who lived in them.

Number 45 Bevois Valley Road was once the home of Lorenzo Horace Mitchell. Known as Lawrence, he was born in Southampton in 1893. He was one of ten children born to Herbert, a joiner, and Sentina, also natives of Southampton, although Sentina had Italian ancestry, which could explain his rather exotic name. At the beginning of the twentieth century the family were living at 71 Mount Pleasant Road but, by 1911, they’d moved to 193 Northam Road and Lawrence was working as a hairdresser. 

What made him decide to go to sea is a mystery but, at some time in the next year he was working as a trimmer on Oceanic. It seems a giant leap from hairdresser to trimmer but the work obviously suited him because, in April 1912, he joined the crew of Titanic. As a trimmer his wages would have been £5 10s a month. When he signed on he gave his address as 45 Bevois Valley Road.

The trimmers worked in the dark dusty coal bunkers beside and above the boilers. It was hard work, shovelling tons of coal down the chutes to the firemen and moving it about in wheelbarrows to keep the weight evenly distributed. It was also unbearably hot, so much so, the coal often ignited and part of a trimmer’s job involved putting out these fires and shovelling already burning coal down to the boiler rooms. When the ship was sinking, the trimmers on duty kept shovelling coal to keep the generators running for the water pumps and lights. Of the 73 trimmers aboard, only 20 survived. Sadly, Lawrence was among those lost and his body was never identified. 

Trimmers on Titanic

His family must have been heartbroken and the money they received from the Titanic relief fund was scant consolation. Their grief was compounded when, just two years later, his elder brother Percival died, aged just 22. His mother died in 1917 and his father in 1950. What became of his other siblings isn’t clear, although his brother Norman continued to live in Southampton and died in 1981. 

The next house, number 69, was home to two crew members, father and son George Henry and Archibald George Chitty. George was born in Reigate, Surrey in 1862, the son of Thomas, a gardener and Ellen, both Surrey natives. He had seven known siblings. Before his tenth birthday the family had moved to Twickenham, Middlesex and later to Isleworth. At some point George joined the Army Service Corps and ended up in Hampshire. In 1890 he married Julia Walden from Southampton in Hound Parish church. They had three children, Jessie Selina, born in 1882 in Netley, Archibald George born in 1883 in Aldershot and Eliza May born in 1890 in Southampton. 

By 1891, the family were settled in Southampton living in the All Saints area of the town centre and George was working as a baker. Sadly, little Eliza died in 1899, aged just nine and, by 1901 they had moved to 66 Earls Road. Jessie was working as a domestic and Archibald had gone to sea so they had the house to themselves. 

In about 1909, Jessie married George Ernest Carpenter, a ship’s baker working for the American Mail Steam Ship Company. At around the same time Julia died and George and Archibald moved in with the newlyweds at Clovelly, Newton Road, Bitterne Park for a while. Archibald was working for White Star as a steward aboard Adriatic and it wasn’t long before George had also gone to sea. As George was already working as a baker, his son and son in law’s adventures at sea may have been the catalyst that led him to follow suit. 

Exactly when George and Archibald moved to 69 Bevois Valley Road isn’t clear but they were both living there when they joined Titanic. George left the Oceanic to become Titanic’s assistant baker, earning £4 10s a month and Archibald left Olympic to become a third class steward, earning £3 15s a month. 

Bakers in the Titanic galley

As assistant baker, George would have been kept very busy. Titanic’s kitchens, with their coal fuelled ovens, cooking tops, ranges and roasters were hot, noisy and bustling places. The kitchen staff prepared more than six thousand meals every day. Bread and other baked goods would have almost certainly featured in every single one.

Titanic third class dining room

Archibald would have been just as busy serving the third class passengers. The third class dining saloon was one hundred feet long and could accommodate four hundred and seventy three diners at every sitting. The Saloon was actually two rooms separated by a bulkhead and diners were segregated. The forward room was for families and single women, while the aft room was for single men. Unlike the first and second class stewards, it’s unlikely Archibald would have made much money from tips as most third class passengers had very little to spare.

Exactly what happened to George and Archibald on that fateful night is unknown but it would be nice to think they found each other somehow amongst all the mayhem. Both died when the ship sank and their bodies were never identified. They are remembered on a family grave in the Old Cemetery, oddly, one I stumbled upon very recently. Jessie and her husband continued to live in Newton Road until their deaths in the 1940’s. 

George and Archibald’s memorial

The next house, number 80, was on the even side of the road and, after a great deal of peering at the fronts of shops, we found it. This was where Andrew Simmons once lived. Not a lot is known about him. When he joined Titanic he gave his birth date as 13 June 1880 but later records give it as 1873. Perhaps he simply lied about his age for fear he wouldn’t get the job if they knew he was approaching forty? It was certainly easier to do such things in days before computers where records could not easily be checked. As far as anyone can tell he was born in Oxford but when he came to Southampton is a mystery, as is his early life. He had probably been working at sea for some time as he left the Philadelphia to join Titanic as a scullion. 

Scallions were basically the dogs bodies of the kitchen. They fetched and carried, cleaned pots and pans, dishes, chopping blocks and work stations. It was demanding work and the pay of £3 10s a month, with no chance of tips, was scant reward. 

Like almost all of his life, the details of Andrew’s escape are hazy. Unlike so many others he was saved but how and on which lifeboat is not known. It’s probable he was on either lifeboat 8 or lifeboat 11, but no one knows for sure. His life after the sinking is almost as much of a mystery. He continued to live in Southampton but whether he went back to sea or not isn’t clear. In 1915 he married Leah Barnard but, like so much else, whether they had any children isn’t known. He died in Southampton on the 36th anniversary of the disaster 15 April 1948 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Hollybrook Cemetery, as anonymous in death as he had been in life. 

Andrew Simmons from Encyclopedia Titanica

From the outset we knew our next house 5 Marine Terrace no longer existed. In fact, when I was researching these crew members, I’d had a hard time even finding out where Marine Terrace was. It wasn’t on the modern map or on the 1910 version. It took a few pointers from the kind people on the Hampshire Heritage and Southampton and Hampshire Over The Years Facebook Pages and the 1869 map before I worked it out. Originally the little terrace would have had enviable views across the Itchen but, as more and more houses were built in the area, it became hidden behind them and was demolished in around 1940, after being bombed. 

The 1869 map showing Marine Terrace

The terrace was situated roughly behind the modern day Hobbit pub so CJ and I took a couple of photos of the pub as there was nothing else left to see. Once 5 Marine Terrace was home to William Long. He was born in Southampton in 1876. His father, George, a general labourer, was born in Wiltshire and his mother, Fanny came from Eling, Hampshire. They had six children and lived in Queen Street, St Mary’s, then later in Hill Street. 

William married Ethel Eunice Abbott in 1897 and they had six children, five of whom survived infancy, Ethel, Edith, William, George and Jack. Exactly when William joined the Royal Navy isn’t certain but, by 1901, he was at sea and Ethel was working as a domestic servant. By 1911 the family were living at 5 Marine Terrace, although William was at Thames Berth 7 at the time of the census, working as a coal trimmer, probably for the Royal Navy.

Both William and his brother Frank joined Titanic as coal trimmers. Frank had previously been working on Olympic but it isn’t clear whether William joined straight from the navy or if he’d been in the merchant service. Neither survived the sinking. In all probability they were both shovelling coal to the bitter end. Neither of their bodies were ever identified. Ethel never remarried and died in Winchester in 1940. What became of their children isn’t known. 

And so our adventures in St Denys, Mount Pleasant and Bevois Valley finally came to an end. We’d had some successes and some disappointments but we’d found all the houses there were still to be found and remembered the lost and the saved. Much has been written about the passengers who lived and died on Titanic but the crew are often forgotten. Southampton lost so many on that fateful night and it’s good to be able to tell their stories.

