Titanic Tales from Woolston

Waiting for news outside the White Star offices Southampton

16 January 2019

CJ was eager to look for more Titanic Crew houses so, last night, I spent a few hours mapping the ones in Woolston and Itchen and planning a route. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t play nicely. It was a dismal, drizzly day, the kind that fogs my glasses and makes me grumpy. If it was down to me I’d probably have postponed the walk until the weather was better but CJ was having none of it. The one consolation was that there would be no real hills. The first house on our list was going to be easy to find too. It was in Poole Road, where Commando was born.

Back in 1912, Poole Road was called Brook Road and it’s really more Itchen than Woolston. On the Titanic crew list it was down as Woolston though, so we counted it as our first Woolston crew house. Number 16 was a little end of terrace cottage, not unlike the house Commando was brought up in, although his was semi detached. Once it was the home of George Frank Bailey.

16 Brook Road, now called Poole Road

George was born in 1866 in Newport, Wales, the son of James, a labourer, and his wife Annie. The couple had nine children. Little is known about George’s early life but, by 1886, he had moved to Gosport and married Eliza Martha Turnbull. At the time they already had one child, George, and went on to have eight more. Seven survived to adulthood, George, Thomas, Eliza, Ellen, Sarah, Frank and Frederick. The family lived in Alverstoke and Gosport for some years and, in 1895, after a spell in the Royal Monmouthshire Militia, George joined the Royal Navy as a stoker. He served aboard many ships including Victory II, Victory III, Porpoise, Australia, Revenge, Apollo and Firequeen II. In 1905, he left the navy, sporting a number of tattoos, light brown hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion. 

When he signed on to Titanic on 6 April 1912, he gave his address as 16 Brook Road. It isn’t clear if his family were also living there. Titanic had one hundred and sixty three firemen, or stokers, earning £6 a month. George was one of them. Each was assigned to one of the ship’s twenty nine boilers and three of its one hundred and fifty nine furnaces. Next to each boiler was a coal chute leading from the overhead bunkers. The fireman’s job was to shovel this coal into his three furnaces. It was hard, dirty, hot work. The firemen worked shifts of four hours on and eight hours off because the boiler rooms were so hot and the work so hard. Most worked in just their undershirts and shorts. Several of the forty five or so firemen who survived the sinking got into lifeboats dressed this way, although it was an extremely cold night. Sadly, George was not one of them. 

When the ship struck the iceberg all off duty engineering and boiler room crew were called to help with the pumping operations or to keep the boilers running to power the ship’s lights. Their actions saved many lives and George was probably among them. There was little chance of escape for these brave men, as the ladders out of the boiler room were steep and, with the ship listing, probably impossible to climb. Most did not drown, but were either crushed by the huge boilers as the ship listed ever further or killed by the escaping steam as the pipes ruptured. 

George’s body was never identified. His wife, Eliza, remarried in 1919. She lived in Gosport until her death in 1933. George’s last surviving child, Sarah Ann, died in Portsmouth in 1987 aged 91.

The next house on our list was also more in Itchen than Woolston but, as it was on our Woolston list, we crossed Bridge Road and went in search of it. It was soon clear that Shamrock Road had just one house on it, it was modern and it wasn’t number 17. This was hardly a surprise as this whole area was once part of Itchen Ferry Village, which was more or less wiped out during the Southampton Blitz.

The house may not have been there any more but 17 Shamrock Road was where John Conner once lived. John was born in Portsmouth in 1871, or 1872, the youngest of three children. His father, William Henry, a general labourer, was from Chichester and his mother, Mary Ann, a dressmaker, was from Portsmouth. They had three children and lived at various addresses in Portsmouth.

John went to sea at an early age and joined the Royal Navy in 1890. He served aboard the Asia, Victory I, Victory II, Excellent, Gibraltar, Duke of Wellington II and, finally, Australia. He left the navy in 1902, after a less than perfect career with several spells in the cells. He was five foot four inches tall, with dark hair, blue eyes and tattoos on his left arm. 

John, who was unmarried, joined Titanic as a fireman. As he’d served on some of the same ships as George Bailey, it’s possible the two knew each other. Like George, he did not survive the sinking and his body was never identified.  

We took a couple of photos of Shamrock Road to show we’d been there, including one of some rather nice, but puzzling graffiti., then we headed for the real Woolston.

