More Titanic tales from Itchen

27 February 2019

In 1912, the road running beside Ludlow Road was Itchen’s High Street. It ran from Sholing Lane (now Sholing Road) to the houses beside the railway line on Avenue Road (now Radstock Road). These days it’s called Bishops Road and our next three Titanic crew houses were on it somewhere. Once we got our bearings it was a matter of counting down the house numbers until we came to number 53, about half way between Wodehouse Road and Peveril Road.

53 Bishops Road

This was far grander than the houses we’d found so far. The large semi detached house with bay windows and a side entrance was where George Alexander Chisnall once lived. George was born in Greenwich, London in 1875. Although his parents, Joseph and Janet, were English, they had married in Dumbarton, Scotland and settled in Govan near Glasgow where Joseph was working in the local shipyards as a ship’s carpenter. Quite why George was born in London is a mystery as his four siblings were all born in Scotland between 1869 and 1886.

George began his working life serving an apprenticeship with Napier Brothers in Glasgow. He then joined White Star as a boilermaker aboard the Canopic. After a year at sea he got a land based job with the Fairfield Shipbuilding Company and then with Caird & Company in Greenock. After Joseph passed away in 1891, followed by Janet in 1903, George moved to Liverpool where he got a job with Elder Dempster & Company. Here he married Alice Hardy Day, a Hampshire girl, in 1904. The couple had two children Dorothy and William.

In 1908, shortly after William was born, George returned to White Star as a boilermaker on board Majestic and the family moved to Southampton, setting up home at 53 High Street, Itchen. When George signed on to Titanic as senior boilermaker his wages would have been £12 a month. 

There were two boilermakers on board Titanic and, as she was sinking they would both have been down in the boiler room working hard with the other engineers to pump out the rising water and keep the boilers running as long as they could. They did not survive. George’s body was recovered, although it’s not clear by which ship. He was wearing a blue serge boiler suit and had a knife, razor, pipe, rule, shaving brush, pocket book and silver watch with him, along with £1 10s 1/2d. He was buried at sea.

Alice and her children were assisted by the Titanic Relief Fund. She returned to Liverpool, never remarried and died in 1946. Their son, William, became an insurance clerk and married Everild Robena Patten Thomas in 1936, but what eventually became of him and his sister Dorothy is not known. There is a memorial to George on the family grave in Toxteth Park Cemetery. 

A little further down the road 43 Bishops Road was not quite as grand as George Chisnal’s house. It was a smaller red brick semi, with square bay windows and a tiled path leading to the front door. It belonged to able seaman Frank Osman. 

43 Bishops Road

Frank was born in Gosport in 1885. His mother, Emma, and father, William, were both from Romsey and William was a brewery worker, later a publican.  Frank was the youngest of their six children and joined the navy at fourteen. He remained in the navy for eleven years, during which time his family were living in Alverstoke. In 1907 he married tailoress, Clara Kate Sherwin in Alverstoke and, at around this time, joined White Star as an able seaman. 

Over the next four years the couple had two children, Percy and Frank. Sadly, Frank died before his first birthday. Shortly after this the family appear to have moved to Southampton and were certainly living in Bishops Road when Frank transferred from Oceanic to Titanic. 

Frank Osman from Encyclopedia Titanica

As an able seaman Frank would have earned £5 a month. Able seamen were senior members of the deck crew, responsible for the day to day running of the ship and for operating the lifeboat davits in the event of an emergency. Each was also assigned a lifeboat to take charge of if no officers were available and, as each of the boats needed several strong, capable men aboard to row, navigate and take control, this meant the majority of the 29 able seamen aboard Titanic survived. 

When Titanic collided with the iceberg Frank was outside the seaman’s mess on C Deck. He heard the ice scraping along the hull and rushed to the Forward Well Deck where he found chunks of ice and noticed the ship was beginning to list. Although he didn’t believe the ship would sink, he was soon helping to load lifeboats on the port side. 

