Titanic tales from St Denys

Titanic Lifeboats in New York

10 April 2019

As today was the anniversary of the sailing of Titanic it seemed a good day to continue our search for Titanic crew houses. Our objectives were the houses in St Denys and, as we walked across Cobden Bridge, it looked as if it was going to be a beautiful, if chilly morning. Being pretty familiar with the streets of St Denys, I was well aware several of the houses were no longer standing but I had high hopes of finding most of them.

The first house on our list was on the north side of Priory Road, not too far from the remains of the old priory that gives the area its name. Today, all that’s left is an archway, overgrown with ivy in a back garden. Even so, we stopped to take a quick photo as we passed.

A few doors along we found 270 Priory Road still standing. At least we think it was still there. A huge overgrown tree in the front garden almost hid it from view and it took us a few moments to work out this was actually the house Jack Butterworth gave as his address when he signed on to Titanic as a Saloon Steward to earn just £3 15s a month.

270 Priory Road

Jack was born in Manchester in around 1889. Little is known about his early life and when he came to Southampton isn’t clear but it was almost certainly connected with his seafaring career. Before he joined Titanic he’d been working on the New York, which sailed the same route as Titanic would have. In fact, New York was berthed beside Oceanic when Titanic set sail and the suction of her passing caused the three inch steel hawsers securing the smaller ship to be torn from their moorings. There would have been a collision if Captain Smith hadn’t ordered Titanic’s port propeller to be reversed and turned the gigantic liner. Meanwhile a tugboat towed the New York in the opposite direction. Had the two ships collided, history may have been very different. 

Jack was obviously settled in Southampton. He’d recently got engaged to a local girl, May Hinton of Woolston. When the ship was in Queenstown he sent her a letter describing the near collision. 

RMS Titanic. Queenstown. 12th April 1912

My Darling Girl,

We have been having a very fierce time in this steamer. I suppose you heard of the accident that occurred to the New York as we sailed this ship carried so much water between the Oceanic and New York that the York broke all her ropes and sailed all on her own, you could have tossed a penny from our ship to her she was so close, it was a good job she did not hit us as it would have been another case of the Hawke collision.

Well, dearest how do you feel? pretty lonely I guess after me being home for so long, but still we cannot grumble my dear as we have had a real good and happy time and I am so happy to think everything is all right. Well there is one consolation about it I shall soon be with you again all being well.

We do really enjoy ourselves when I am home, well I do not see why we should not anyhow, and again I think it does us both good for me to go away for a little stretch don’t you dear? There are quite a lot of American Line men here so it is a little better for us to see a few old faces.

Our shore steward was aboard yesterday before we sailed and he saw me, so he said ”hello have you signed here?” so I said ”yes!” and then he said ”see you come back in time for your own ship”, so of course I thanked him and said ”yes”, which I may do if things do not turn out good here.

Will now close sweetheart take care of yourself dear, love to all at home and fondest love to yourself dearest.

Yours always – Jack
PS Don’t forget to get me a Plymouth football paper.

Tragically, the letter reached poor May on her twenty first birthday, 20 April, the same day she learned he would not be returning. Jack’s body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennet and numbered 116. He was described as having red hair and was wearing dark clothes, a white stewards jacket and black boots. In his pocket was a cigarette case. He was buried at sea. 

Jack Butterworth, photograph from Findagrave.com

Our next house, 64 St Denys Road, was also still standing. The little end of terrace house close to the railway bridge looks to have been renovated fairly recently and has now been divided into two flats. It was once the home of George William Feltham, born in 1870 in Bermondsey, Surrey.

64 St Denys Road

George was the son of George, a warehouseman and Elizabeth, both Wiltshire Natives. He was the middle child of three, with an elder sister and younger brother. In the first few years of his life his family moved from Bermondsey to Bromley, London and his father became a seed warehouseman. George began his working life as a baker and confectioner, lodging at various addresses in London and Middlesex. By 1901 he was lodging in London with a Mrs Francis Emma Mayley and her six children. In around 1907 George, along with Francis and three of her children, had moved to Southampton and were living at 64 St Denys Road. George was now working aboard Majestic as a confectioner. What became of Francis’ bricklayer husband, Alfred, isn’t clear but, in 1908 George and Francis had married, despite her being fourteen years his senior. 

George left Majestic to join Oceanic and then signed on to Titanic as a Vienna Baker, earning £4 10s a month. He did not survive the sinking and his body was never recovered. Poor Francis never remarried but stayed in Southampton. She died in 1939. 

Our next houses were in the warren of narrow streets crowded around the railway line and the river. We crossed St Denys Road near the church and set off in search of 37 North Road, where Edward Castleman once lived.