Anyone local will tell you Woolston proper doesn’t begin until you’ve passed under the railway bridge on Bridge Road. There is even a small sign right in front of it telling you you will be in Woolston once you’ve passed through the long, tile clad tunnel. Since the building of the Itchen Bridge there are actually two bridges to pass under.

We stopped at the Millenium Garden for a moment or two to photograph the soldier shilouette there. It was now raining steadily and I was beginning to wish we’d stayed at home in the dry where I could actually see where I was going.

The next houses on our list were in Woodley Road, the road running between the shops on the high street and the modern houses facing the river. These days it’s a one way road and most of it is taken up with a car park. To say I wasn’t confident of finding any of the houses still standing would be an understatement. It turned out I was right. The three crew members houses on this short stretch of road either had no house number or had even numbers. The only houses still standing were odd numbers. With the rain and the Shamrock Road disappointment, it was an inauspicious start.

John Barnes did not give a house number when he joined Titanic so one of these remaining houses could have been his. He was born in 1872 in Boscombe, the son of Henry, a Railway platelayer, and Annie. John was the eldest of seven children. In 1890, John married Amelia “Minnie” Beale. The family were now living in Christchurch and both John and his father Henry were working as brick makers. John and Minnie had nine children, only Thomas, Alice, Rose and William survived to adulthood. By 1901, the family had moved to Netley Green in Hound and, from there, to Woodley Road. John was either working at sea or as a labourer. He left Oceanic to join Titanic as a fireman. Sadly, he did not survive and his body was never identified. 

Woodley Road

Amelia and her children were left to survive on money from the Titanic relief fund and there are several entries in the Mansion House Titanic Relief Fund minutes about money given to her. In 1913 an allowance of 3/6d per week was paid for her youngest son, William, to be treated for St Vitus dance, caused by rheumatic fever, and she continued to receive money from the fund for groceries until at least 1924. She eventually remarried and died in the 1930’s. John’s daughter, Alice, married Reginald Baker and died in Portsmouth in 1991. His Daughter Rose married William Miles and died in Southampton in 1983. What became of his surviving sons is unknown. There is, however, a memorial brick in the Woolston Millenium Garden in John’s name. Maybe one day I will find it?

The Woodley Road car park

James Kelly lived at 12 Woodley Road, somewhere above what is now the car park. He was born in County Meath, Ireland in around 1868. He left Ireland when quite young and went to sea. He served on several ships including Teutonic, Lucania, Oceanic, Cedric, and Campania. In around 1897 he married Mary Conlan, an Irish girl from County Monaghan. Whether they met and married in Southampton is not clear but their first son, James, was born there in 1900. Two more sons, Francis and John, were born between 1902 and 1908 in Liverpool. James was working as a fireman for White Star during this time and it seems the family moved between the cities depending on which port the ship he was on departed from. By 1911 the family were living at Woodley Road and James regularly attended mass at St Patrick’s Church in Woolston. 

He left the St Paul to join the crew of Titanic as a greaser, earning £6 10s a month. There were thirty three greasers on Titanic, working in the turbine and engine rooms to oil and lubricate the mechanical equipment. It was, perhaps, a less demanding job than that of a fireman, but would have been equally dirty and dangerous. It was also slightly better paid. Poor James did not survive and his body was never identified. 

James’ widow, Mary, returned to County Monaghan, Ireland with their children, probably to be nearer her family there. She died in the early 1920’s. His son, Francis,  became a member of the IRA during the Irish War of Independence. In 1923, he emigrated to America where he married and had four children. During the Depression he returned to Ireland and, for a while, worked in Cork at an automobile plant. He later returned to America and worked in the printing plant of the Courier Express in Buffalo. He died in 1997. His brother John also settled in Buffalo and worked for a newspaper printer. He married an American woman, Violet Stebbins. John died in 1987. James, the eldest son, went to Ontario but it isn’t known what happened to him. 

Frank Bendell lived at 26 Woodley Road, also where the car park is now. He was born in Christchurh in 1888. His father, William Thomas, was a labourer and his mother, Charlotte, came from Portland in Dorset. They had nine children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. At some time in the late 1890’s the family moved to Sholing, Southampton and, by 1911, were living at Woodley Road. By then Frank was working at sea as a fireman. He left the Kildonan Castle to join the Titanic. It was a move he would regret.