Titanic tales from Bevois Valley

10 April 2019

Engraving by Willy Stöwer: Der Untergang der Titanic

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

Rockstone Lane

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

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

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

10 Rockstone Lane

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Hulman Kemp From Encyclopedia Titanica

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

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

9 – 11 Cedar Road
The older Cedar Road Houses

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

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

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

The top of the hill

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

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

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

20 Forster Road

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

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

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

Earls Road

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

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

Bombed houses in a Earls Road

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

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

Isaac Hiram Maynard from Encyclopedia Titanica

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

31 Earls Road Today

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

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

Isaac Hiram Maynard from Encyclopedia Titanica

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

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

Lewis Owen from Encyclopedia Titanica

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

29 Earls Road

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

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

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

7 Earls Road is the modern house in the middle

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

The Verandah Cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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 lion’s tail

2 April 2019

Annoyingly, my plan to walk to town and meet a friend for coffee was scuppered by torrential rain. The walk went by the wayside and I caught a bus. Despite the rain though, I couldn’t resist a quick dash through the enchanted park where the magnolias were in bloom. The heavy rain had left puddles of petals on the ground, like a mirror image of the blooming branches.

There were a couple of other things I wanted to see before I met my friend. The first was the progress on the new Bargate Quarter. On a different day I might have walked the perimeter, peering through fences and over walls. Today was seriously wet, windy and cold though, so I contented myself with a peek through the Perspex viewing window. Frankly, I couldn’t see much progress. In fact I couldn’t see much of anything. If the archaeologists were still working, they had taken a break, along with the builders. Not that I blame them.

The other thing I wanted to see was a little easier to find. The Bargate is the most famous building in Southampton and a symbol of the city. Standing on the north side of the medieval gate you are actually outside the old town of Southampton. Once there would have been a moat, otherwise known as the town ditch, and a stone bridge to cross to get to the barred gate. The entrance was guarded by sentries but they weren’t the only thing guarding the gate. On the north side of the bridge there were two lions made of wood.

These lions represented an important part of the legend of Sir Bevois, who is said to have founded the town of Southampton. Bevois was the son of Guy, the count of Hampton, and his unwilling wife, Murdina, a Scottish princess. Murdina, along with her lover, Doon, murdered Guy and sold poor Bevois to slave merchants. He ended up in Armenia. It was here that he fell in love with the beautiful princess Josian. One of the many heroic deeds he performed was to rescue Josian from two lions who had killed his friend Sir Boniface and trapped her in a cave. Bevois killed the lions and later returned to England to found the town.

Wood does not weather very well and, in around 1743, the two Tudor lions were replaced with lead sculptures, probably made by John Cheere of London. Shortly afterwards the ditch come moat was filled in and the new lions were moved closer to the gate. The Bargate lions are the oldest statues in the city but, sadly, nothing lasts forever.

Towards the end of September last year a council worker discovered the tail of one of the lions had fallen off and was laying on the ground. This was not, as some people have suggested, an act of vandalism. The tail was taken off to be examined and corrosion of the internal iron structure was found to be the problem. Two hundred and seventy odd years of standing guard in all weathers had taken their toll. In fact, the same lion has a rather alarming looking crack across his back.

Of course, simply sticking the tail back on isn’t going to solve the problem. The council are currently consulting experts on the best way to preserve and repair the poor old lion. Hopefully they’ll find a way and the lion and his tail will soon be reunited.


By now the rain was beginning to seep through the hood of my thin coat and I was feeling quite cold. My friend was due to arrive in a few minutes so I took shelter under the Bargate Arch, walking through one of the little side gates next to the lions. Standing beneath the Bargate arch I’m always aware of the history around me, the number of feet that have walked this way over the centuries.

The city is changing rapidly right now. The new Watermark development has been a great success and I hold out a great deal of hope for the Bargate Quarter when it is finished. The one thing that never really changes is the gate itself, even if the poor lions have seen better days. Long may this continue.

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.

Pavement chalk, a chalk stream and reclaimed land

27 March 2019

My task for today was to get some pavement chalk. Commando and Rob were hosting a time trial on the Common and needed something eco friendly to mark the start and finish line. Pavement chalk seemed the obvious choice but it proved harder to find than you’d think. CJ was sure they’d have some in Hobbycraft. My feeling was he was angling for a river walk and a coffee but I had to admit it was worth a try. At least we’d get a nice walk.

It wasn’t the best of days weatherwise, but it wasn’t raining so we wrapped up and headed for Cutbush Lane. There were bluebells and celandine in the woods beside the trail to remind us spring had sprung, even if the temperature didn’t feel very springlike.

Most of the trees were still bare but there was a softening to the tips suggesting leaves soon to come. The edges of colourless winter had been brightened by patches of green here and there. Spring seems to be starting on the ground with the wildflowers and grasses but soon enough it will work it’s way up into the highest branches.

Cutbush Lane runs in a gully down through what was farmland before Townhill Park and Chartwell green were built. Although there are houses almost in touching distance, it’s easy to forget them and feel like you’re walking along a country lane. The gnarled old tree, clinging precariously to the bank here has probably been there longer than the modern houses and flats and, with a void large enough to sit in beneath its roots, it always surprises me when I see it still standing.

“I’d forgotten how long this lane is,” CJ said. “It seems to go on forever.”

“Don’t start with the ‘are we nearly there yet,’ too soon,” I laughed. “We’ve a way to go yet.”

Then I pointed out the cow feeder, high up on the bank and reminded him of how lost we got the day we went wandering in Chartwell Copse. We’d wound our way along so many lanes and cutaways we lost all sense of direction and when we looked down onto Cutbush Lane we thought we’d discovered a new footpath.

It’s been a long while since we last walked this way. So long in fact, that CJ almost missed the turn at the end of the downward stretch of the lane and began to walk the trail leading to Cutbush Hidden Pond. He was soon back on track though and it wasn’t long before we reached hobbycraft. We located the pavement chalk without too much trouble. Getting out of the place without spending a fortune was a little more difficult.

Next door, in the Swan Garden Centre, we got some takeaway coffees. The place was crowded and noisy so we decided against sitting inside to enjoy our drinks. Instead we headed down Gaters Hill towards the river. Since we last came this way a huge new building has sprung up all squares of concrete and glass. It isn’t the most attractive of things and not really in keeping with the old mill buildings below it. Those mill buildings are a little more visible now though so I guess you win some, you lose some.

My original plan had been to drink our coffee on a bench by the old Mansbridge Bridge but, when we got to the bottom of the hill, I spotted a picnic bench close to the boundary stone. Maybe it’s been there all along but I’ve never noticed it before and it seemed like a good place to sit. It took us a while to get across the road and the cars whizzing past made it less peaceful than I’d have liked but the views across the river to the watermeadows made up for it.

The trees here had a definite hint of green about them and the grass was sprinkled with daisies. Usually there are cows in the meadows and fishermen on the bank but today there were none. Once our coffee was finished we made our way towards the White Swan. A sign on a lamppost explained the lack of fishermen. Apparently it’s closed season for fishing.

So we walked on, past the Swan, wondering why we hadn’t thought to have our coffee there and deciding, maybe next time? As we headed for the bridge I kept on the lookout for signs of nesting swans. In the past I’ve seen the remains of nests along the bank here but, today, there were none. Last year we didn’t see a single mute swan cygnet on this stretch of the river although the black swans seem to be multiplying. Whether these two things are connected isn’t clear but the lack of cygnets is a worry.

The old Mansbridge Bridge acts as the halfway point of this circular walk. It may not be exactly half way in distance but it’s the point where we begin to head back towards home. Even on a dull, overcast day like today, there is something about seeing the arch of that old stone bridge that makes me smile.


This is also the point most likely to be flooded and, over the last year or so, there’s been a pump here continually working to pump excess water from the marshy land behind the trees. How successful this was I can’t say but the pump has now gone and the land is still waterlogged. When I was much younger I used to walk this way to the pub sometimes. Back then I don’t remember it ever being flooded, now it’s a veritable pond. Still, the willows seem to like it, if the bright, acid green of their new leaves is anything to go by.

We saw our first swans of the day just after we passed the bridge. A cob and pen were swimming up river, close to our bank so we stopped briefly to say hello. This produced a hiss from the cob and we walked on smiling. Whenever I see swans on this part of the river I wonder if they are the cygnets orphaned at a young age back in 2014?

