SS Shieldhall

14 September 2019

As a reward for all the long walks, or maybe out of guilt for having signed me up for a marathon without my knowledge, Commando arranged a little treat for this afternoon. This came in the form of a cruise, although not the kind most people would imagine when they think of the port of Southampton.

Continue reading SS Shieldhall

Titanic tales from Itchen ferry

27 February 2019

We’d been walking for a good two hours. It was surprisingly warm for a February day so we went into Woolston, got some drinks and sat for a while on the feather benches in the Millennium garden. On my phone was a screenshot of the 1910 map of Itchen Ferry Village and we pored over it trying to reconcile the old streets with the new. None of the next crew houses would still be standing but the stories of those who lived in them still deserved to be told.

The lost village of Itchen Ferry has a history as long as that of the city, maybe longer. It came to an end on 26 September 1940. The Luftwaffe, trying to hit the Supermarine factory and halt Spitfire production, bombed the little community out of existence. In that one raid there were over one hundred casualties. Barely a house survived.

Bridge Road from Oak Bank Road 1940

The first of our Itchen Ferry crew lived in Oak Bank Road, right beside the Millennium Garden. There are no houses there today. Everything not destroyed by wartime bombing was demolished when the Itchen Bridge was built. It’s now a car park in the shadow of that bridge. Back in 1912 though, Joseph Alexis Bochatay lived at number 28. 

Oak Bank Road today

Joseph was born in Les Granges, Switzerland in 1881. His father, Alexis Bochatay-Coquoz, was a joiner and farmer, but Joseph didn’t want to pursue either of these careers. After an apprenticeship in the Gay-Balmaz Hotel in his home town, he went to England where he worked his way up to chef in the kitchens of various hotels. He then went to sea, working in the first class galley on Olympic, then as Assistant Chef on Titanic. His wages were £10 a month. He was probably living in Oak Bank Road as a lodger.

An old postcard of Oak Bank Road

The food on Titanic was sumptuous and plentiful. First class passengers enjoyed a continental style menu, mostly French. When the collision happened most kitchen staff would have been in their quarters. For them the day started early with breakfast preparations so it’s doubtful many were awake. Any awoken by the scraping of ice against metal were probably not too alarmed until the call came to put on lifebelts and go to the boat deck. Even then, most wouldn’t have believed the ship would really sink. Some kitchen staff helped with the evacuation or fetched provisions for the lifeboats but few got onto the boats. Of the sixty two kitchen and galley staff on board, just thirteen survived. Joseph was not one of them and his body was never identified.

Oak Bank Road car park

Joseph’s parents were given £120 compensation  by White Star, along with outstanding wages of £2. They also received £85 from the Titanic Relief Fund. There is a memorial to him in Salvan, Switzerland.

The next house on our list was 16 Ivy Road. In 1912 Ivy Road ran from the bottom of Oak Bank Road, up towards the railway line roughly between the pillars of the bridge today. Ivy Road is no longer there but the old maps told us it roughly corresponded with the top of modern day Laurel Close. So we crossed the car park, walked under the bridge and headed towards it.

Unlike Ivy Road, Laurel Close curves up from Hazel Road, so we climbed the hill until we were on the part of the new road that follows the line of the old. The modern houses were nothing like the originals would have been and the whole area was dominated by the bridge but it was the best we could do. Things would have been very different when Charles Hodge lived there. 

Laurel Road, once Ivy Road

Charles, or Charley as he was known, was born in Devonport, Devon in 1883, the only child of Charles Cornwall Hodge and his wife Esther. Charles Senior, a paintworks salesman, was from Cornwall and Esther was a Devon native. Charley served an apprenticeship as a fitter with Davey, Sleep and Company of Plymouth and joined White Star after his mother’s death in 1907. He moved to Southampton, along with his father at around this time, probably because it was White Star’s main port. He was obviously ambitious and was soon appointed sixth engineer on Teutonic then worked his way up the ranks to Assistant Second Engineer. 