Like most of the firemen aboard Titanic, Frank went down with the ship and his body was never recovered. He was not the last of his siblings to be lost at sea. His brother Bertie was among the lost when the SS Galway Castle was torpedoed during World War I. Another brother, Frederick Charles, was aboard HMHS Britannia in November 1916 when she struck a mine in the Aegean. He was luckier than his two brothers and survived.

Woodley Road led us to Keswick Road where our next house should have been. The only houses on Keswick Road these days are new builds though so I knew from the outset we would not find William James Pitfield’s house. All we could do was take a photograph of the street sign and head up the hill towards the High Street. At least the rain had eased off a little.

William lived at 13 Keswick Road, although, back then, it was called Albert Road. He was born in Woolston in December 1886 to William Henry, a shipyard labourer, and Louisa. He had five siblings. The family lived at various Woolston addresses and, by the time he was 14, William was working as an errand boy. In 1908 he married Haidee Ethel Diaper, a member of a well known Itchen family, and moved to 13 Johns Road, at the end of the terrace where I once lived. William was, by now, working as a greaser, probably on Oceanic. Two years after their marriage they had a son, William Frederick.

The end terrace is 13 Johns Road, where William and Haidee began their married life

When William left Oceanic to join Titanic as a greaser he and his family were living at 13 Albert Road. When the ship sank just four of the thirty three greasers survived. William was not one of them and his body was never identified. Poor Haidee was pregnant at the time and, tragically, her daughter, Haidee Doris, died before her first birthday. In 1919 she married Edward Wells and had two more children. She died in Southampton in 1950. William’s son, William Frederick, lived in Southampton all his life. He married Dorothy Victoria Thorp. The couple had children but it isn’t known what became of them. William Frederick died in 1973.

Our hunt for Woolston crew houses was, so far, proving almost as dismal as the weather. Given how badly the area was bombed during World War II in an effort to destroy the Spitfire factory, this was hardly surprising. Our spirts were raised a little when we turned onto Victoria Road and discovered the next house on our list was still standing. This section of Victoria Road acts as Woolston’s high street and the house in question, 34 Victoria Road, was actually a shop.

Whether it was a shop when Ewart Sydenham Burr lived there is unclear. Ewart was born in Gloucester in the summer of 1883, the second of six children for Francis Henry, an oil and coal man, and Catherine Anne Maria. Around the turn of the century the family moved from Gloucester to Scotland and Francis Henry became a branch manger in the photography industry. Ewart got a job as a hosier’s assistant. By around 1903 the whole family had relocated again and were living in Southampton. Ewart married Ethel Alice Amelia Burr in 1910 and set up home in Milbrook Road with Ethel’s uncle and his family. In December that year, their son, Cecil Ewart, was born and Ewart got a job as an assurance agent.  Before long though he was working aboard Oceanic, presumably as a steward.

When he signed on to Titanic as a first class steward, Ewart gave his address as 48 Above Bar. This was his parents address but it is believed he was actually living at 34 Victoria Road with his wife and child. His wages were £3 10s a month and he seemed to enjoy his work. He posted a letter to Ethel in Queenstown, filled with tales of working in the first class Saloon and of serving at the Countess of Rothes’ table. When the ship sank, the countess was rescued in lifeboat 8. Ewart was not so lucky, he went down with the ship and his body was never identified. 

Poor Ethel learned of his death on 19 April. The telegram she received said simply Much Regret Burr not Saved. She never remarried and died in 1983. Cecil, Ewart and Ethel’s son, married Gwendoline Sandy and raised a family in Hampshire. He died in 1996.

From Victoria Road we looped round to Inkerman Road. The next house on our list, number 70, was nearer the top of the road than I’d expected. It once belonged to Horace Leopold Ross. In the 1860’s, Horace’s father, Charles Henry, left London and moved to the south coast to pursue a career working aboard private yachts. In Portsmouth he met local girl, Mary Ann Hinks. They married in 1861 and, four years later, moved to Southampton . Horace, born in 1874, was the sixth of their seven children. 

When Mary Ann died, in 1877, Charles and the children set up home in Milton Road, Millbrook with Mary Ann Russell. Mary was married but her husband had left her and she had several children. She and Charles had four more children together. In 1895, Mary Ann’s estranged husband died and she and Charles could finally marry. By this time Horace was married himself, to Florence Cross, living in Naseby Road, Shirley and working as a baker and then a slater. 