Although there was no flooding on the path, the river was very high today. We stopped for a moment or two to watch it tumbling off towards the fish ponds of the Woodmill Activity Centre. A little further on a very large tree had fallen, thankfully away from the river. Its huge rootball stuck up from the bank exposing river mud and a tangle of branches and roots. Last summer was so dry I’m not surprised trees are falling.

Some trees seem to have coped better with the stress than others. There was blossom on the trees beside River Walk and bright forsythia flowers by the car park on Woodmill Lane. Soon enough everything will be green and winter will seem like a cold dream.

The greylags on the riverbank here are another sign that spring is coming. They’ve left their winter homes in warmer climes and come to the river to breed. Something about the area around Woodmill seems to appeal to them as they gather here in large numbers and are quite unafraid of people. Today there were just a handful, sitting on the bank looking haughty as we passed. They may be only spring and summer visitors but there’s no doubt they feel they own the place and we are the interlopers.

Once we passed the mill we’d left the freshwater behind. The river from here is tidal, the water salty like the sea. The sluices here control the river’s flow, although they are old and in a poor state of repair. There has been talk of removing them altogether because the cost of replacing or repairing them is high. What this would mean for the river as a whole is hard to say.

As we carried on it was disappointing to see a mass of litter strewn around one of the bins not far from the mill. Sadly, this is becoming more and more common of late. Picking up the rubbish wasn’t an option as the bin was so full there would have been nowhere to put it and we had not come equipped with bin bags or gloves. I’m beginning to think we should carry both on all our walks. The litter seemed to be the remains of some kind of picnic party, all empty food wrappers and plastic cups. This kind of thing makes me extremely angry. If someone can carry bags full of food and drink to the river for a party, why can’t they pick up their rubbish and carry it home again? I’m sure they wouldn’t just drop their rubbish on the carpet at home. There really is no excuse for such filthy, lazy behaviour.

Rounding the bend by the reedbeds always feels like the final leg of our journey. The old oak on the bend with its beautifully contorted branches, is a particular favourite of mine. It’s quite possible the tree is actually older than the park. Back in the 1930’s this was marshland, known locally as Cobden Meadows. Cows grazed on the land but it often flooded and water sometimes came up to the backs of the houses on Manor Farm Road. The council had grand plans for the area though and, over the next decade or so, land was reclaimed and a retaining wall built along the riverbank.

By 1949 work had begun to create a new park alongside the River Itchen, where people could enjoy the fresh air and walk beside the water all the way to Mansbridge if they wished. This walk along the river is one I often take advantage of. For all the grumbles there are about the council, creating this lovely park seems to me to be one of their better decisions.

Now we’d almost reached the jetty where the swans gather. Earlier I’d been thinking about the lack of mute swan cygnets last year and worrying a little that the prolific breeding of the black swans was responsible. Just before we reached the jetty though, we spotted a swan still sporting brownish grey feathers. Obviously this was a cygnet from last year. Further on there were several more. So much for my worrying. We may not have seen any cygnets but these birds were proof there were some. Maybe they’d been hiding from us or perhaps we just weren’t looking hard enough?

The swans put on quite a show for us in the last few yards of our walk. A loud flapping and splashing alerted us to two mute swans taking flight. Seeing these gigantic birds take to the air is a rare treat and these two seemed to be heading up towards the reedbeds. A few moments later two of the black swans tried to show off their flying skills. Their flight was much shorter but it did give us a great view of their white flight feathers.

We were now just yards from Cobden Bridge and, with just over a mile to walk home, our little adventure was almost over. Six or more miles might seem like a long way to walk to buy some chalk but there really is nothing quite as nice as a spring walk along the river.

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 Itchen

27 February 2019

In 1912, the road running beside Ludlow Road was Itchen’s High Street. It ran from Sholing Lane (now Sholing Road) to the houses beside the railway line on Avenue Road (now Radstock Road). These days it’s called Bishops Road and our next three Titanic crew houses were on it somewhere. Once we got our bearings it was a matter of counting down the house numbers until we came to number 53, about half way between Wodehouse Road and Peveril Road.

53 Bishops Road

This was far grander than the houses we’d found so far. The large semi detached house with bay windows and a side entrance was where George Alexander Chisnall once lived. George was born in Greenwich, London in 1875. Although his parents, Joseph and Janet, were English, they had married in Dumbarton, Scotland and settled in Govan near Glasgow where Joseph was working in the local shipyards as a ship’s carpenter. Quite why George was born in London is a mystery as his four siblings were all born in Scotland between 1869 and 1886.

George began his working life serving an apprenticeship with Napier Brothers in Glasgow. He then joined White Star as a boilermaker aboard the Canopic. After a year at sea he got a land based job with the Fairfield Shipbuilding Company and then with Caird & Company in Greenock. After Joseph passed away in 1891, followed by Janet in 1903, George moved to Liverpool where he got a job with Elder Dempster & Company. Here he married Alice Hardy Day, a Hampshire girl, in 1904. The couple had two children Dorothy and William.

In 1908, shortly after William was born, George returned to White Star as a boilermaker on board Majestic and the family moved to Southampton, setting up home at 53 High Street, Itchen. When George signed on to Titanic as senior boilermaker his wages would have been £12 a month. 

There were two boilermakers on board Titanic and, as she was sinking they would both have been down in the boiler room working hard with the other engineers to pump out the rising water and keep the boilers running as long as they could. They did not survive. George’s body was recovered, although it’s not clear by which ship. He was wearing a blue serge boiler suit and had a knife, razor, pipe, rule, shaving brush, pocket book and silver watch with him, along with £1 10s 1/2d. He was buried at sea.

Alice and her children were assisted by the Titanic Relief Fund. She returned to Liverpool, never remarried and died in 1946. Their son, William, became an insurance clerk and married Everild Robena Patten Thomas in 1936, but what eventually became of him and his sister Dorothy is not known. There is a memorial to George on the family grave in Toxteth Park Cemetery. 

A little further down the road 43 Bishops Road was not quite as grand as George Chisnal’s house. It was a smaller red brick semi, with square bay windows and a tiled path leading to the front door. It belonged to able seaman Frank Osman. 

43 Bishops Road

Frank was born in Gosport in 1885. His mother, Emma, and father, William, were both from Romsey and William was a brewery worker, later a publican.  Frank was the youngest of their six children and joined the navy at fourteen. He remained in the navy for eleven years, during which time his family were living in Alverstoke. In 1907 he married tailoress, Clara Kate Sherwin in Alverstoke and, at around this time, joined White Star as an able seaman. 

Over the next four years the couple had two children, Percy and Frank. Sadly, Frank died before his first birthday. Shortly after this the family appear to have moved to Southampton and were certainly living in Bishops Road when Frank transferred from Oceanic to Titanic. 

Frank Osman from Encyclopedia Titanica

As an able seaman Frank would have earned £5 a month. Able seamen were senior members of the deck crew, responsible for the day to day running of the ship and for operating the lifeboat davits in the event of an emergency. Each was also assigned a lifeboat to take charge of if no officers were available and, as each of the boats needed several strong, capable men aboard to row, navigate and take control, this meant the majority of the 29 able seamen aboard Titanic survived. 

When Titanic collided with the iceberg Frank was outside the seaman’s mess on C Deck. He heard the ice scraping along the hull and rushed to the Forward Well Deck where he found chunks of ice and noticed the ship was beginning to list. Although he didn’t believe the ship would sink, he was soon helping to load lifeboats on the port side. 

After he’d loaded four lifeboats and seen them launched, he was ordered into emergency lifeboat 2 by Fourth Officer Boxhall. There were three other crew members in the lifeboat, Boxhall, a cook and a steward. The rest of the boat was filled with women, eight from first class, six from third and one third class man. After they’d pushed off from the ship they tried to get to the starboard side to see if they could squeeze in another passenger or two but, by then, the ship was listing too much and they turned around. 

When the ship went down they were around a hundred yards from it. Frank did not notice any suction but he heard explosions which he believed were when the cold water met the hot boilers causing them to explode. He then saw smoke and lumps of what he thought was coal coming from the funnels. After the explosions the ship broke in two and the engines slid from the aft into the forward of the ship. The aft then rose, before slowly sinking again. 