In 1909, Charley married Mabel Holloway in Wiltshire. Mabel’s father was in the British Army and she was born in Lucknow, India. The couple had two daughters, Ester, born in 1910, at around the time Charley’s father died, and another whose name and date of birth is not known. For a while they lived in Foundry Lane, Shirley but, by the time Charley signed on to Titanic they’d moved to 16 Ivy Road in Itchen. He was Senior Assistant Third Engineer earning £12 a month. 

Charley Hodge

None of the engineers survived the sinking and nothing is known of Charley’s final moments. He was almost certainly below decks working to keep the engines running as long as possible and well aware of his imminent demise. His body was never identified. What became of Mabel and his daughters isn’t known. 

The next houses on our list were in what was once the top part of Itchen Ferry Village but, before we climbed the hill, we paused for a moment to remember the people of this lost village. The slipway where the little ferry boats were once launched is still there, or maybe it’s a modern version of it. Either way we stood and looked across the Itchen and thought about the Itchen Ferrymen rowing back and forth.

A handful of houses on the waterfront here are the only surviving remnants of the village and the closest thing to the houses our crew members would have called home. Once there were pubs, streets, shops and a thriving industry revolving around the ferry boats, plus a little smuggling if the stories are to be believed.

So, we climbed the hill, walking under the railway bridge where the air raid shelter for Supermarine once was. Nothing beyond the bridge now existed in 1912, apart, perhaps, for the green to our left but even that has changed enormously. Our next three houses were all in Cliff Road, now called Wharncliffe Road. We climbed the steps just above the bridge knowing full well we were not going to find them

Today there are modern terraces and flats built after the terrible bombing destroyed everything in 1940. The houses that were once there were probably similar to the ones we’d just photographed on the waterside though.

Itchen Frey Village, Wharncliffe Road Posted on the Southampton Heritage Facebook Page by Rod Andrews

Whatever they looked like, Edward John Buley once lived at number 10. Edward was one of fourteen children born to John and Mary Ann Buley in Portsmouth in 1885. Five of his siblings died in infancy. His early life was spent living at the coastguard station in Bexhill, Sussex, where his father was a boatman for H.M. customs. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the family were living in Sholing, Southampton and Edward was at sea with the Royal Navy. He had previously been working as a messenger. He served on ships including Agincourt, Exmouth, Excellent, Crescent, Orion I and Dreadnaught and rose from seaman, to able seaman, then gunner.

Wharncliffe Road today

Edward was a slight man, standing just five foot four and a half inches tall, with light brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. He had bought his discharge in order to “better help” his mother, who was by now living in Britannia Road, Northam. To this end he joined White Star as an able seaman, with wages of £5 a month. His first merchant ship was Titanic and he gave his address as 10 Cliff Road, Peartree Green, Itchen. 

Edward John Buley

When Titanic struck the iceberg, Buley was in the mess reading. He felt a slight jar, as if something was rubbing along the hull. Concerned, he put on a coat and went out on deck to investigate. There he met some off duty firemen who said they’d seen an iceberg. He could hear water rushing from the hatchways on the forescatle and their covers were inflating under the pressure of air being forced out by the water. 

When Officer Murdoch ordered the lifeboats prepared, Edward went to the starboard side and helped swing them all out. This took around twenty minutes. He then went to the port side to do the same. While he was preparing lifeboat 10  Officer Murdoch (who in the darkness and confusion he mistook for the chief steward) told him to jump in as the boat had no seaman to take charge. He took seaman Frank Evans with him. This act saved both their lives.

Later Buley described the chaos and terror of the evacuation. In the cold and darkness he recalled physically pushing and even throwing frightened, reluctant women into the lifeboats. With the ship listing, there was a steep drop from the deck to the water, maybe sixty five feet, so many were afraid to get into the boats. Believing the the risk was less if they stayed on the ship, many refused outright. One young woman slipped and fell between the ship and the boat, as she tried to get in. She was later identified as Mrs Hakkarainen, a third class passenger. Bully describes her being grabbed by the ankle and saved, although she later said she was grabbed by the arm and pulled into a seat. 