After he’d loaded four lifeboats and seen them launched, he was ordered into emergency lifeboat 2 by Fourth Officer Boxhall. There were three other crew members in the lifeboat, Boxhall, a cook and a steward. The rest of the boat was filled with women, eight from first class, six from third and one third class man. After they’d pushed off from the ship they tried to get to the starboard side to see if they could squeeze in another passenger or two but, by then, the ship was listing too much and they turned around. 

When the ship went down they were around a hundred yards from it. Frank did not notice any suction but he heard explosions which he believed were when the cold water met the hot boilers causing them to explode. He then saw smoke and lumps of what he thought was coal coming from the funnels. After the explosions the ship broke in two and the engines slid from the aft into the forward of the ship. The aft then rose, before slowly sinking again. 

By chance a box of flares had been put into emergency lifeboat two mistaken for a tin of biscuits. As Carpathia was approaching, Boxhall fired the flares and, consequently, they were the first boat to be picked up by her at around four in the morning. 

Frank was called to testify at the U.S. inquiry into the sinking and later returned to England and continued to work at sea, serving on various ships for the White Star and Cunard Lines, including Olympic, Homeric and Mauritania. He and Clara went on to have five more children, Maud, William, Emily, Grace and George. Frank died in Southampton in 1938 and is buried in St Mary’s Extra Cemetery. Clara died in 1964. 

The last Bishops Road house turned out to be a bit of a conundrum. We found number 16 easily enough but it looked like a modern house, perhaps 1930’s or 40’s, so this is probably not the actual house Walter Alexander Bishop lived in. *Encyclopaedia Titanica has him living at 248 Romsey Road. This is, I believe, a mistake as another crew member, Leonard White, was living there with his wife and her widowed mother and other records show Walter living in Bishops Road. This is the first such anomaly I have found but I will use the address, given on the crew list. Despite the confused information, I took a photograph.

16 Bishops Road

Walter was born in Southampton in around 1878. His mother, Maria, was from the Isle of Wight and his father, James, was a local lad and a ship’s cook. They had eight children. The family lived in the Chapel area of the town centre and then moved to Millbrook.  Walter went to sea himself around the turn of the century. In 1903, he married Mabel Mary Cox and, in the same year, their son, Walter James was born. Tragically, Mabel died early in 1904 aged just twenty three.

For a man working at sea the loss of his young wife must have been difficult to bear, especially with such a small baby to care for. By 1907, he had remarried. His new wife, Martha Dabell, née Castelman, was a widow with two young children, Winifred, who was seven and Percy who was just two when she and Walter married. In 1911 the couple were living in Shirley, perhaps in Martha’s house? When he left the St Louis and signed on to Titanic for her delivery journey from Belfast he gave his address as 16 High Street, Itchen.*

Walter was a first class bedroom steward, earning £3 15s a month and looking after between three and five rooms. Steward’s wages were not especially good but the tips often were, especially from first class passengers. Second and third class bedroom stewards had more rooms to look after, up to twenty five for third class, but the tips would have been much less, or non existent. A first class bedroom steward, if he ingratiated himself enough, could double his wages from tips. 

Sadly, Walter did not live to enjoy the fruits of his labours, both he and his brother in law, greaser Edward Castleman, perished and neither of their bodies were identified. One of Walter’s passengers, Mrs Emily Maria Borie Ryerson  did survive and, afterwards, remembered speaking to Walter after the collision. She asked him why the engines had stopped and he explained that there had been talk of an iceberg and the ship had stopped to avoid it. Whether  he believed this to be true or was trying to keep her calm isn’t known but she was one of the last people to see him. 

Mrs Emily Maria Borie Ryerson  From Encyclopedia Titanica

Martha and Walter’s widowed mother benefitted from the Titanic Relief Fund and he is remembered on the St Augustine’s Church Memorial in Southampton. Martha, having been twice widowed, did not marry again and, some years later, moved to Chichester to be close to her married daughter, Winifred. Walter’s son, Walter James, married Elsie Hardy in Southampton in 1926. They had at least one son and Walter junior died in Norfolk in 1975. 