By chance a box of flares had been put into emergency lifeboat two mistaken for a tin of biscuits. As Carpathia was approaching, Boxhall fired the flares and, consequently, they were the first boat to be picked up by her at around four in the morning. 

Frank was called to testify at the U.S. inquiry into the sinking and later returned to England and continued to work at sea, serving on various ships for the White Star and Cunard Lines, including Olympic, Homeric and Mauritania. He and Clara went on to have five more children, Maud, William, Emily, Grace and George. Frank died in Southampton in 1938 and is buried in St Mary’s Extra Cemetery. Clara died in 1964. 

The last Bishops Road house turned out to be a bit of a conundrum. We found number 16 easily enough but it looked like a modern house, perhaps 1930’s or 40’s, so this is probably not the actual house Walter Alexander Bishop lived in. *Encyclopaedia Titanica has him living at 248 Romsey Road. This is, I believe, a mistake as another crew member, Leonard White, was living there with his wife and her widowed mother and other records show Walter living in Bishops Road. This is the first such anomaly I have found but I will use the address, given on the crew list. Despite the confused information, I took a photograph.

16 Bishops Road

Walter was born in Southampton in around 1878. His mother, Maria, was from the Isle of Wight and his father, James, was a local lad and a ship’s cook. They had eight children. The family lived in the Chapel area of the town centre and then moved to Millbrook.  Walter went to sea himself around the turn of the century. In 1903, he married Mabel Mary Cox and, in the same year, their son, Walter James was born. Tragically, Mabel died early in 1904 aged just twenty three.

For a man working at sea the loss of his young wife must have been difficult to bear, especially with such a small baby to care for. By 1907, he had remarried. His new wife, Martha Dabell, née Castelman, was a widow with two young children, Winifred, who was seven and Percy who was just two when she and Walter married. In 1911 the couple were living in Shirley, perhaps in Martha’s house? When he left the St Louis and signed on to Titanic for her delivery journey from Belfast he gave his address as 16 High Street, Itchen.*

Walter was a first class bedroom steward, earning £3 15s a month and looking after between three and five rooms. Steward’s wages were not especially good but the tips often were, especially from first class passengers. Second and third class bedroom stewards had more rooms to look after, up to twenty five for third class, but the tips would have been much less, or non existent. A first class bedroom steward, if he ingratiated himself enough, could double his wages from tips. 

Sadly, Walter did not live to enjoy the fruits of his labours, both he and his brother in law, greaser Edward Castleman, perished and neither of their bodies were identified. One of Walter’s passengers, Mrs Emily Maria Borie Ryerson  did survive and, afterwards, remembered speaking to Walter after the collision. She asked him why the engines had stopped and he explained that there had been talk of an iceberg and the ship had stopped to avoid it. Whether  he believed this to be true or was trying to keep her calm isn’t known but she was one of the last people to see him. 

Mrs Emily Maria Borie Ryerson  From Encyclopedia Titanica

Martha and Walter’s widowed mother benefitted from the Titanic Relief Fund and he is remembered on the St Augustine’s Church Memorial in Southampton. Martha, having been twice widowed, did not marry again and, some years later, moved to Chichester to be close to her married daughter, Winifred. Walter’s son, Walter James, married Elsie Hardy in Southampton in 1926. They had at least one son and Walter junior died in Norfolk in 1975. 

From Bishops Road we turned onto Radstock Road where there were three more crew houses. Before we went looking for them though, there was one more house to find, on Millais Road. Unfortunately we had no number, just a house name, Cawdor. Millais Road runs parallel to Bishops Road from Wodehouse Road to Radstock Road, CJ and I were both hoping we’d find the house at the Radstock Road end because we’d both had enough of walking up and down by now. As we slowly made our way up the road though, we could see no names on any of the houses.  We walked the whole way back to Wodehouse Road but never did find a house with a name so I took some general pictures of the road to give an idea of the area.

Millais Road

We may not have found Cawdor but it was once the home of James Mull Smith. James was born in 1873, the youngest of Peter and Catherine Smith’s four children. Little is known about his childhood, except that he lived with his grandparents for part of it. Later he served an engineering apprenticeship with J. S. Souter of Elgin, a foundry and engineering works. He then moved to Liverpool and went to sea with the Anchor Line of Glasgow, Union Castle and Red Star, finally joining White Star in 1906. 

James Mull Smith From Encyclopedia Titanica

James’ move to Southampton probably coincided with White Star’s move to the town. He was certainly living in Southampton when he married Hannah Davidson in 1908. Two years later their son, Ian James, was born. James was now working on Majestic and ‘standing by’ for Titanic, still being built in Belfast. His little family were probably living at Cawdor in Millais Road by then, as this is the address he gave when he finally signed in to Titanic as Junior 4th Engineer. His wages would have been £13 10s so I imagine Cawdor was one of the grander houses in the street. 

None of the engineers survived the sinking. No doubt James was in the bowels of the ship, bravely trying to keep the pumps running when Titanic went down. His body was never identified but Hannah and Ian benefitted from the  Titanic Relief Fund and remained in Southampton. Tragedy was never far away though. Ian died in 1919, aged just nine. Poor Hannah never remarried and died in Southampton in 1953. 

Millais Road

Our little detour to Millais Road hadn’t been very successful and, as we retraced our steps back to Radstock Road, I had the feeling we wouldn’t have much more luck there. Back in 1912, this was called Avenue Road. It follows the railway line from Cranbury Road, near Sholing Station, all the way to Bridge Road. The houses we were now looking for were all at the Bridge Road end, an area that was badly bombed and is mostly new streets and houses now. As it happened, the first of our three houses was still standing, just below the junction with Bishops Road, before the modern houses of Norton and Cheddar Close start. The neat little semi detached house, 49 Avenue Road, was where Francis Albert Webber lived. 

49 Radstock Road, then Avenue Road

Francis was born in Melbourne Street Southampton in 1881 to Mary and William, a gas inspector who later owned an off licence. Mary and William had seven children and all but one survived infancy. Francis appears to have gone to sea at an early age and, by 1911, the family were living in Portsmouth. In all likelihood this was because William had been admitted to Portsmouth Borough Lunatic Asylum. He had been a “lunatic” for two or three years but, given the definition of madness at the time, may simply have had dementia, epilepsy, depression or something similar. Whatever his actual condition was, he died in May 1911. Francis was, in all likelihood, on Olympic by then but it must have been a difficult time for the whole family. 

Francis left Olympic and signed on to Titanic as leading fireman earning £6 10s a month. Like the majority of the firemen aboard, Francis perished when the ship sank. It is likely he was in one of Titanic’s boiler rooms shovelling coal to the very end. His body was never identified. His poor mother remained in Southampton and died in 1929. His last surviving sibling was his sister Kate, who died in Winchester in 1966. 

As I suspected, the next house, number 28, had been eaten up by the modern terraces. This was where George Fox Hosking once lived. George was the eldest child of Thomas, a master mariner, and Mary, both from Devon. The couple had five children. George was born in Shaldon, Devon in 1875. He attended Teignmouth Grammar School and was then an apprentice at A W Robertson & Company, engineers and shipbuilders of Royal Albert Dock, London, where he earned a first class certificate of competency. He served on several ships, including the Flintshire, Trelask and Georgia. Later he joined White Star and served on Athenic, Teutonic, Bovic, Republic and Olympic. 

The modern houses in Radstock Road

In 1904 he married Ada Alice Shapland from Ramshate. Between 1905 and 1909 they had three children Iris, George and William. Until 1908, the family lived in Bootle but then relocated to Southampton, almost certainly because White Star had transferred its main New York sailing there. The family set up home at Glen Villa, 28 Avenue Road, Itchen. George transferred from Olympic to Titanic as Senior Third Engineer with a monthly wage of £16 10s. 

George Fox Hosking from Encyclopedia Titanica

What part George played on that fateful night is not clear but, like all twenty five engineers aboard Titanic, he remained below decks to the last. These brave men operated the pumps, kept the steam up, or kept the generators running  to give passengers time and light to make an escape. Without them many more would have died. None of them survived and George’s body was never identified. 

His grieving family were helped by the Titanic Relief Fund charity and Ada eventually returned to Essex where she married Mr Henry Alonzo Moore in 1921. She died in 1944. 

