By John Welshman
This year of all years, 100 years on from the sinking of the Titanic, we are all familiar with the story of the doomed liner. One of the intriguing aspects of the Titanic story is the way it offers insights into particular locations. A particularly good example is Oxford Street in Southampton, England. Southampton became established as England’s main passenger port following the transfer, from 1907, of the White Star Line’s transatlantic express service from Liverpool. By 1912, the city was home to steamship companies that included the Royal Mail, Union Castle, and American Lines.
Opposite Oxford Street was the Southampton Terminus, the main railway station built by the London and South Western Railway in 1839. It was here that passengers would alight from the Boat Trains from London’s Waterloo Station. Where Oxford Street meets Terminus Terrace is the London Hotel (built 1907), while on the corner with Bernard Street was Parkers Hotel (now the Antico Restaurant and Bar). American postal clerk Oscar Scott Woody (44) stayed at Parkers Hotel the night before the Titanic sailed. He had lived in Clifton Springs, Virginia and he died in the sinking; his body was one of those recovered. The South Western Hotel (now South Western House), on the corner of Terminus Terrace and Canute Road, was the hotel of choice for many First Class passengers, including J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line, and Thomas Andrews, the ship’s designer. Checking in for the Titanic took place at the hotel itself, and on the morning of 10 April 1912 another train took passengers from the hotel into the docks and right up to the ship.
We can try to reconstruct Oxford Street in April 1912. Other buildings housed shops and businesses that included:
No 12: Hooper’s Temperance Hotel. The hotel was run by Charles Sharp and his wife Mary. Five Titanic crewmen stayed at the hotel, and only one survived.
No 25: The American Express Co, on the corner of Latimer Street and Oxford Street. Some passengers collected their tickets there before embarkation (now Prezzo).
Nos 26-28: The Alliance Hotel (now the White Star Tavern). Third Class passenger Lewis Braund (29) of Bridgerule, Devon, spent the night there before travelling on the Titanic. He was a farm labourer, and had paid £7 11d for his ticket; he was travelling to the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, in Canada. Lewis’s brother Jim had emigrated to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, some years earlier. Lewis Braund was travelling with his brother Owen; his cousins Samuel Dennis, William Dennis, John Henry Perkin, and John Hall Lovell; and his friend Susan Webber (37). Originally from North Tamerton, Cornwall, Susan had paid £13 for her ticket and was heading for Hartford, Connecticut. None of the members of the Braund family survived, but Susan Webber did, being rescued from Lifeboat 12, and living in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, for the rest of her life, until her death in January 1952.
No 29: A bakery owned by James Wildman, a pastry chef and confectioner (now the Olivetree Restaurant).
No 31: A tobacconists owned by Arthur Edwin Bannister and his wife Matilda (now Pizza Express).
Nos 33-34: The Oxford Hotel owned by Walter Percy Brandon (now the Oxford Brasserie).
Nos 35-36: Miller Rayner Ltd, a naval tailors and outfitters who supplied uniforms to the crew and officers of the White Star Line and other shipping lines (now Simons at Oxfords).
Nos 37-39: Roles Temperance Hotel owned by M. Jakobsson (now Kutis Brasserie and Scoozi Restaurant).
No 40: Tobacconist and foreign money changer (now La Esquina).
No 43: The Grapes, a popular Southampton pub, where the stokers Thomas, Bertram, and Alfred Slade, and Frank Holden, were drinking on the morning of 10 April 1912; Second Class passenger Lawrence
Beesley describes how they arrived late at the Titanic’s gangplank and were turned away by the Petty Officer.
No 45: The Sunlight Dye Works and Laundry (now Evolution Ladies Hairdressers).
No 47: Fred Everald Hairdressers (now Boutique De Fleur florists).
No 48: Payne’s Temperance Hotel was owned by Cecil Burrell and his wife.
Nos 51-57: The Sailors Home opened in 1909 to provide accommodation for sailors of the Merchant Navy when in port. Of the Titanic’s crew, 24 spent their last night on land there, while 17 gave the Sailors Home as their address. Lookout Reginald Lee (41) was originally from Bensington or Benson in Oxfordshire. He had served on the Olympic, and on the Titanic earned wages of £5 as a Lookout. He and Lookout Frederick Fleet saw the iceberg on the night of Sunday 14 April 1912. Lee survived and died in the Sailors Home in August 1913 (now home to the Salvation Army).
No 59: Tobacconists owned by Frank Henry George (now Charlie Chans).
Oxford Street, Southampton, is only one example of a ‘Titanic street’. But it reveals the fascinating spotlight that the ship and its story can shed on a particular location. In this case, we can uncover a world of railway stations, hotels, tobacconists, tailors and outfitters, ticket offices, bakeries, and pubs, and we can try to reconstruct the lives of the postal clerks, passengers from First, Second, and Third Class, stokers, and all the others who ate, slept, and drank there in the final hours before the Titanic sailed.
John Welshman is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at Lancaster University. He is the author or editor of six books on twentieth-century British social history, including Churchill’s Children: The Evacuee Experience in Wartime Britain. He is also the author of Titanic: The Last Night of a Small Town (Oxford University Press, 2012). Read John Welshman’s previous posts“One Voyage, Two Thousand Stories,” “Fellowes and the Titanic,” “Everyday people aboard the Titanic,” “Images from the Titanic Disaster” and “Tales of the Titanic Disaster.”