From Bishops Road we turned onto Radstock Road where there were three more crew houses. Before we went looking for them though, there was one more house to find, on Millais Road. Unfortunately we had no number, just a house name, Cawdor. Millais Road runs parallel to Bishops Road from Wodehouse Road to Radstock Road, CJ and I were both hoping we’d find the house at the Radstock Road end because we’d both had enough of walking up and down by now. As we slowly made our way up the road though, we could see no names on any of the houses.  We walked the whole way back to Wodehouse Road but never did find a house with a name so I took some general pictures of the road to give an idea of the area.

Millais Road

We may not have found Cawdor but it was once the home of James Mull Smith. James was born in 1873, the youngest of Peter and Catherine Smith’s four children. Little is known about his childhood, except that he lived with his grandparents for part of it. Later he served an engineering apprenticeship with J. S. Souter of Elgin, a foundry and engineering works. He then moved to Liverpool and went to sea with the Anchor Line of Glasgow, Union Castle and Red Star, finally joining White Star in 1906. 

James Mull Smith From Encyclopedia Titanica

James’ move to Southampton probably coincided with White Star’s move to the town. He was certainly living in Southampton when he married Hannah Davidson in 1908. Two years later their son, Ian James, was born. James was now working on Majestic and ‘standing by’ for Titanic, still being built in Belfast. His little family were probably living at Cawdor in Millais Road by then, as this is the address he gave when he finally signed in to Titanic as Junior 4th Engineer. His wages would have been £13 10s so I imagine Cawdor was one of the grander houses in the street. 

None of the engineers survived the sinking. No doubt James was in the bowels of the ship, bravely trying to keep the pumps running when Titanic went down. His body was never identified but Hannah and Ian benefitted from the  Titanic Relief Fund and remained in Southampton. Tragedy was never far away though. Ian died in 1919, aged just nine. Poor Hannah never remarried and died in Southampton in 1953. 

Millais Road

Our little detour to Millais Road hadn’t been very successful and, as we retraced our steps back to Radstock Road, I had the feeling we wouldn’t have much more luck there. Back in 1912, this was called Avenue Road. It follows the railway line from Cranbury Road, near Sholing Station, all the way to Bridge Road. The houses we were now looking for were all at the Bridge Road end, an area that was badly bombed and is mostly new streets and houses now. As it happened, the first of our three houses was still standing, just below the junction with Bishops Road, before the modern houses of Norton and Cheddar Close start. The neat little semi detached house, 49 Avenue Road, was where Francis Albert Webber lived. 

49 Radstock Road, then Avenue Road

Francis was born in Melbourne Street Southampton in 1881 to Mary and William, a gas inspector who later owned an off licence. Mary and William had seven children and all but one survived infancy. Francis appears to have gone to sea at an early age and, by 1911, the family were living in Portsmouth. In all likelihood this was because William had been admitted to Portsmouth Borough Lunatic Asylum. He had been a “lunatic” for two or three years but, given the definition of madness at the time, may simply have had dementia, epilepsy, depression or something similar. Whatever his actual condition was, he died in May 1911. Francis was, in all likelihood, on Olympic by then but it must have been a difficult time for the whole family. 

Francis left Olympic and signed on to Titanic as leading fireman earning £6 10s a month. Like the majority of the firemen aboard, Francis perished when the ship sank. It is likely he was in one of Titanic’s boiler rooms shovelling coal to the very end. His body was never identified. His poor mother remained in Southampton and died in 1929. His last surviving sibling was his sister Kate, who died in Winchester in 1966. 