Before we went in search of our last Radstock Road House we stopped to look along the modern cut way that more or less follows the line of what was once Drummond Road. The road and the houses no longer exist but John Pearce once lived at 14 Drummond Road. John was the son of Emily Pearce, née Osman, a charwoman from Southampton. There are no details about his father but he had, presumably, died as John spent his early years living with his mother and her parents, William and Mary Ann Osman, in St Mary’s. It is possible, but not certhain, that Emily was related to Bishops Road crew member Frank Osman. 

The cut way that was once Drummond Road

John lied about his age and joined the Royal Marine Light Infantry in 1895 but nothing is known about his career with them. By 1911, he was working as a fireman on merchant ships, including Oratrava and Danube. When he signed on to a Titanic he gave his address as 14 Drummond Road. Census records show this was the home of Samuel Mortimer and his family, so it’s likely John was just lodging there. 

Drummond Road on the 1910 map

Somehow John survived the sinking of Titanic, although it is not clear how or in which lifeboat he ended up. He did return to sea after the disaster, working as a fireman on Arcadian and as a greaser on Wellpark. What became of him after this is unknown. 

Titanic survivors aboard Carpathia from Encyclopedia Titanica

Despite my misgivings, our final Radstock Road house, number 7, was still standing, close to the junction with Bridge Road. This lovely little semi detached house with weathered mouldings around the door and above the bay window, was where Edgar Michael Kiernan, known to his friends as Michael, once lived. Michael was born in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Ireland in 1872. Today the little village is actually in Northern Ireland. His father, James was an inland revenue officer and his mother, Mary, was from Dublin. Michael had eight siblings, most, like him, born in Ireland. At some time in the first half of the 1880’s the family moved to Liverpool, where the final two or three children were born. Mary died in 1891, possibly in childbirth. 

7 Radstock Road, then Avenue Road

Michael’s first job was as a tramway conductor. In 1898 he married Ann Davies in Everton and between 1899 and 1911, had four children, Annie, Gladys, George and James. At some time in the early 1900’s Michael went to sea with White Star. When the company moved its main terminal from Liverpool to Southampton the family moved too, although the eldest three children remained in Everton with their maternal grandmother. Michael, his wife and the youngest child found lodgings in Lower Bridge Road, St Mary’s. By the time he left Olympic and signed onto Titanic as storekeeper they had moved to 7 Avenue Road. This was probably also a boarding house or lodgings. His wages would have been £3 15s. 

When the collision happened the three storekeepers, Michael, Frank Prentice and Cyril Ricks, knew nothing of it until they were ordered onto the deck. They certainly didn’t think there was any danger and stood around chatting and smoking cigarettes. After a while though, it was clear there was a major problem and, as their position became more and more precarious they climbed onto the poop deck and clung to the rail. By now it was obvious the ship was sinking and, at the final moment, all three men jumped into the sea. Only Frank Prentice lived to tell the tale. 

Michael’s body was never identified and his widow, Ann, returned to Liverpool where she later married William Peck. Michael’s youngest daughter, Gladys, emigrated to America in 1919. A year later Her sister Annie followed her. 

Our Final house in this part of Itchen was in Garton Road, close to Woolston train station. To my mind this is actually Woolston, not Itchen, but staying true to the crew list, we counted it with our Itchen houses and walked under the railway bridge. Garton Road runs along the Woolston side of the railway line towards Porchester Road. It didn’t take us long to find the house, number 11, clad these days in modern stone. This was where William Luke Duffy lived. 

Woolston Station, Garton Road

William was born in Castlebar, County Mayo in 1875 the middle of three children born to, John, an engineer and Ellen. When William left St. Jarlath’s College, County Galway, he became a clerk in Shackleton’s Flour Milling Company in Dublin and then joined James Walker and company, a Dublin printing works. At this time he and his brother Patrick lived in Dublin with a maternal aunt, Mary Ward. 

In 1910, William married an English nurse, Ethel Frazier, from Leeds and soon the couple moved to Southampton. They set up home in Dean House, Millais Road where their daughter, Mary, was born in early 1911. William was now working as a commercial traveller in the colour printing business. 

11 Garton Road

What led William to go to sea is not clear but the national Coal Strike of 1912 saw many men out of work and he may have been one of them. Titanic was his first ship and, by the time he joined it as an engineers writer, he and his family had moved to 11 Garton Road. He was aboard for the delivery from Belfast. His exact duties are not clear but he was probably a clerk, filling out paperwork for the engineering crew. His wages were £6 a month. Sadly, he did not survive and his body was never identified. Ethel and little Mary, along with William’s aunt Mary in Dublin, who he had presumably been supporting, benefitted from the Titanic Relief Fund but what became of them isn’t known. 

As we walked back down Garton Road we had a wonderful view of the Itchen Bridge rising up between the houses. Of course, the bridge wasn’t there in 1912. Back then, crossing the Itchen involved the floating bridge or one of the little Itchen ferryboats. The next crew houses on our list were all in what was once Itchen Ferry Village, where the ferrymen lived. There was no chance of finding any of them still standing but we were determined to find their locations if we could and tell their stories. First though, we needed a rest and a drink…

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 Itchen

Titanic’s lifeboats unloaded from Carpathia into New York Harbour

27 February 2019

This morning CJ and I took advantage of the second warm day in a row to search for the Itchen Titanic crew houses. This was not going to be an easy task. The area was a prime target during World War II, due to the waterside Spitfire factory, Supermarine. By the end of the war much of Itchen was gone and despite hours spent staring at old maps of the area, there were some houses and even streets I couldn’t find. The first house on our list was one example.

Peartree Green

When Richard Royston Proudfoot signed onto Titanic, he gave his address as 2 Peartree Green. There is a Peartree Avenue, a Peartree Road and a Peartree Close. Peartree Green though is a grassy area with a church, Jesus Church or Peartree Church, at its centre. Where exactly Richard lived was a mystery so we took a few photo of the green, the church (including the grave of another unfortunate sailor called Richard) and the sorrounding roads and left it at that.

Itchen map 1911

Richard was born in Plymouth in 1890, the eldest of Royston and Jane Proudfoot’s five children. Royston was a seaman and, after living in Devonport with Jane’s parents for some time, the family moved to Southampton, living in Firgrove Road, Sholing and, later, Peartree Green. Just before his fifteenth birthday, Richard joined the Royal Navy, having lied about his age. He served aboard Boscawen III, Hawke and Caesar. When he was discharged in 1906, he appears to have gone straight into the merchant service.

Peartree Church

Richard was unmarried and living with his parents and siblings when he signed on to Titanic as a coal trimmer. His wages were £5 10s a month. His job would have began with loading the coal onto the ship. The trimmers then worked inside the coal bunkers above and between the boilers. With shovels and wheelbarrows they moved the coal around the bunkers, both to keep it level and stop the ship listing and to move it down the coal chute to the firemen who shovelled it into the furnaces. They often had to put out fires caused by the heat from the boilers and furnaces. As there was a fire raging in Titanic’s bunkers for the whole of the voyage, the trimmers were probably kept very busy.

Peartree Road

The trimmers were the most poorly paid of all the engineering crew. They worked in dim light, sweltering heat and air thick with coal dust. Titanic had 73 trimmers. While the ship was sinking they stayed below deck and kept shovelling coal to keep the generators running for the lights and pumps. Just 20 survived. Richard was not among them and his body was never identified. His mother, Jane, died in Southampton in 1932. His father died in Florida in 1927. His last surviving sibling was his sister Helen who died in Portsmouth in 1961. 

Peartree Close

Still none the wiser about where Richard lived, we left the green and walked along Poole Road to Mortimer Road where our next two crew members had lived. The first, John Coleman lived at number 7 and I knew from the outset we wouldn’t find his house. The bottom half of Mortimer Road from Poole Road to Bridge Road is now a series of small streets of modern houses, presumably due to war time bombing, and the only older houses existing on the remains of Lower Mortimer Road are even numbers. 