Edward was one of Henry and Elizabeth Castleman’s seven children, born in 1874 in Littleton, Hampshire. His early life was spent living at Harestock Farm, where his father was an agricultural labourer and his mother a dairywoman. When Edward left school he became a farm servant but, after his father’s death, his mother moved to Shirley Southampton to live with her married daughter, Martha Dabell. It’s probable that Edward joined her when she moved but he is not listed on the 1901 census and was most likely already working at sea. 

In 1905 Edward married Kate Amy Marchant in South Stoneham. When he joined Titanic the couple were living at 37 North Road and had no children. He signed on as a greaser, earning £6 10s a month. His brother in law, Martha’s second husband Walter Alexander Bishop, was also working aboard as a bedroom steward. Both men were lost in the sinking and their bodies were never identified.

37 North Road

A death notice was posted in The Echo on 30 April 1912. 

Castleman–April 15th 1912 at sea, through the foundering of the S.S. Titanic, Edward Castleman, aged 37, the devoted husband of Kate Amy Castleman, of 37 North Road, St Denys, Southampton.  “In the midst of life, we are in death.”

Two years later Kate married Frederick Stevens. She remained in Southampton and died in 1948.

Now we had to cross the railway line that runs along one side of North Road. There were two choices, the bridge on Priory Road or the level crossing on Adelaide Road. Past experience told me to avoid the latter so we decided to head for Eastfield Road. We found the house of John Davis close to the corner of South Road.

John was the son of retired Royal Marine Corporal turned publican, George Davis and his wife Rebecca. He was born in Gosport in 1884 and had nine siblings. His first years appear to have been spent living at the George Inn, Melcombe Regis, Weymouth. Around the turn of the century the family moved to Landport, Hampshire. In 1902 John turned eighteen and left the Third Hampshire Regiment Militia to join the Army Service Corps. He was just five foot two, had blue eyes, brown hair, decayed lower molars and a burn scar under his right arm. The last two things may have been connected with his previous job as a baker. 

John served as a driver for the regiment in both Aldershot and Chatham but his conduct was not good. He was thrown in the cells for falling asleep at his sentry post, and reprimanded for other minor offences. Eventually, after failing to report for duty twice, he was dismissed in 1908. He then found work at sea as a baker. Two years later he married Eliza Blanch Hunt, known as Lily and moved in with her parents at 19 Eastfield Road, St Denys . A year later their son John Samuel was born. 

19 Eastfield Road

John was on Titanic for her delivery trip from Belfast. He’d left Olympic to join the ship as extra second baker earning £5 a month. His elder brother Stephen James Davis was also aboard as an able seaman. Neither brother survived the sinking but John’s body was recovered by the Mackay Bennett and he was buried at sea on 24 April 1912. He was wearing white trousers, a blue coat and apron marked JD and a white outer coat. In his pockets were a Post Office savings account book, 3s 6d, keys and union books, suggesting he’d had time to collect his important belongings before the ship sank. Perhaps he believed he would be saved, or maybe he picked up the books because he knew they’d help identify his body?

A death notice was posted in the Hampshire Independent. 

DAVIS–April 15th 1912, at sea, on s.s. Titanic, John Davis, aged 27, the beloved husband of Eliza Davis, of 19 Eastfield road, St Denys, Southampton. Deeply mourned by his sorrowing wife and child. “God be with you till we meet again.

Poor Eliza seemed to be unlucky in love. She married Harry Atkinson in 1915 but was widowed again two years later. In 1918 she married for the third time but her husband, Albert E Young, died in 1927. Her final marriage, to Frank Ernest Colverson in 1928, was her last. She died in Southampton in 1973, Frank survived her and died three years later. 

Adelaide Road was the furthest west we had to go so, now we’re were safely on the right side of the tracks, we made it our next target. When we got there the train gates were down, as they so often are. Had we walked the other way earlier we’d have been in for a long wait. This was something Arthur Peckham Burroughs would have been all too familiar with. He lived at 73 Adelaide Road, between the level crossing and the entrance to St Denys Station. 

Arthur was born in Lewisham, London in 1877 to Mary Jane Agnes Peckham from Lymington and Arthur Burroughs, a draughtsman from Lewisham. His parents never married, which must have caused quite a scandal at the time. Later that year Mary married Tom Rickman, a carpenter from Lymington. Mary and Tom married in Southampton and set up home in Bullar Street. They had two more children in quick succession. The little family lived at various addresses around St Mary’s and Northam during Arthur’s childhood and, by 1901, Arthur appears to have found work at sea, probably as a fireman. Two years later he married Harriett Jane Howells, a Lymington girl like his mother. The couple married in St Denys, perhaps in the church we passed earlier, and soon moved into 73 Adelaide Road. Over the next seven years they had three children, Arthur John, Harry and Gwendoline Agnes. 

