20 March 2012
Simon Wills is a maritime genealogist and Family Tree contributor. In the April issue of Family Tree Simon reveals
There are some miraculous Titanic survivors in Southampton. I’m going to take you on a quick walking tour of the highlights but if you visit, the tourist information centre provides a map so you can walk it for yourself.
We begin at the touching memorial to Titanic’s musicians, who continued playing as the ship went down. It’s a replica because the original was destroyed by air raids in 1940, but shows the ship sinking, with notes of a hymn and the names of the players. As you walk around Southampton it’s surprising that more Titanic heritage wasn’t loss to the Luftwaffe.
Nearby is the most magnificent of Southampton’s monuments, dedicated to Titanic’s engineers. It’s recently been cleaned and depicts two ship’s engineers at work. It’s beautiful, but makes me shudder when I imagine how those poor men died, trapped as the ship filled with icy water.
Across the road in the civic centre is a memorial to the ship’s postal workers – two British and three American. This plaque was fashioned from Titanic’s spare propeller, which shipbuilders Harland and Wolff donated. Titanic carried 1,300 bags of mail, which were transferred to her from the docks' own post office.
Walking down High Street you can see the premises of Oakley and Watling. Now a restaurant, they originally supplied all Titanic’s fruit and vegetables, including 36,000 apples! Near to this is the ruin of Holyrood Church – another war victim – which houses the fountain erected to commemorate the crewmembers who died. You can see Titanic slicing through the waters at the top.
On the waterfront you’re close to many Titanic sites. You can cross the railway lines that carried Titanic’s passengers to the ship and see the station they used, now a casino.
White Star Line crews used to drink at The Grapes pub. In 1912, crewmen Alf, Bert and Tom Slade lost track of time there and ran to catch the sailing. But a long goods train at the level crossing delayed them just long enough for the Titanic to sail without them...
Opposite the Grapes is the White Star Tavern, formerly the Alliance Hotel where many of Titanic’s second class passengers stayed, and just up the road is the Sailor’s Home where 26 seamen spent their last night ashore before boarding. First class passengers stayed in the beautiful South Western Hotel: White Star chairman Bruce Ismay stayed here before sailing, as did ship-designer Thomas Andrews. Steerage passengers stayed in the austere Atlantic Hotel.
A poignant survivor is the former White Star offices where locals waited anxiously for news of their loved ones. Titanic had a crew of 897, but 714 were from Southampton. During a recession they’d been glad to get work on a prestigious new ship, but sadly only 176 survived. Relatives lingered at the offices day after day watching as the company pasted lists of survivors outside.
Round the corner is dockgate 4 where the security men often let you see the plain Titanic memorial just inside the gates. Titanic set sail from berth 44, which you can’t access but you can see from the pier where Red Funnel operates. A low white tunnel-like structure marks the berth, and appropriately there’s an old 1920s tug moored nearby, similar to ones that would have guided Titanic out to sea.
The culmination of Southampton’s commemoration of Titanic is the new Sea City museum. This features the ill-fated liner as well as a broader perspective on the city’s maritime history. It opens one hundred years to the day that Titanic left Southampton on its maiden voyage – 10 April 2012. The museum website tells you more, but note that pre-booking is advised for visitors during the opening week.