The modern houses where Mortimer Road once was

John was born in Queenstown, County Cork in 1854. His father, also called John, was a farmer and his mother was called Mary. At an early age John joined the Royal Navy as a shipwright and carpenter, serving on Thunderer, Duke of Wellington, Asia, Excellent, Humber, Euphrates, Republic and Champion. When he was not at sea, he lived in Liverpool and it was here, in 1979, that he married an Irish girl called Rose Ann Campbell. Tragically, their only child died in infancy.

John left the navy in 1886 and, some time afterwards, joined the merchant service. By 1911, John and Rose were living at 7 Mortimer Road and John was working as a steward for White Star on Majestic. Their move south almost certainly coincided with White Star’s move from Liverpool to Southampton. 

John signed on to Titanic as a mess steward. His wages, according to Encyclopaedia Titanica, were £6 a month. This is far more than the normal mess steward’s wage of £3 10s  a month so this may be a mistake. There were six mess hall stewards, four serving the engineering crew and two serving the deck crew. Only one mess steward, from engineering, survived. It was not poor John. He died in the sinking and his body was never identified. His widow, Rose, returned to Ireland and died just a year later. Perhaps her heart was broken?

Upper Mortimer Road from Poole Road

The next house on our list was easier to find. Number 172 Mortimer Road was a mid terrace, close to the junction with Wodehouse Road. It also had a black plaque remembering Charles Painter, its former resident. Charles was born in Southampton in 1880, the eldest son of Frederick, a seaman and Caroline, both from Southampton. The couple had five children and lived in Golden Grove and then Cumberland Street. Exactly what happened to Frederick isn’t clear but, when Caroline died, in 1894, Charles and his siblings had no alternative but to find work, despite their youth. Charles seems to have chosen a life at sea.

172 Mortimer Road

By 1903 Charles married a local girl, Mary Ann Edith Houghton. The couple had four children, Lillian, Charles, Frederick and Dorothy and set up home in North East Road, Sholing. Towards the end of 2011 their youngest son, Frederick died, aged just three, Charles was working as a fireman, possibly aboard Olympic at this time. Exactly when they moved to 172 Mortimer Road isn’t known but it’s possible the loss of their child may have precipitated the move and they were living at this address when Charles signed on as one of Titanic’s firemen, earning £6 a month.

Charles Painter, from Encyclopedia Titanica

Within a very short space of time poor Mary had to deal, not only with the death of her child but also the death of her husband. Like the majority of the firemen aboard Titanic, Charles was probably down in the boiler room frantically shovelling coal to keep the boilers running when the ship went down. He was lost when Titanic sank and his body was never identified. Mary remarried in 1914. She and her new husband,William H Turner, had several more children but, sadly, tragedy never seemed far away. In 1915, little Dorothy, her last child with Charles, died, aged just four. Mary herself died in Hampshire in 1956 and it is not known what became of Charles’ other son and daughter. 

Next, CJ and I turned right onto Wodehouse Road and, on the corner of Manor Road North, stopped to check the house numbers and decide which way we needed to turn next. As it happened, we discovered we were standing right in front of number 163, where William Barnet Bedford once lived. This time there was no plaque, but we were fairly sure we had the right house. 

163 Manor Road North

William was born in Pontefract, Yorkshire in 1880. His father, Hector, was born in St Helena and his mother, Susan Ann, was from Aldershot in Hampshire. The couple married in Alverstoke and had ten children, eight of which survived infancy. Hector was a sergeant in West Yorkshire Militia so the family moved around a great deal, living in Rotherham, Aldershot, Gosport and Pontefract. By 1881, Hector had left the army and was working as an inspector of telegraph messages in Alverstoke. 

At some time around the turn of the century, William went to sea. His family, seemingly unable to settle in one place, were living in London. They later moved to 163 Manor Road and this was where William was living when he signed on to Titanic as assistant cook. His wages were 4 10s a month. He had previously worked for the American Line as a cook and left Olympic to join Titanic. For William, it was the final of his many moves. He died when the ship sank and his remains were never identified. Hector and Susan stayed in Hampshire, moving to Gosport in their later years. Susan died in 1924 and Hector in 1935. William is remembered on their headstone in Ann’s Hill Cemetery Gosport. 

Kitchen staff aboard Titanic Fromm Pinterest

Now we had to head back towards Poole Road, keeping an eye on the house numbers as we walked. Not long after we’d crossed the Peveril Road junction and passed the unusual arched frontage of the Woolston Methodist Church, we found our next house.

Woolston Methodist Church

Number 94 Manor Road is another narrow fronted mid terraced house. It was once home to J Taylor, one of Titanic’s brave firemen. We may have found his house with relative ease but finding anything else about him was next to impossible. After a long and fruitless search I discovered he was approximately 42 and married when he joined the ship. He embarked in Southampton and was lost with the ship. Unsurprisingly, his body was never identified and there isn’t even a record of his first name. 

94 Manor Road North

All this seems incredibly sad. As a fireman, the chances are he would have been working to the very last to keep the boilers running so the pumps and lights would keep working. It was a hot, dirty and dangerous job at the best of times but, when the ship was sinking, they must have known there was no escape for them, yet they still kept working to the end. Their sacrifice gave others time to escape and saved many lives that would otherwise have been lost. 

Firemen on Titanic from Pintrest

By the time we found our final Manor Road house, we were almost back on Poole Road again. Number 61 was another mid terraced house, much like the last but on the sunny side of the street at this time of morning. This was where John Edward Puzey and his family once lived. John, known to his friends as Jack, was born in London in 1868. His parents, Nathaniel and Rosetta were both from Middlesex and Nathaniel was a marine fireman. When Nathaniel died, in 1884, Rosetta was expecting her eighth child. She remarried in 1890 and moved to Windsor with her new husband, William Henry Gregory, a bricklayer who was eleven years her junior. By this time John had already joined the British Army Serving with the Dragoon Guards. 

61 Manor Road

In 1896 John married Rose Stone in Wiltshire. They already had one son, Frank, and their second son, William, was born in 1901 in St Denys, Southampton. By this time John had followed in his father’s footsteps and was working at sea, although as a steward rather than a fireman. This may explain why the family moved to Southampton. By 1911 they had moved to 61 Manor Road. 

Before John joined Titanic  he had been working aboard the White Star ship RMS Majestic. Walter Boothby, one of John’s in-laws (Rose’s brother’s wife’s brother) was also signed on as a steward. Sadly neither man survived the disaster. A memorial to them both was posted in the Portsmouth Evening News – BOOTHBY AND PUZEY–In loving memory of our dear brothers, Walter and Jack, who was drowned in the terrible Titanic disaster, April 14th, 1912. Sadly missed by Ada and Will.

Rose went on to marry twice more and died in Southampton in 1938. John’s son William died in the New Forest in 1979. Frank, who had served an apprenticeship as a billiard maker, followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and joined the merchant navy but it’s not known what eventually became of him. 

Ludlow Road

Back on Poole Road once more, we turned left towards Ludlow Road. There were no less than five crew houses to find here. Unfortunately, the bottom end of Ludlow Road, around the school, was destroyed during World War II and our first two houses, 45 and 60, have been replaced by modern terraces.

New houses in Ludlow Road

George Knight lived at 45 Ludlow Road, opposite the school. Little is known about his early life except that he was born in 1865 in Brighton and his mother was called Mary. His later life is well documented as, after a spell working as a cobbler, he joined the army aged eighteen. He was soon transferred to the Army Medical Corps, perhaps because his eyesight was very poor and own health was blighted by catarrh, dyspepsia and gonorrhoea.

Despite his health issues, he married Clara Amy Hopkins, a seaman’s daughter, in Chatham in 1888. Two years later their only child, Olive Blanche was born. In 1891 he was posted to Egypt where he served until 1896. His next posting was to South Africa in late 1899. Clara and Olive remained in England, living at the Royal Victoria Hospital. By the time he returned to England in 1902, he’d become a staff sergeant and been awarded the King and Queen’s South African Medal. 

George was discharged from the army in 1904 and the family moved to 45 Ludlow Road. Tragically, within a year Olive had died, just before her fifteenth birthday. Before very long poor Clara was all alone again and George had gone to sea, perhaps to assuage his grief? He left Olympic to join Titanic as a saloon steward, serving the rich and famous in the first class dining saloon. The wages of £3 15s plus tips would supplement his army pension so Clara, while lonely, was relatively well off. 

