RMS Titanic – A Cotswold Connection

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Around 2.20 am on 15th April 2012 two crew members of Leyland Liner Californian unknowingly witnessed the sinking of the Titanic.  Standing on the ice-cold deck, some 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, they wondered why the unidentified vessel in the distance was firing white flares into the night sky when it was standard practice for a ship in distress to fire red.  There was something troubling about the appearance of the unknown vessel and the way it listed strangely in the water.  Despite their disquiet, they were not sufficiently concerned to react that night and by daybreak, it was too late.  The odd-looking ship was RMS Titanic and she had subsequently sunk taking 1517 people to a tragic and untimely death. 

Titanic left Southampton bound for New York City on her maiden voyage on 10 April 1912 amid excitement and celebration.  With her watertight compartments and electronic watertight doors, she was widely believed to be unsinkable. Confidence was so high there was no concern that she only carried 20 lifeboats, enough to accommodate just 52% of her passengers.  Indeed, the Board of Trade regulations only required her to carry 16 lifeboats to fulfil their safety requirements.   

At the turn of the century, travel was still largely segregated by class and RMS Titanic catered for three divisions of travel.  Steerage or third class contained very basic accommodation, second class was more comfortable, but first class was an extravaganza of luxury, from the opulence of the sweeping grand staircase to the charm of the Café Parisien with its wide, open windows looking out to sea.   Along with the glamorous furnishings, Titanic also contained the latest in technology.  She was equipped with a Marconi wireless set with a nominal range of 250 miles and, after the iceberg hit, the radio was used to transmit one of the first ever SOS calls.   

The passenger list was no less impressive than the ship.  First class was populated with many well-known, wealthy Edwardians including John Jacob Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim.  But, there were people from all walks of life on board and on that fateful day in April, there were three men on Titanic who had connections to the Cotswolds, each travelling in a different accommodation class and each united by the events of that night. 

Sitting in the splendour of the first-class dining room on 14th April 1912, Mr Frank Millett would have had no conception that it would be the last night of his life.  Born in Massachusetts on 3 November 1844, he was a talented artist best known for his painting “between two fires”, a detailed depiction of a family of Puritans, now hanging in the Tate gallery. Millett created the work at Abbots Grange in Broadway where he led an American art colony which settled in England in the early 1880’s.  Millett is believed to have rescued Abbots Grange from falling into a state of disrepair through his programme of restoration. 

Millett ordinarily visited the Cotswolds with his wife and family but this time he travelled alone and would have been looking forward to their impending reunion as he dined from the ten-course menu containing, amongst other items, poached salmon, oysters and peaches in Chartreuse jelly.  

When the iceberg hit the ship, Frank Millett probably approached the ensuing drama with dignity and calm.  He was familiar with crises having served in the Civil War and was also a war correspondent in the Russian Turkish war of 1877 – 1878. He was last sighted helping women and children into lifeboats with little thought for his own safety. 

Meanwhile, in the second-class restaurant, Henry Price Hodges dined on a less sumptuous menu choosing between baked haddock, curried chicken, spring lamb or roast turkey.  At 50 years old, Hodges was a wealthy music shop owner who lived in Southampton with his wife and five of his eight children at the time of his death. 

Like Frank Millett, he was travelling without his family and had purchased his ticket for just £13.  Ironically, he had been due to travel to America several weeks earlier but his voyage had been delayed by the coal strike. 

Born in 1862, Henry, a former pupil of Tewkesbury Grammar school was raised in Gloucestershire.  He was also the elder brother of Robert Hodges (born 1874), a teacher at Hatherley Road Council School.   

Another former resident of Hatherley, Mr Francis William Somerton of Greatfield, Up Hatherley, was travelling back from Cheltenham to his home in Canastota, New York state, having returned to Gloucestershire to visit relatives.  Travelling in third class, it is only possible to speculate on how he would have dined as no third-class menus survive from the night of 14th April 1912.  We know that he was born in Cheltenham and census records from 1891 show him living at 108 Gloucester Road with his father William, (a weigh clerk at the gas works), mother Hannah and three siblings. 

National probate records show that Francis William Somerton of Greatfield, Up Hatherley, Cheltenham died 15 Apr 1912 at sea. Poignantly, he left effects of just £5 which went to Mae Fryer Somerton, widow. 