Edward thought there were between sixty and seventy people in the boat when it was launched. Other estimates are more conservative and suggest just forty people were aboard. Amongst those definitely in lifeboat ten, was Millvina Dean, the youngest survivor, she was with her mother and brother, who was being taken care of by Mrs Thorneycroft. There were seven or eight ladies from first class, fifteen or more passengers from second class, including a man, Mr Hosono who had jumped aboard at the last moment, ten or twelve third class passengers and four crew members.

Lifeboat ten was probably the last boat on the port side to leave the ship, just twenty five minutes before she sank. It stopped briefly to pick a lady up from a lower deck and then they rowed away, getting just two hundred and fifty yards, according to Edward, before Titanic sank. When lifeboat fourteen came alongside them Officer Lowe ordered Edward and Frank Evans to transfer to his boat and between ten and twelve passengers were transferred in the other direction. Lowe’s intention was to return to the scene of the wreck. 

Later Edward described rowing through the wreckage. There were hundreds of bodies floating in the icy water. As they came to each one, the crew of lifeboat fourteen turned them over to check whether they were alive. Many were floating upright, held aloft by their life jackets, their heads laid back or their faces hanging in the water. Edward believed they had not drowned, rather they’d been frozen to death by the cold water. They managed to save just four people from the sea. 

They also rescued survivors who had clambered aboard Collapsable A, one of four collapsable boats that had been on the starboard side. As Titanic went down the crew had been trying to fasten Collapsible A to the davits but it was washed over the side of the ship, empty. Many of those who ended up in the water climbed aboard it. The canvas sides had not been put up and the little boat was half submerged and filled with icy seawater. Around twenty people managed to climb aboard but many died from hypothermia or slipped back into the sea. Thirteen were rescued, just one of them a woman, third class passenger, Rhoda Abbott. Edward describes them as being barely able to walk as their legs and feet were so cramped and frozen. Three bodies were left in the collapsable which drifted away. Lifeboat ten was the last boat to be rescued by Carpathia. 

Both the American and British enquiries into the disaster called Edward to testify.  His horrific experience didn’t put him off going back to sea. When World War I broke out he returned to the Navy. In 1916 he joined the destroyer HMS Partridge. On 12 December 1917, while they were protecting a convoy in the North Sea, HMS Partridge was torpedoed by German destroyers, She sank and Edward, aged just 32, was lost. His body was never recovered but he is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.  

Edward Buley’s next door neighbour was also a crew member and it’s likely the two knew each other. Arthur Albert Howell was one of seven children born in Croydon in 1880, to John and Sarah Howell. Arthur went to sea at some time around the turn of the century. In 1907, he married Annie Jessie Wall from Kent. For the first year of their marriage they lived in London and it was here their son Arthur was born. By 1909 the little family had relocated to Southampton and were living at 12 Cliff Road where their daughter Edith was born. Arthur was now working as a steward for White Star. 

Arthur sailed with Titanic from her launch in Belfast, having transferred from Olympic. Sadly, he did not survive but his body was recovered by the Montmagny and buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia on 10 May 1912. Arthur has a memorial brick in the Millennium Garden in Woolston. 

Annie never remarried and she and her family benefited from several grants from the Titanic Relief Fund charity. She and her daughter Edith, who also never married, moved to Lancing in Sussex. Annie died in 1962 and Edith in 1966. Arthur’s son, Arthur, also died in Sussex in 1988. It isn’t clear whether he married or had children. 

Living across the road from Edward and Arthur, was Bentley Harold Neal, known as Henry. It seems likely the three men knew each other. Henry was born in Portsea Island, Hampshire in 1886, the son of Bentley and Alice Neal. Bentley senior was a warehouseman who later turned to selling bibles and religious texts. Later still he became an evangelical minister and pastor at the East End Congregational Church near Lymington. Henry was one of seven surviving children. The nature of Bentley senior’s job meant the family moved around a lot, living in Norfolk, Burley in the New Forest and then settling in Southampton in around 1900 at the Soldier and Sailor Institute, Albert Road, St Mary’s.