As I suspected, the next house, number 28, had been eaten up by the modern terraces. This was where George Fox Hosking once lived. George was the eldest child of Thomas, a master mariner, and Mary, both from Devon. The couple had five children. George was born in Shaldon, Devon in 1875. He attended Teignmouth Grammar School and was then an apprentice at A W Robertson & Company, engineers and shipbuilders of Royal Albert Dock, London, where he earned a first class certificate of competency. He served on several ships, including the Flintshire, Trelask and Georgia. Later he joined White Star and served on Athenic, Teutonic, Bovic, Republic and Olympic. 

The modern houses in Radstock Road

In 1904 he married Ada Alice Shapland from Ramshate. Between 1905 and 1909 they had three children Iris, George and William. Until 1908, the family lived in Bootle but then relocated to Southampton, almost certainly because White Star had transferred its main New York sailing there. The family set up home at Glen Villa, 28 Avenue Road, Itchen. George transferred from Olympic to Titanic as Senior Third Engineer with a monthly wage of £16 10s. 

George Fox Hosking from Encyclopedia Titanica

What part George played on that fateful night is not clear but, like all twenty five engineers aboard Titanic, he remained below decks to the last. These brave men operated the pumps, kept the steam up, or kept the generators running  to give passengers time and light to make an escape. Without them many more would have died. None of them survived and George’s body was never identified. 

His grieving family were helped by the Titanic Relief Fund charity and Ada eventually returned to Essex where she married Mr Henry Alonzo Moore in 1921. She died in 1944. 

Before we went in search of our last Radstock Road House we stopped to look along the modern cut way that more or less follows the line of what was once Drummond Road. The road and the houses no longer exist but John Pearce once lived at 14 Drummond Road. John was the son of Emily Pearce, née Osman, a charwoman from Southampton. There are no details about his father but he had, presumably, died as John spent his early years living with his mother and her parents, William and Mary Ann Osman, in St Mary’s. It is possible, but not certhain, that Emily was related to Bishops Road crew member Frank Osman. 

The cut way that was once Drummond Road

John lied about his age and joined the Royal Marine Light Infantry in 1895 but nothing is known about his career with them. By 1911, he was working as a fireman on merchant ships, including Oratrava and Danube. When he signed on to a Titanic he gave his address as 14 Drummond Road. Census records show this was the home of Samuel Mortimer and his family, so it’s likely John was just lodging there. 

Drummond Road on the 1910 map

Somehow John survived the sinking of Titanic, although it is not clear how or in which lifeboat he ended up. He did return to sea after the disaster, working as a fireman on Arcadian and as a greaser on Wellpark. What became of him after this is unknown. 

Titanic survivors aboard Carpathia from Encyclopedia Titanica

Despite my misgivings, our final Radstock Road house, number 7, was still standing, close to the junction with Bridge Road. This lovely little semi detached house with weathered mouldings around the door and above the bay window, was where Edgar Michael Kiernan, known to his friends as Michael, once lived. Michael was born in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Ireland in 1872. Today the little village is actually in Northern Ireland. His father, James was an inland revenue officer and his mother, Mary, was from Dublin. Michael had eight siblings, most, like him, born in Ireland. At some time in the first half of the 1880’s the family moved to Liverpool, where the final two or three children were born. Mary died in 1891, possibly in childbirth. 

7 Radstock Road, then Avenue Road

Michael’s first job was as a tramway conductor. In 1898 he married Ann Davies in Everton and between 1899 and 1911, had four children, Annie, Gladys, George and James. At some time in the early 1900’s Michael went to sea with White Star. When the company moved its main terminal from Liverpool to Southampton the family moved too, although the eldest three children remained in Everton with their maternal grandmother. Michael, his wife and the youngest child found lodgings in Lower Bridge Road, St Mary’s. By the time he left Olympic and signed onto Titanic as storekeeper they had moved to 7 Avenue Road. This was probably also a boarding house or lodgings. His wages would have been £3 15s. 

