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…

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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

The sea and the sky

20 September 2017

When I woke up to blue sky I knew exactly where I wanted to go today. Blue sky and sea go together like chocolate and orange. Ok, so it was only a tiny little bit of blue sky amongst quite a lot of cloud but still, beggars can’t be choosers in late September.  Continue reading The sea and the sky

An evening stroll on the green

6 July 2017

My hot walk along the river wasn’t the end of my walking exploits today. Once I’d started I couldn’t seem to stop. This evening I had a photo shoot for Spitfire Run Leaders at the beginning of their club run. Commando drove me down to The Feather and I took the head shots required and a few others of runners standing around chatting before they set off. After the run Commando was going straight to work so it was up to me to make my own way home. As he had our only car this would have to be on foot. Luckily the temperature had dropped from boiling hot to balmy by this time so I didn’t really mind.  Continue reading An evening stroll on the green

What exactly is The Penny Game?

29 May 2017

Running has been off the menu since before Vancouver, apart from a few very short and abortive test runs. Medical advice is to move as much as possible as long as there is no pain and, as the steroid injection has worked a minor, if temporary, miracle, Commando is itching to get back to pounding the streets again.
“It’s Bank Holiday so the Spitfire’s session will be The Penny Game tonight,” he said while we were sitting in the shade sipping cool drinks. “I might go along to help out.”
“What’s The Penny Game?” I was puzzled.
“Why don’t you come along and find out. It’s on the back of Peartree Green and it’s good fun.”
Continue reading What exactly is The Penny Game?

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

Woods, hovercraft, ice cream cones and gateposts

5 April 2017

As our little jaunt to Eling had been a success as far as my poor old knee was concerned I thought I’d try a longer walk today.  The sun was shining and the sky was blue, more or less, so it seemed like the perfect day for a walk down to the shore. The breeze from the sea would take the edge off if it got too hot and there are plenty of places to sit if need be.  Continue reading Woods, hovercraft, ice cream cones and gateposts

A cool breeze on the shore – first published 22 July 2014

As soon as I left the shade of the woods and stepped out into the sun on the shore I could feel the heat. The sun seemed to be searing my skin even though I’d slathered on the cream before I left home. There is no shade along the promenade unless you duck into one of the little beach shelters but I couldn’t just stay sat in one of them until nightfall so I set off along the shore, thankful that there was at least a cooling breeze blowing up from the water. Continue reading A cool breeze on the shore – first published 22 July 2014

Back to the sea, sort of – first published 18 May 2014

After the 10k race at Victoria Country park in May 2014 and my wander around the military cemetery, it was tempting to walk back to the car with Commando and go straight home. It was warm and the sun was beating down on my head. That hadn’t been the plan though so he walked one way and I walked the other. He was headed for the car park while I was on my way to the sea, or what passes for sea around here. Continue reading Back to the sea, sort of – first published 18 May 2014

Bees, butterflies and regeneration – first published 8 March 2014

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The real sign that winter is over isn’t the flowers or the flush of green on the tips of the branches. No, those are just the window dressing. The real sign that winter is over are the insects, the bees and the butterflies. In early March 2014 the insect seemed to suddenly reappear after their winter absence and I knew Spring wasn’t far off at all. Continue reading Bees, butterflies and regeneration – first published 8 March 2014