73 Adelaide Road

Arthur left the Philadelphia to join the firemen on Titanic. He would have earned £6 a month for the hard, hot and dirty work of shovelling coal into the ship’s boilers. Like the majority of the firemen on board, Arthur was lost when the ship sank. It’s likely he was still down in the boiler room trying to keep the pumps and lights working so more passengers would have the chance to escape. His body was never identified but he is remembered on a family headstone in the Old Cemetery, one I have found and photographed on one of my Saturday morning wanderings there. 

Harriet remarried in 1915. She and Albert Edward Mullins, a dock policeman, had two children, Edward Ernest and Edna. She died in Southampton in 1949. All of Arthur’s children remained in Southampton, married and had families. 

As we retraced our steps along South Road towards our next house the train finally rattled across the crossing. This would have been a familiar sound for Walter Thomas Boothby who lodged in Ivy Road. Walter was born in Docking, Norfolk in 1874, the eldest of Norfolk natives John Aubin and Charlotte Boothby’s eleven children. Walter’s early life was quite unsettled as his father changed careers with monotonous regularity and each job brought a change of address. When Walter was born John was a crew member on a lifeboat in Hunstanton, he then became a grocer’s Assistant in Docking, a gamekeeper in Alconbury, Huntingdonshire and a domestic gardener for Mr Fenwick of Luffenham Hall, Rutlandshire. 

This disjointed childhood may have influenced Walter’s later choices. His first job was as a butler and valet to a Captain Shipley but, by 1897, he’d gone to sea, working for the Orient Line, presumably as a steward, and was based in Australia. He then moved to the Union Castle Line and with them visited South Africa at the height of the Boer War.

His seafaring career was beset with disasters. He was on the Dunottar Castle when a navigational error saw the ship missing for quite some time. In April 1908, while he was working for the Hamburg-America Line aboard the St Paul, she collided with the Gladiator during a snowstorm off the Isle of Wight. St Paul struck Gladiator a glancing blow just aft of her engine room ripping open both ships. Gladiator sank but St Paul remained afloat and launched lifeboats to rescue those in the water. Twenty seven sailors were lost. Walter was also aboard Olympic in September 1911 when HMS Hawke collided with her in the Solent. Hawke’s bow rammed Olympic’s starboard side near the stern and tore two large holes in the hull. Two of her watertight compartments flooded but she managed to limp back to Southampton with no loss of life. Although Walter didn’t know it at the time, his brother, Alfred, was aboard Hawke. 

Walter Thomas Boothby from Encyclopedia Titanica

Had all these disasters put Walter off going to sea, his story might have been very different but, in 1912, he signed on to Titanic as a bedroom steward. By this time he had been married to Caroline Annie Tunnicliffe, a lady’s maid from Rutland, for eight years but the couple had no children. When he joined Titanic he was lodging with a Mr and Mrs William Philpott at 50 Ivy Road but it isn’t clear if Caroline was also living there or if she had remained in Rutland where the couple married.

50 Ivy Road

Walter’s in law, John Puzey, of Manor Road, Itchen, was also a steward on Titanic. For Walter, the collision must have felt like a very familiar story, but, having survived so many disasters, he probably didn’t believe the ship would sink. Both men were lost and only Walter’s body was recovered by the Mackay Bennett on 24 April. His body, numbered 107, was described as having fair hair and prominent teeth. He was wearing a uniform jacket and vest, a White Star belt and pyjamas, suggesting he had been asleep when the ship hit the iceberg. In his pocket he had a pouch, pipe, knife, key, 2s 3 1/2d and 1 French franc.  He was buried at sea. 

A memorial was posted in the Portsmouth Evening News on 14 April 1913. 

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.

Caroline never remarried and settled in Edmonton, London. She worked as a school nurse and health visitor and died in 1953. 

As we walked down Ivy Road towards our next house on Priory Road, we stopped to look at the curious little church building that seems to straddle the two roads. This church was originally built in 1866 on Priory Road to house the Methodist congregation who’d been meeting in an upstairs room of a Priory Road house. Methodism was obviously popular in the area because the church was soon extended into Ivy Road. By 1969 though, that popularity had waned and the church closed down. These days it is the New Testament Church of God. Whether Harold Charles William Phillimore ever worshiped here or not remains to be seen but he undoubtedly knew the building well. 