When the collision happened the three storekeepers, Michael, Frank Prentice and Cyril Ricks, knew nothing of it until they were ordered onto the deck. They certainly didn’t think there was any danger and stood around chatting and smoking cigarettes. After a while though, it was clear there was a major problem and, as their position became more and more precarious they climbed onto the poop deck and clung to the rail. By now it was obvious the ship was sinking and, at the final moment, all three men jumped into the sea. Only Frank Prentice lived to tell the tale. 

Michael’s body was never identified and his widow, Ann, returned to Liverpool where she later married William Peck. Michael’s youngest daughter, Gladys, emigrated to America in 1919. A year later Her sister Annie followed her. 

Our Final house in this part of Itchen was in Garton Road, close to Woolston train station. To my mind this is actually Woolston, not Itchen, but staying true to the crew list, we counted it with our Itchen houses and walked under the railway bridge. Garton Road runs along the Woolston side of the railway line towards Porchester Road. It didn’t take us long to find the house, number 11, clad these days in modern stone. This was where William Luke Duffy lived. 

Woolston Station, Garton Road

William was born in Castlebar, County Mayo in 1875 the middle of three children born to, John, an engineer and Ellen. When William left St. Jarlath’s College, County Galway, he became a clerk in Shackleton’s Flour Milling Company in Dublin and then joined James Walker and company, a Dublin printing works. At this time he and his brother Patrick lived in Dublin with a maternal aunt, Mary Ward. 

In 1910, William married an English nurse, Ethel Frazier, from Leeds and soon the couple moved to Southampton. They set up home in Dean House, Millais Road where their daughter, Mary, was born in early 1911. William was now working as a commercial traveller in the colour printing business. 

11 Garton Road

What led William to go to sea is not clear but the national Coal Strike of 1912 saw many men out of work and he may have been one of them. Titanic was his first ship and, by the time he joined it as an engineers writer, he and his family had moved to 11 Garton Road. He was aboard for the delivery from Belfast. His exact duties are not clear but he was probably a clerk, filling out paperwork for the engineering crew. His wages were £6 a month. Sadly, he did not survive and his body was never identified. Ethel and little Mary, along with William’s aunt Mary in Dublin, who he had presumably been supporting, benefitted from the Titanic Relief Fund but what became of them isn’t known. 

As we walked back down Garton Road we had a wonderful view of the Itchen Bridge rising up between the houses. Of course, the bridge wasn’t there in 1912. Back then, crossing the Itchen involved the floating bridge or one of the little Itchen ferryboats. The next crew houses on our list were all in what was once Itchen Ferry Village, where the ferrymen lived. There was no chance of finding any of them still standing but we were determined to find their locations if we could and tell their stories. First though, we needed a rest and a drink…

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Chasing the runners at the Summer Selfie Challenge

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11 September 2016

There’s a first time for everything and today I almost wished I could run. Actually it wasn’t quite the first time I’d toyed with the idea of running. Years ago, just before Commando took up running, I tried the C25K, a kind of beginners running plan. It starts off with walking for a minute then jogging for a minute and keeping this up for twenty minutes. Over nine weeks the walking gets less and the running gets more until you’re running a comlete 5k. For three whole weeks I stuck at it, getting as far as running for three whole minutes at a time, before I decided I didn’t like running as much as I’d thought I would and went back to walking.  Continue reading Chasing the runners at the Summer Selfie Challenge

Woolston, a walk down memory lane

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15 January 2016

Friday morning was all blue sky and the first frost of the year. It was too nice not to be out walking So I thought I’d take a little wander back in time to a place I lived for seven years in the 1980’s. Once it was called Olafs tun, after the tenth century Viking leader Olaf I, who established a fortified tun on the east bank of the Itchen. Later this was adapted to Olvestune and this is how it was known in the Domesday Book. Finally it became Woolston, probably as a result of cargos of wool carried across the river from nearby Itchen Ferry Village. What little is left of Itchen Ferry Village is now part of Woolston. Continue reading Woolston, a walk down memory lane