Horace Leopold Ross From Encyclopedia Titanica

Horace and Florence had four children but only two survived infancy, Florence and Clifford. By 1911 they were living at 57 Johns Road. A year later, when Horace signed on to Titanic, they had moved to 70 Inkerman Road. It was the first time he’d been to sea but he may have been influenced by his seafaring father, or by the wages of £3 10s a month he earned as a scullion. His job would have been mainly dish washing and other menial kitchen tasks. 

70 Inkerman Road

When the ship was sinking, lifeboats 13 and 15 were lowered from the starboard side and reached A deck at almost the same time. Once all the women nearby had boarded, the boat was still quite empty so the men nearby were told to get in, amongst them was Horace. Getting into the boat did not mean he was safe though. First it was caught up in water being pumped out of the sinking ship, then lifeboat 15 was almost lowered directly on top of it. At the last moment someone found a knife and cut the ropes, allowing it to float away to safety. It was the seventh or eighth boat to reach Carpathia. 

So Horace returned to his family in Woolston and, undaunted by his experience, continued to work at sea until the 1920’s. His wife died in 1936 and Horace followed her on 4 November 1940. By coincidence the notice of his death appeared in the Hampshire Advertiser directly above that of Arthur Henry Rostron, the captain of the ship that had saved him all those years before.  He is buried in Southampton Old Cemetery, but I have yet to stumble across his grave. His daughter, Florence, married Mario Occleppo and died in London in 1998. Clifford, his son, never married and remained in Southampton until his death in 1990.

From Inkerman Road we turned right into West Road and headed for Obelisk Road where two more crew members once lived. It wasn’t long before we found 73 Obelisk Road, once the home of Frank Allsop. If there was any doubt we had the right address it was quickly dispelled when we spotted one of the black plaques that are slowly being put up on crew members houses. It was the first such plaque we had seen on our travels. The wheels of the council grind exceeding slow on these matters and I presume not all house owners agree to have a plaque put up when their turn comes.  

73 Obelisk Road

Frank was born in Torquay, Devon on 28 November 1868 to James and Eliza. James worked as a butler and, during his career, boasted several important employers, including Lord Digty of Misterne Magna, Dorchester, F.G.W. Augustus and Lord Politmore of Politmore Park. Eliza was a housekeeper for a retired army captain and later a cook for James P. Currie, a distiller and director of the Bank of England. Their work meant the couple did not live together and had just one other child, Ellen, born in 1886. The children seem to have moved a great deal, living with one parent or another, or with a paternal aunt and uncle, which must have been quite disruptive. Late in his working life James ran a lodging house in London. As the turn of the century approached he retired and returned to his birthplace in Tissington Derbyshire without his wife and children, telling everyone he was widowed. Eliza actually lived with her daughter in Poole until her death in 1911.

Perhaps influenced by his father, Frank left school and began to work for various wealthy families.  He worked in Mayfair, London as a footman for Katherine de Barreto, a rich widow, and later as her butler. By 1901 he was a servant to Lord and Lady Adeline Butler at Willesey House in Kent. He married Elizabeth Purdie in 1904. Their daughter, Ellen, was born the next year but whether they ever lived together is unclear. 

For a while he owned a business of some kind in Hertfordshire but what kind of business is a mystery. By 1911, Frank and his daughter were lodging at 83 Alma Road, Southampton. Frank was working as a wholesale grocer but his wife, Elizabeth, seems to have disappeared. Given the lack of stability during his early life it’s not surprising that Frank appeared to flit from place to place and career to career. Going to sea might have satisfied his capricious nature. His first ship was Oceanic and then he joined Titanic as a steward, earning £3 10s a month. By now he was living at 73 Obelisk Road.

His wanderings came to an end when Titanic sank. He was lost with the ship and his remains were never identified. He is remembered on his father’s grave in Tissington. Also of Frank Richard, Son of the above, James Allsop who was drownded (sic) on the Titanic, April 15th 1912 aged 43 years. Nearer my God to Thee. 

We carried on down Obelisk Road towards the river and, near the junction with Church Road, we found our next black plaque on 49 Obelisk Road. The large, double fronted house of ochre bricks was once the home of Herbert Gifford Harvey.  Herbert was born in Belfast in 1878, the sixth of James Thompson and Elizabeth Garson Harvey’s children. James was a partner of Belfast ship owners, Lawther and Harvey and Herbert seems to have had a fairly privileged upbringing, studying at at the Belfast Royal and Portora Royal School. He then served an apprenticeship in the locomotive works of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. In 1899, during the Boer War, he was one of the first volunteers to join the 46th Company Imperial Yeomanry.  He was involved in several engagements and was awarded the Queen’s Medal with three clasps and the King’s medal with one clasp.