Titanic’s sister ship Olympic’s First Class Dining Saloon

George was saved on lifeboat thirteen, the seventh boat to be launched at around quarter past one. The boat was filled with around sixty five people, mainly second and third class women and children. It was first filled from the boat deck and then lowered to A deck to take on more people. When no more women and children could be found the nearby men were told to get in. George was probably amongst them. It was very nearly his undoing. As the lifeboat hit the sea it got caught up in a stream of water being pumped from the ship. The ropes became jammed and lifeboat fifteen, launched at almost the same time, was fast coming down on top of it. At the last moment someone cut the ropes and the lifeboat moved away just in time. Lifeboat thirteen was the seventh or eighth to reach Carpathia. 

In late 1914, George re-enlisted in the army. The family were still living at 45 Ludlow Road at this time and George was soon back with them. By April 1915 he’d been discharged due to a nervous condition, which, given his generally poor health and his experiences on Titanic, was hardly surprising. During the Second World War George worked as a night watchman for H.M. Customs. He seems to have been the master of lucky escapes because, when the bombs dropped and destroyed 45 Ludlow Road both he and Clara survived. Clara died in Winchester in 1944 and George followed her in 1945. 

The unfortunately named Florence, Thomas Donoghue lived at the second missing house, 60 Ludlow Road.  Florence, known as Frank for obvious reasons, was born in County Kerry In 1882. Quite why his parents Margaret and Timothy, a tram conductor, decided to give him a girl’s name is a mystery but I’m sure it must have been a burden to him. A couple of years after ‘Frank’ was born the family moved to Liverpool and had six more children with more conventional names. 

Around the turn of the century, ‘Frank’ seems to have gone to sea and, in 1900, he married Annie Furlong. Their son, Frankie was born in around 1906 and, in 1910 Annie and her son emigrated to America, settling in New York. At this time it’s likely ‘Frank’ was working for White Star on Olympic regularly travelling between Southampton and New York so the move was not as surprising as it seems. 

When ‘Frank’ joined Titanic he was probably lodging at 60 Ludlow Road when he was in Southampton and living with his family when he was in New York. As a first class bedroom steward he would have been responsible for cleaning up to five rooms and making the beds. He’d also have had to keep the rooms well stocked, help passengers with dressing and serve them food if they decided to eat in their rooms. 

A first class stateroom by Robert John Welch (1859-1936), official photographer for Harland & Wolff

Sadly, Titanic’s maiden voyage would be ‘Frank’s’ final trip between his two homes. He was lost in the sinking and his body was never recovered. A memorial was posted in the Liverpool Echo, DONOGHUE–In loving memory of my dear husband Frank Donoghue, a Titanic victim. R.I.P. Annie and Frankie returned to England briefly, possibly aided by the Red Cross, to claim compensation from the British Workmen’s Compensation Act. She was awarded £300 and returned almost immediately to New York, where she believed there were more opportunities for her and her son. In America she worked as a domestic and is thought to have later found work as a stewardess. There is certainly a census record of an Annie Donoghue, retired stewardess, living in Southampton in 1939. What became of Frankie is not known. 

Our next Ludlow Road crew member’s house was easier to find. Number 97 Ludlow Road was opposite the Junior School, close to the junction with Peveril Road. This little terraced house, with its slightly overgrown garden, was once home to William Alfred Cross. When he was born, in 1868, his parents Cornelius, a brick maker and Mary, were living in Portswood, Southampton. The couple had seven children. 

97 Ludlow Road

In 1890, at around the time Cornelius died, William appears to have gone to sea. In 1907, he married local girl Annie Webb and they set up home in Sholing, moving later to Ludlow Road. They had no children. William left the Oceanic to join Titanic as a fireman. Like so many of the firemen on Titanic, William was lost when the ship sank and his body was never identified. What became of Annie isn’t known, although she did benefit from the Titanic Relief fund, 

The last two Ludlow Road houses took us back towards Wodehouse Road once more. We found the first, number 114, just before the junction. It was home to William Chapman Peters, the youngest son of Joel and Eliza, born in 1886 in London. When they married, the year before William was born, they already had four children. William grew up in London where his father died in 1898 and his mother in 1909. 

Just after the turn of the century, William began his working life as a bricklayer, possibly working with his brother, Joel. During the first decade of the 1900’s, he joined the Royal Navy. Not much is known about his naval career but he was an able seaman aboard the Jupiter and left HMS Hercules to join Titanic. He gave his address as 114 Ludlow Road, but this may have just been lodgings. As an able seaman his wages were £5 a month and he would have had seniority over other deck crew. Able seamen carried out the day to day deck duties 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. For this reason 21 of the 29 able seamen aboard survived. 

114 Ludlow Road

William was amongst the crew in charge of lifeboat nine. This was the fifth boat, lowered from the aft end of the starboard side. Purser McElroy and First Officer Murdoch supervised the loading. It was lowered with around forty people aboard, many second class female passengers. Several stewards were also aboard, ordered into the boat to help the ladies, some reluctant, others half hysterical, get in. One woman became so afraid she refused to get in and ran back inside the ship. It’s likely she perished.

When no more women, at least willing ones, could be found, Purser McElroy allowed some nearby men to get into the boat. Boatswain’s mate, Albert Haines was placed in command of the boat. At first it stayed closed to the ship, possibly because everyone believed they’d soon be called back onboard. When it became clear the ship was sinking, they rowed away, fearful of being sucked down with Titanic. Once the ship had gone down, Haines asked the other seamen if they should go back to try to rescue people from the sea. It was decided that this would be too dangerous, as those in the sea could swamp the lifeboat and everyone would be drowned.

William Chapman Peters from Encyclopedia Titanica

Undeterred by his experience William continued to work at sea. He married Mary Ann Niblock in Southampton in 1913 and the couple settled in the town and had three children, Florence, Norah and Robert. William went on to serve aboard Lusitania, the Duchess of Richmond and Queen Elizabeth on which he was master at arms. He died in 1950 in Liverpool. What became of his children isn’t known. 

Our last Ludlow Road house, number 122, was just above the Wodehouse Road junction. This was where Arthur Ernest Jones once lived and we found a black plaque above the door confirming this. Arthur was born in Shorncliffe, Kent in 1874, one of Julia and Edward Jones’ ten children. Edward was a governmental clerk and the family moved around a great deal. Before the family settled in England in 1889, they’d lived in such exotic places as Sierra Leone and Barbados. They then lived for several years in various parts of Portsmouth and, around the turn of the century, Arthur was working as a labourer for a Portsmouth wine and spirit merchant. 

122 Ludlow Road

The family finally settled in Southampton at some time in the first decade of the 1900’s and, when Albert left Olympic and joined Titanic as a second class plate steward, they were living at 122 Ludlow Road. As far as I can tell a plate steward’s job involved cleaning and polishing all the silver plate dishes, napkin rings and cutlery used in the dining rooms. Plate stewards earned £3 15s a month, 

Arthur was still unmarried when he joined Titanic and, sadly, did not survive, nor was his body identified. His parents placed a death notice in the Southern Daily Echo – JONES–April 15, at sea, on board the S.S. Titanic, Arthur Ernest, the dearly loved second son of Robert and Jane Jones, of 122 Ludlow Road, Woolston, Southampton. May his dear soul rest in peace. His parents remained in Southampton until their deaths in the 1930’s. 

We had been zig zagging up and down the grid of streets between Poole Road and Wodehouse Road for almost an hour searching for houses. All the ups and downs and turns were slightly disorienting so we were glad to finally say goodbye to Wodehouse Road one last time and turn onto Bishops Road. There were still seventeen more Itchen houses to find but now there would be less going back and forth. There would also be less chance of finding any surviving houses…

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 progress report on the Bargate Quarter

26 February 2019

Today I had some business in town and, when I’d finished, I thought I’d have a look at the progress on the Bargate Quarter. By all accounts exciting things were happening there, although work wasn’t quite going to plan. In fact, the scheduled opening date of autumn 2019, now looks overly ambitious. In the circumstances, this was understandable but the online grumbling about the development was disappointing, depressing and downright frustrating.

