Sleeping in a tent in the rain isn’t easy. This year though, we’d dispensed with the, frankly, useless air beds that never seem to stay inflated for more than an hour or two and bought proper camp beds with us. They looked narrow and uncomfortable but were surprisingly good to sleep on. Because of the rain and the fading light we’d gone to bed quite early and I woke equally early. Commando was still sleeping but I sneaked out of the tent and went off for a wander. It was just after five in the morning.
As we set off for the Wyvern 10k this morning I felt unusually light of heart. Previous versions of this event have felt a little like hell on Earth, standing in blistering heat, camera in hand, desperately trying to get photos of runners crossing the finish line. They had to be good photos too, no funny faces or wobbly flesh, just flying feet and smiles. There was never any time to go wandering, just an aching back, arms and legs from standing still for so long and maybe a bit of sunburn.
The plan for today was to try to find at least some of the Titanic crew houses in Portswood. As there are a lot of them, covering a large area, and the weather was incredibly hot and humid, I was resigned to the fact that we might not be up to the job of finding all of them. When CJ and I set off the mood was hopeful and doubtful in equal parts. Originally I’d hoped to tick of the handful of houses in Highfield on this walk too but I already knew that was a step too far.
Kim and I are loosely following a marathon walking training plan to get ready for Clarendon. Loosely being the operative word because Kim works shifts and we live on opposite sides of the city. During the week we walk separately, each trying to fit in miles as and when we can. The plan is to have one long walk together a week. Much like I did for my last Moonwalk training, the long walks alternate between one long walk week and the next half the previous week’s distance. Each long walk week is two miles longer than the last. It sounds complicated but it really isn’t.
This week I have been getting my head around the enormity of the two challenges I’ve undertaken. The Million Steps Challenge doesn’t begin until 1 July but I’ve worked out I will need to walk around eleven thousand steps a day. Training for the Clarendon Marathon should more than take care of that.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Exactly what happened on the fateful night of the collision isn’t clear but, somehow, John managed to get onto lifeboat fifteen, the last large lifeboat to be launched. The boat was at the far end of the boat deck on the starboard side and, by all accounts, was the only one launched full. It’s occupants were a mixture of women and children, many from third class, some third class men and several members of the crew. There were certainly between 60 and 80 people aboard and fireman, Frank Dymond, appears to have been in charge.
Lifeboat 15 was lowered shortly after lifeboat 13, which had become entangled after being caught up in a huge amount of water pouring out of a condenser exhaust. The occupants of both boats shouted out for the lowering to stop but no one above heard. Luckily, someone managed to cut the falls of lifeboat 13 at the last moment and disaster was averted.
It took them some time to get away from the sinking ship, perhaps because the lifeboat was so heavily laden. It was the tenth or eleventh to reach Carpathia and was the only wooden boat left behind when Carpathia left for New York. Later John discovered that, in all the mayhem of the sinking, he’d inadvertently put the Verandah cafe keys in his pocket. What became of them is a mystery but I imagine they’d fetch a pretty penny today as a small key which opened a life-jacket locker on the Titanic was sold for £85,000 in 2016.
John continued to work for White Star for a short while after the disaster but, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before he left the sea for good and found work as a driver. During World War I he enlisted in the Army Medical Corps and he and Mabel later ran the Richmond Inn in Portswood Road. John died, after a long illness, in 1946 and was cremated at Southampton Crematorium. His ashes were scattered in the garden of rest at South Stoneham Cemetery. Mabel died in 1978. His daughters Gwen and Mollie both married and remained in Hampshire until their deaths.
Our last Bevois Valley houses were on Bevois Valley Road, which, coincidentally, would take us back towards home. Whether we’d find any of them still standing was another matter altogether though…
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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.
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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.