49 Obelisk Road

When he returned to Belfast he worked with the shore staff of Harland & Wolff, then Lowther, Latta & Co, owners of a steamship company, before joining the White Star Line in 1907. On Teutonic he was appointed Assistant Third Engineer and later promoted to Assistant Second Engineer. He then transferred to Olympic and finally to Titanic as Assistant Second Engineer. He was on board for her trip from Belfast to Southampton. He gave his Southampton address as 49 Obelisk Road but it is possible he was just lodging there as his mother, now widowed, was living in an affluent area of Belfast with several of his siblings. Herbert was, however, engaged to be married. Although the identity of his bride to be is not known he may have bought the house for them to live in permanently as Southampton was Titanic’s home port and his wages of £12 10s a month were very good. 

At the time of the collision Herbert was on duty in the engine room. John Henry Hesketh, the Second Engineer and therefore his immediate superior, was in Boiler Room 6 with Leading Fireman Frederick Barrett inspecting the coal bunker to see if the fire that had been raging since the ship left Belfast was finally out. The iceberg ripped into this part of the ship but both men escaped through a connecting tunnel to Boiler Room 5 and closed the bulkhead doors. All twenty five engineers stayed below decks. Some were operating the pumps trying desperately to keep the ship afloat, others were keeping the steam up to stop the boilers exploding or keeping the generators running so passengers had light to find their way to lifeboats. These brave men almost certainly understood the sacrifice they were making. Not one engineer survived. Herbert’s body was never recovered. 

Herbert Gifford Harvey

The rain was getting heavier again and the closer we got to the water the more the cold wind blew it in our faces. It was a good two hours since we left home and, for more than an hour, we’d been wandering the streets of Woolston searching for houses. Our success rate had been variable to say the least and there were eight more still to find in Woolston alone. By now we were close to Centenary Quay and coffee so we decided to stop, have a warming drink and decide whether to call it a day or carry on…

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A new ship in town and a birthday party

8 November 2016

With our Icelandic adventure imminent, It occurred to me I should probably be thinking about getting some Christmas presents this week. Frankly, I’m a little bah humbug about the whole Christmas thing. When the boys were little it was fun but, these days, it all seems too much like an excuse to spend money on things people probably don’t even want and eat too much. To my mind we should all buy one Christmas present for ourselves and leave it at that. Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t agree with me though so this morning was mostly about buying presents.  Continue reading A new ship in town and a birthday party

A different sea

7 December 2016

After the blue skies and sun of Cyprus the UK took a bit of getting used to. It was cold. It was wet. It was grey. There was also a great deal of washing to be done and catching up with a week’s worth of chores, not to mention CJ’s birthday. This meant a week with very little walking unless you count trudging up the Big Hill for milk in the rain  kind of walking. Today though there was blue sky. Ok, so it was still well below freezing but I was missing the sky and the sea so much I decided to take a walk down to the shore. Continue reading A different sea

Walk, talk a superhuman feat and some sitting down

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13 to 16 October 2016

On our way to the Archives we spotted a pink elephant outside the Civic Centre, part of Monday’s World Mental Health Day. As it happened I’d been asked to be part of a Mental Health event organised by Itchen Spitfires’ Mental Health Ambassadors, Abigail and Vicki. The event was called Run and Talk and the idea behind it was to raise awareness about mental health issues and break down the stigma attached to them. Obviously there would be no running on my part but I’d been asked to lead a walking group for the injured and members who wanted to bring along non running family and friends.  Continue reading Walk, talk a superhuman feat and some sitting down

Woolston waterside, back to my roots

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15 January 2016

Still smiling at memories of happy Playschool mornings I retraced my steps to Swift Road and carried on to its end at the shoreline on Victoria Road. Right on the corner is a wastewater treatment plant callied the Poo Farm by locals. It has been known to give the area a bit of an unfortunate pong from time to time. Recently it’s been extensively modernised so hopefully whiffy Woolston is a thing of the past. It certainly smelled fine when I passed today. Continue reading Woolston waterside, back to my roots