Henry began his working life as a shop assistant but joined the Royal Navy in 1905. He served aboard just two ships, Duncan and Victory I, and left the navy at his own request in the same year. Why he chose to leave the navy so quickly is unclear but, he joined the merchant service shortly afterwards. In 1911 he married Louisa Ellen White in Southampton. 

Henry left the New York to join Titanic as an assistant baker. His wages were £4 10s. It isn’t clear what Henry was doing when the ship struck the iceberg but it is likely he managed to get into lifeboat 13, the lifeboat that was almost crushed by lifeboat 15 when it became entangled. Thankfully, someone found a knife and the ropes were cut.

Bentley Harold Neale in later life from Encyclopedia Titanica

Henry had more reason than most to want to be saved. Louisa was pregnant and, no doubt the thought of never seeing his first child was in his mind on that cold dark sea. His daughter, Kathleen Ellen, was born on 28 May 1912. Two years later, Dorothy Nellie was born. Henry did return to work for White Star for a while but an incident while he was onboard the Olympic, spooked him enough to make him retire from the sea. What that incident was is unknown but he went on to work for more than thirty years at Jose’s Bakery in New Milton. The family lived in the New Forest until Henry died, aged sixty four, in 1950. Ten years later Louis followed. Kathleen, the daughter who was about to be born when Titanic sank, married Leonard Clark and died in the New Forest in 2002, Dorothy married Victor Doe and died in Poole in 2004. 

From Wharncliffe Road we turned onto Defender Road which roughly corresponds to Highlands Road where our next crew member, John Lovel, lived at number 21. The only reminder of the old road is a block of flats called Highlands House. John had an inauspicious start, born in 1875 in the South Stoneham workhouse, which later became Moorgreen Hospital. His mother Louisa Diaper, from the well known Itchen Ferry family, was not married to his father Benjamin Lovell, which in those days was frowned upon. The couple had three more children, one born in Southampton and the other two in Lancashire. When Benjamin died, aged just twenty nine, Louisa moved back to her family in Itchen and finally, in 1885, married. Her husband was James Sellar. They went on to have two more children. 

Highlands House

John began his working life as a clerk for the Clyde Ship Company and later joined White Star as a cook. He left Olympic to join Titanic as a grill cook, earning £6 10s a month. Anyone who has worked in a kitchen knows it’s hot, hard work but, with Titanic’s exacting standards, it must have been even more so. Most of the kitchen staff would have been asleep at the time of the collision and may well have been bewildered when called to don their lifejackets and get on deck. Some helped provision the lifeboats but very few got on them. Just thirteen survived and John was not among them. His body was never identified. **

Titanic kitchen from Pintrest

Running from Defender Road to Bridge Road is Tankerville Road. This roughly corresponds to Itchen Ferry’s Britannia Road, where W Hodges lived at number 6. His is amongst the saddest crew stories, but not because of what happened when the ship sank. It’s the lack of information about Hodges I find lamentable. There isn’t even a record of his first name. He was twenty six years old and single. He worked as a fireman and his body was never recovered. 

Tankerville Road

The firemen, otherwise known as stokers, worked in hot, dark conditions at the best of times, shovelling coal to feed the ship’s boilers. After the collision they tried to keep the furnaces burning. If they didn’t, they knew the pumps and lights wouldn’t work, Titanic would go down faster and fewer passengers would be able to escape. They also knew, if the cold sea water met the hot boilers, they would explode. Of the 163 firemen aboard, just 43 survived and all who were saved owe them a debt of gratitude. W Hodges remains almost anonymous and it breaks my heart to think there was no one at home to miss him, shed a tear for his passing or remember him.