All three of these men had one sad fate in common.  None of them survived.  They all lost their lives on that terrible night. 

The body of Frank Millett was recovered, and he was buried at East Bridgwater Central Cemetery in Boston.  He was 65-years old when he died.   His pocket watch and chain were found with him.  Henry Price Hodges was also located and laid to rest at Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia.  He too was found with a pocket watch and money amounting to £45 7s on his person.  He was 50 when he died. Francis William Somerton died aged 30.  His body was never found.

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Ipswich Journal 8th Nov 1884

Sudden death – An inquest was held at The Fox and Goose Inn on Monday morning, before C W Chaston Esq upon the body of Jonathan Carter, agricultural labourer, aged 77 years.  Harriet Corbyn stated that the deceased, who was her brother, had lived with her and her husband for the last four years; he had had fair health and the witness had not heard him complain.  He left home about nine a.m. on Saturday to be shaved, which was the last time the witness saw him alive.  Several of the family had died of heart disease.  The deceased had not for a long time been attended by a medical man.  Harriet King, widow, said that as she was walking through the churchyard on Saturday morning, about 10 o’clock, she noticed someone lying on the path, and on going up found it was the deceased.  She spoke to him, but receiving no answer she went at once for assistance.  John Edwards, baker, said that in consequence of what the last witness said to him on Saturday, he went into the churchyard and found the deceased lying as described.  He breathed twice, and almost immediately afterwards, expired.  Dr Anderson stated that he had made an external examination of the body, and found no marks of violence.  Judging from his experience and from the evidence given, he was of the opinion that death was caused by a sudden failure of the heart’s action and returned a verdict accordingly.
This inquest report and others inspired the plot of The Fressingfield Witch The Prologue describes Jonathan Carter’s journey through the churchyard.  He is heading towards the cottages in the photograph but never reaches them. Jonathan is found on the pathway as described in the inquest, but he is not alone.  Something terrifying has been placed beside him…
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Overstrand in the Great War

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This new book, published by Poppyland Publishing with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and Overstrand Parish Council, tells the story of all the soldiers, sailors and airmen of Overstrand and Suffield Park who died in the First World War. It also gives accounts of those who returned to the village after the conflict.

With 208 pages & colour throughout, ‘Overstrand in the Great War’ provides a fitting tribute to the young – and sometimes not so young – men and women of Overstrand and Suffield Park from a century ago.  General the Lord Dannatt kindly contributes a foreword and puts their sacrifice and service into the context of the continuing commitment required of our armed services.

Author – Tim Bennett

Military Research – Martin Dennis

Intellectual inferiority & other excuses…

Millicent FawcettIt is interesting to read reports of early attempts to promote the case for women’s suffrage.  In this extract from the Bury Free Press, July 1871, Millicent Garrett Fawcett argues against multiple reasons given by men (and anti-suffrage women) against emancipation. She counters all arguments rationally and eloquently, but forty years later the government of the day still refused to grant votes to women.

“Mrs Fawcett, who, on presenting herself, was loudly cheered, then proceeded with her lecture, which was a resume and refutation of the argument used by the opponents of women’s rights to the franchise in the House of Commons on the second reading of the Woman Suffrage Bill. 

These arguments she enumerated as follows:  That women were represented already, that to give them votes would be to give two votes to their nearest male relation, or to their favourite clergyman; that it would occasion domestic broils; that it would destroy family government, which was necessarily despotic; that women were intellectually inferior to, and physically weaker than men, and therefore ought not to have the franchise; that home was woman’s sphere, that women were superior to men, and would be deteriorated by contract with the ruder life of men; that the line must be drawn somewhere for if women got votes they would demand to be admitted to Parliament; that women did not want votes; that women were by nature conservative; that women could not be soldiers; that the deference and courtesy now shown to women would be lost; that women suffrage would be destructive of the foundation of society, and obliterate the distinctions of sex; that the Bible said nothing about it; that reason must prevail; that authority was against it. 

To each of these objections Mrs Fawcett replied seriatim, and concluded by contending that the suffrage was not only woman’s right, but that woman, man and society would be improved by her possessing it.  She was much cheered, and received the thanks of the meeting, as did Sir R Murchison for giving the use of the theatre.