Harold was born in Shirley Southampton, in 1883. He was one of eight children born to mariner Henry Charles Phillimore from Shirley and his wife Caroline who originated from Corfe Castle in Dorset. Harold was brought up in Shirley and Portswood. He began his working life as a grocer in London Road in the city centre but, at the age of twenty, he followed in his father’s footsteps and went to sea on the Majestic. He later served aboard Adriatic and Olympic. At some point in the first decade of the twentieth century the Phillimore family moved to 73 Priory Road and this was where Harold was living when he joined Titanic as a first class saloon steward. 

73 Priory Road

When Titanic sank Harold was still aboard. Somehow he managed to clamber onto some flotsam from the ship and cling there. Another man was with him but the freezing water overcame him and he died. Harold kept clinging on. If it hadn’t been for lifeboat 14 he would have surely perished too. Fifth Officer Harold Lowe was in command of the only lifeboat to go back to the place where Titanic had been and attempt to pull survivors from the water. He distributed the passengers aboard his lifeboat into other boats and, along with his crew, rowed back into the sea of floating bodies. Sadly he found very few alive. Harold saw the lifeboat approaching and managed to call out. When the little boat reached him someone held out an oar for him to grasp but he was so frozen by this time he couldn’t hold on. Eventually though, he was hauled into the boat, the last person to be rescued from the water. Of the four people Lowe managed to rescue from the water, only two survived, Harold was one of them. 

Harold Charles William Phillimore From Encyclopedia Titanica

After such a narrow escape, most people would give up on going to sea but Harold was made of sterner stuff. He married Mabel Podesta in 1913 and carried on working as a steward. During World War I he even volunteered to work on the transport ship SS Royal George and was awarded the General Service and Mercantile Marine War Medals for his efforts. When the war ended he went back to working as a bedroom steward on ships such as the Queen Mary and Berengaria. This work saw him rub shoulders with many of the rich and famous, including the Duke of Windsor (later Edward VIII) and music hall star Marie Lloyd. 

Harold and Mabel had no children and, sadly, Mabel died in 1933. Two years later, Harold married Annie Carver. He was, by this time, in his early fifties and the couple did not have children. Harold finally retired, aged 68, in 1956 and settled into a life on land at his home in Nutbeam Road, Eastleigh. He died on 26 April 1967, aged 79 and was buried in South Stoneham Cemetery. Annie survived him. 

Harold in later life from Encyclopedia Titanica

We were now at the far end of Priory Road, heading towards Horseshoe Bridge. Our next St Denys houses were all on the far side of the bridge on the edge of Bevois Valley and Mount Pleasant. Unlike Harold, I was pretty sure none of them had survived…

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Revisiting St Denys, a church a building site and a Priory arch

22 February 2017

We had five recreated F.G.O. Stuart postcards in the bag but our walk wasn’t quite finished.  As we turned to leave St Denys Church I noticed a sign on the door saying it was open. Almost exactly a year ago I first went inside the church on my quest to find out more about the lost Priory of St Denys. Back then renovations were underway and I always meant to go back but, until now, never quite got round to it. From the looks of things the renovations were still ongoing, there were workmen’s vans, theodolites and cones outside in the road. As CJ had never seen the inside of the church and the wonderful secrets it hides we went in anyway.  Continue reading Revisiting St Denys, a church a building site and a Priory arch

Postcards from Southampton

The first picture postcard

22 February 2017

The very first picture postcard was posted in Fulham, London to the writer Theodore Hooke in 1840. It’s thought he hand painted the picture of postal workers and posted it to himself as a practical joke on the postal service. In 2002 the card sold for £31,750, making it a very expensive post card indeed. The first commercially printed postcards were lithograph prints produced in France by Léon Besnardeau in 1870. Over the next ten years sending postcards with pictures of holiday destinations became popular and so began the golden age of the picture postcard. Of course those days are long gone and Facebook posts have largely taken the place of sending postcards.  Continue reading Postcards from Southampton

The conclusion of the camp fire tales

17 January 2017

Every Saturday morning we drive up The Avenue to the Common for parkrun and, for several weeks now, we’ve commented on the broken drinking fountain on Asylum Green, the grassy verge in the centre of the two carriageways.  Now, while we were deciding which route the Frontiersmen and their Remount horses would have taken to Portswood, I took the opportunity to take a photo of it.  Continue reading The conclusion of the camp fire tales

The lost priory of St Denys

image

23 February 2016

St Denys is a small place, easily overlooked. Like many people, I regularly pass through, usually on the way somewhere else, without really giving it much thought. This does it a disservice though because St Denys has hidden secrets and today was the day I sought them out. Continue reading The lost priory of St Denys