The final story from Itchen Ferry is of Henry Noss, who lived at 12 Back Lane Itchen. Unfortunately, as Itchen and Itchen Ferry are riddled with little back lanes, none of which are named on old maps, there is no way of knowing where his house was but I believe it was probably in Itchen Ferry. While all the stories I’ve uncovered during my research are interesting, some of the crew members really capture my imagination. Henry is one of these. As soon as I found his photograph on Encyclopaedia Titanica, I felt I knew him. He had such a sad but kind face, like someone you’d want to chat to in the pub. 

Trimmers delivering coal to stokers, Royal Navy official photograph
Henry Noss from Encyclopedia Titanica

He was born in Southampton on 29 December 1881, the youngest of Henry and Ellen’s eight children. Ellen was from Southampton while Henry Senior was from London and worked at various jobs, including trunk maker, printer and general dealer. 

By 1901, Henry had gone to sea as a fireman and in 1908, he married Annie Elizabeth Collins, also from Southampton. Between 1908 and 1911 they had three children, Henry, William and Winifred. When he signed on to Titanic he gave his address as 12 Back Lane Itchen. He also got a fireman’s job for his nephew, Bertram Arthur Noss, son of his brother William. 

Annie Elizabeth Collins thanks to Cheryl Jensen

When the ship struck the iceberg the firemen did all they could to keep the boilers running but not all of them could be in the boiler rooms at once. In normal circumstances they worked shifts of four hours as this was the longest anyone could be expected to work in the hot dusty conditions. When the imminent disaster became apparent, off duty firemen may have tried to get into the boiler rooms to help but, with the ship listing, getting up or down the ladders, no easy task at the best of times, would have been nearly impossible. Luck played a huge part in who lived and who died.

Henry Noss from Encyclopedia Titanica

Henry, who must have been off duty and may even have been one of the firemen who spoke to Edward Buley, was lucky enough to be on the boat deck at just the right time. He was ordered to man lifeboat fifteen with another fireman, Frank Dymond, from Kingsland Southampton. This was the lifeboat that was almost lowered onto lifeboat thirteen. As it was lowered it struck the side of the ship and was damaged. Consequently, it leaked. It was also very heavily laden and difficult to row. It took them quite some time to get away from Titanic and the occupants were wet and very cold, especially the firemen who were dressed for the hot boiler room not the cold sea. Henry and Frank took turns on the tiller. They were about three hundred yards from the ship when the boilers exploded and the ship split in two. They watched as the lights went out and Titanic slowly plunged into the blackness. The boat had been the eighth to be launched and was the tenth or eleventh to reach Carpathia. 

Henry returned to Southampton and his pregnant wife. Their son, Herbert James, was born on 29 September 1912. They had thirteen children in total, although, sadly, two died. They later moved to a three bedroom house in Merryoak.

The experience didn’t put Henry off going back to sea where he worked on many more ships including Caronia, Orbita, Vestris and Berengaria. He never got over the shame of surviving though, as his granddaughter, Cheryl Jensen told me when she contacted me after my post about the Woolston crew. Many of the crew who survived felt the same and were often branded cowards. Some kept their stories secret for this reason. Harry also felt terribly guilty about getting his nephew Bertram a job on the ship as Bertram did not survive. In a cruel twist of fate, when the names were posted outside the White Star office a mistake was made and Bertram was posted as saved while Henry was posted as lost. Annie didn’t believe it though, after a dream she was convinced her husband was safe. This was confirmed when a telegram arrived the next day. 

Annie and Henry in later life thanks to Cheryl Jensen

The shame and guilt of Henry’s survival was felt so strongly in the family that, when he died in 1961, his daughters burnt all the Titanic memorabilia he had kept. Henry was buried in St Mary’s Extra Cemetery, Annie died two years later. 