The sky was blue, the sun was out, it was, I later discover, the hottest February day on record. Even though I’d left home for the three mile walk to town rather overdressed and was, by now, way too hot, the parks made me smile as I unbuttoned my coat, unwound my scarf and walked through. Winter is slowly losing it battle against spring. While most branches are still bare there are flowers bursting on the camellias and daffodil clumps brightening the grass.

The ribbon of beautifully tended parks running through the city centre from Chapel to London Road was once the Lammas lands surrounding the old walled town. This common land was used to grow crops by Southampton’s Medieval residents from spring until August each year. After the harvest the cattle and other animals grazed there.

Between 1854 and 1866, the common land was slowly turned into the beautiful, award winning, parks we have today. As I strolled through I couldn’t help wondering if the Victorian residents moaned as much about the changes as today’s keyboard warriors do? Did they gripe about the public money being spent on laying paths, planting shrubs or erecting statues of prominent citizens like Palmerston? Did they despise every new building and hark back to the good old days of stocks, public hangings and the town ditch overflowing with sewage? Maybe they did. Humans, at least some of them, seem particularly resistant to change.

Like the changing of the seasons, change in the city is inevitable. The needs of the population are not static and some buildings and amenities outlive their usefulness or popularity. Some change comes from changed attitudes, stocks, gallows, zoos and bird aviaries are no longer seen as acceptable and sewage thrown into town ditches is now known to be unhealthy. The Victorians cleared away overcrowded and crumbling slum tenaments after several gruesome deaths. Those who lived in them were probably not too happy and some, undoubtedly, ended up on the streets or in the workhouse. Poverty and homelessness were not wiped out. They still exist today but we now have shelters, benefits and food banks instead of workhouses. Whether they work any better remains to be seen.

In the early 1900’s the growth of motorised transport saw parts of the medieval town walls torn down to make way for roads. We may look back and lament some of the casualties but the people at the time saw it as progress. Today we cherish our medieval history and call it a tourist attraction. Even so, some of the destruction, like the forty steps, cut into the walls in 1853, are as useful today as they were back then.

Some change is driven by simple economics, when the dance halls, ice rinks, pubs, arcades and cinemas fall out of favour and stop earning their owners money, they disappear. Today’s young people get their entertainment in different ways and spend their money in different places.

Other change comes from war and disaster. There is no doubt that both have shaped the face of our city. The blitz left Southampton burning bright enough to be seen from Cherbourg and the town centre in ruins. A few pre war buildings, like Alfred Waterhouse’s turn of the century Prudential Assurance Building in Above Bar, survived, along with the walls that weren’t torn down. Most did not.

Today our city centre is filled with mostly post war or modern buildings. Some are architecturally quite attractive, others, put up in haste to replace the wartime destruction, not so much. Even they are not immune to change. Businesses rise and fall. Shops open and, either thrive, or close as the fashions and needs of the people dictate. Disasters happen, like the fire in Waterstones bookshop a while back. The scorched shop is now up for rent. Books have fallen out of favour,

As I walked through the quiet, weekday morning, precinct I thought about all the changes I’d seen there in my lifetime. Once this was a busy road, filled with traffic. Crossing wasn’t always easy and sitting outside on the pavement to watch the world go by or have a coffee was unheard of. Pedestrianisation made this part of Above Bar a quieter and more relaxing place. Now there are trees where once there were buses and cars, and places to sit in the sun.

Of course the changes never stop. The first walled beds and seating areas have gone and the whole place seems lighter and more open now. Even so, some people would rather it had stayed as it was. The shops have changed too reflecting the spending habits of the twenty first century. Some, like Woolworths, I miss myself but, if people don’t buy then shops will close. At the bottom of the precinct more change is happening. It seems that the concrete barriers, erected after terrorist attacks in other cities, are being replaced with something more permanent and, hopefully, more attractive. The world changes and the city changes with it.

February 2018 the concrete blocks

The Bargate, newly cleaned and repaired, stands as it has since the twelfth century, watching over it all while everything around it slowly evolves. The most recent change is the demolition of the relatively modern Bargate Shopping Centre, built in 1989. In its day, the Internet cafe, games arcade and specialist teen oriented shops were popular but times and fashions changed and it became a ghost town.

Inside Bargate Shopping Centre May 2013
Our last walk through Bargate Shopping Centre May 2013

The post war shops have been demolished too and, while some complain about their loss, they were never especially beautiful and hid a whole section of the remaining medieval wall. Most people don’t even know Polymond Tower, York Gate and the walls adjoining them even exist and those, like me, who do and ventured down the narrow back alley to see them did not have a pleasant visit.

February 2018 the shops and shopping centre before they were demolished
February 2015

Along with the parked cars and overflowing rubbish bins, the narrow back alley was often home to drunks and worse. It never felt the safest place to walk. Then there was Bargate Shopping Centre, built so close to the wall it was touching it in places. Often I would peer through the locked gates and arrow slits and wish it was possible to walk inside. Of course the piles of rubbish, old bikes and other unpleasant things would need to be cleared out first.

February 2015, the back of the a Bargate Shopping Centre
February 2015, Polymond Tower
November 2017
November 2017

Now the Bargate Shopping Centre and the shops beside it have gone, apart from the marble art nouveau facade that was once the frontage of Burtons. This is being saved and incorporated into the new buildings. Those who mourn are really just looking back with nostalgia at their youth and not the buildings they haven’t visited since those heady days. They forget that each generation has it’s own pursuits and fashions. Time marches on and the world changes.

A peeep through the plastic glass opening in the hoardings revealed a landscape of gravel, dirt and debris, along with a new view all the way to Debenhams. The old walls are hidden for the moment behind protective boards and scaffolding but, in time, they will be revealed in all their glory. No doubt the naysayers, like those who protested at a lumpy car park being built over to create the Watermark Development, will soon be enjoying a stroll, a browse and maybe a meal there. Personally, I can’t wait and I’m sure the Bargate, if it had human feelings, would be pleased to be reunited with some of its adjoining walls.

My wait will now be a little longer but I’m not grumbling. Any building work in the centre of the city is accompanied by archeological investigation. In this case, the demolition of the shops on Queensway, has revealed some interesting artefacts and work has been halted while the archaeologists investigate further. This is just as it should be. The history will be uncovered and preserved and then the work will begin again.

When I left the Bargate behind I walked down East Street and along the back of the old Bargate Shopping Centre to see what I could see. Through the wire fence I spotted the archaeologists working away amid the remnants of the old shops. What they’d uncovered I couldn’t tell but I’m sure it’s interesting.

Over the red hoardings I could just see the top of the Bargate. It’s a view of the iconic building I’ve never seen before and it suddenly seemed much closer than it had before. Thinking I might get a better view from Hanover Buildings, I carried on to the bottom of East Street and walked along Queensway. Here I discovered another viewing window. Through it the footprints of the old shops were easy to see but, if there was anything of archeological interest there, I couldn’t tell.

Around the corner, behind Hanover Buildings, I got a different view of the same thing. There was a time when I often strolled along York Walk, past all the rubbish and parked cars to look at Polymond Tower and the walls. Right now all that’s visible is one edge of the tower and the flag flying on top of the Bargate. Soon though, it will be a whole new walk.

Of course, the new Bargate Quarter development will also have shops, restaurants and apartments. The developers are business people and wouldn’t be investing in such an ambitious project unless there was money to be made from it. There were shops and restaurants there before though, so it’s hardly a big difference.

The biggest grumble seems to be that some of the accommodation will be for students. For some reason there are people who strongly object to the young people studying at our universities to become the scientists, doctors and teachers of the future. They certainly don’t want to see them living in the city and blame every party, piece of litter and social problem on them. Like most young people, they’re not all angels but, surely, it’s far better they live in purpose built halls of residence than share large houses elsewhere, houses that could be used by families. They certainly contribute to the local economy, even if the money they spend comes from their parents.

In my eyes, the new development, like the Watermark, is, on balance, a good thing. As for the moaners, I guess they just like to have something to gripe about. I’m very glad I don’t live in their world.

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.