The Itchen Ferryman sculpture

We may not have found many surviving houses in Itchen but we had certainly uncovered some wonderful stories. Before we left Itchen Ferry we paused for a moment to admire the Itchen Ferryman sculpture in the little park off Tankerville Road. Close by is a climbing frame in the shape of a sinking ship. It seemed quite apt. Now all we had to do was walk across the green towards home. As we did we talked about where we would go hunting for crew next…

** more can be found about the Diaper family and the history of a Itchen Ferry on the Diaper Heritage Website

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Postcards from Hythe

10 May 2018

Hythe is a quaint little place that seems half stuck in another, gentler age. The narrow High Street may be pedestrianised these days but the shops with their bow fronted windows look much as they must have when Jane Austin visited back in 1807.  Red white and blue bunting was strung across the street and no one seemed to be in much of a hurry, unlike the busy city centre we’d left behind us. Despite its slightly old fashioned air, I knew there were some modern amenities and, once we’d left the pier, we both decided our first port of call should be one of them. Anticipating the journey CJ hadn’t had any breakfast, for fear of seeing it again on the boat, so we headed down the High Street to Costas for croissants and coffee.  Continue reading Postcards from Hythe

Underground, overground, making the best of things

8 November 2017

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

Mist and other ephemeral things

2 November 2017

For my first walk of November I had the most glorious autumn morning. When I left Home the sky was blue and the sun was trying hard to burn off the morning mist as I crossed the railway bridge. On such a lovely day it was impossible not to walk along with a huge grin on my face, even if it did make me look like a loon. The plan was to walk into town to have a look at a new sculpture I’d heard about.  Continue reading Mist and other ephemeral things

What is, what was and what might have been – first published 5 September 2014

It didn’t look like the best of walking days when I set out on 5 September 2014 but beggars can’t be choosers. The chill in the air and the grey sky made me wrap up in my padded jacket again and, at one point, I was even thinking of taking a hat and gloves. Of course, by the time I got to the top of the Little Hill I was feeling quite hot. This may have had something to do with a neighbour shouting down from the scaffolding outside his house, “you should be running not walking,” as I passed by.
“You’ve got me mixed up with my husband,” I laughed, “I never run.”
Even so I really marched it out up the steep hill and reached the top, breathless, hot and bothered. Continue reading What is, what was and what might have been – first published 5 September 2014

The marathon returns to Southampton

23 April 2017

At quarter to eight this morning Commando and I were standing on The Avenue opposite The Common shivering a little and looking at the mist swirling across the city. Obviously it was a race day and this time no ducks of any kind were involved. For once I was the one wearing the race shirt with a number and a timing chip pinned to it. 

Continue reading The marathon returns to Southampton

The two bridge challenge revisited – first published 3 August 2014

Another hot, muggy Sunday in early August 2014 and with the weather still sweltering, I decided on a short walk, sticking to the river as much as possible. It was time to revisit Commando’s two bridge challenge, otherwise known as my old walk to and from work. Continue reading The two bridge challenge revisited – first published 3 August 2014

More than one way to cross the Itchen – a postcard from Crosshouse

28 March 2017

We’d had an adventure in Eling and I’d given my knee a good testing, but the walking wasn’t quite over for the day. This evening I had a meeting to attend close to the town end of the Itchen Bridge. Commando needed the car for work but he offered to drop me off in Woolston on his way.  The timings were a little out, meaning I’d be more than a little early, but at least I’d only have to walk across the bridge. Time to kill down by the water there is never time wasted so I didn’t much mind being early.  Continue reading More than one way to cross the Itchen – a postcard from Crosshouse

Thoughts on desperation, joy and the Itchen Bridge – first published 21 June 2014

Midsummer 2014 and a rather disturbing comment was waiting in my morning inbox. It was in response to my post about the lure of the Itchen Bridge and the content was graphic, not really breakfast reading. Coming across it again I was tempted not to republish, not all my old posts make the cut after all, but something about it haunted me. In the end, I felt it was worth resharing.  Continue reading Thoughts on desperation, joy and the Itchen Bridge – first published 21 June 2014