Lambeth and the Titanic

It’s 100 years to the day since the Titanic disaster. Hours after the unsinkable Titanic sank, the Cunard liner Carpathia had arrived on the scene and picked up the 710 survivors from the inadequate number of lifeboats provided by the White Star Line (20, with a capacity of 1,178 people). 1,514 people had perished.

This appeared in the next edition of the Streatham News to be published.

It refers to a Mr J D Hahn, of Streatham, who was thought to be a victim of the disaster. This presents something of a mystery, as there is no J D Hahn recorded as passenger or crew. Looking through subsequent editions of the paper, the story of Mr Hahn doesn’t appear to have been followed up.

What’s certain is that a number of people died who had a connection with the area we now know as the London Borough of Lambeth.

Victims

A definite victim from Streatham, which in 1912 was part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth, was Mr Richard William Smith, a 57-year-old widowed tea broker (for Reinach-Nephews and Co) residing at 53 Stanthorpe Road. He had embarked from Southampton on 10 April, occupying first class cabin A-19. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

It is recorded that the Titanic’s musicians played their instruments on deck to help keep passengers calm as the lifeboats were being swung out and the ship listed in the water, and it is said they played the hymn ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ as the Titanic sank and they died with it. Two of that band were Lambeth residents. Percy Cornelius Taylor, aged 32, was a cellist. He lived at 9 Fentiman Road, Oval. Georges Alexandre Krins, a 23-year-old Paris-born violinist, lived at 10 Villa Road, Brixton. Their bodies, if recovered, were never identified.

Also living in Brixton was W H Egg, 34, a Third Class steward, of 1a Trent Road, off Brixton Hill. He had previously served on the White Star liner Majestic. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

At 8 Lynton Mansions, Kennington Road, lived Rome-born Roberto Vioni, 18, a Waiter working in the panelled splendour of the A La Carte restaurant (located between the third and fourth funnel on B-Deck, managed by Signor Gatti). The Titanic was Roberto’s first ship. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

27 Tenison Street, Waterloo, was a lodging house which  20-year-old Jean Monoros, a Spaniard, gave as his address. He worked as an Assistant Waiter in the A La Carte restaurant, the Titanic being his first ship. His body was recovered by the Cable Ship Mackay-Bennett, which was chartered by the White Star Line to search for the dead. He was buried at sea on 21 April.

At 12 Mead Street, Kennington, lived 18-year-old Maurice Emile Victor Debreucq, Assistant Waiter in the A La Carte restaurant. His body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett. He is buried in Mount Olivet cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, far from his native France.

At 22 Albert Mansions, South Lambeth Road, lived 28-year-old Sauce Cook (in the A La Carte restaurant) George Baptiste Bietrix. The Titanic was his first ship. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

25-year-old Adrien Finnin Chaboisson, Roast Cook in the A La Carte restaurant, lived at 17 Kennington Park Gardens. The Titanic was his first ship. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

Survivors

Harry Senior, aged 31, a stoker, of 17 South Road, Clapham Park, survived the sinking. He gave an account of his experiences to the New York Times on 19 April:

“I was in my bunk when I felt a bump. One man said. ‘Hello, she has been struck.’ I went on deck and saw a great pile of ice on the well deck below the forecastle, but we all thought the ship would last some time, and we went back to our bunks. Then one of the firemen came running down and yelled, ‘All muster for the lifeboats!’ I ran on deck, and the Captain [E J Smith] said:

” ‘All firemen keep down on the well deck. If a man comes up I’ll shoot him.’

“Then I saw the first boat lowered. Thirteen people were on board, eleven men and two women. Three were millionaires and one was [White Star chairman, J Bruce] Ismay.”

The fact of Ismay entering the first lifeboat, putting himself before his passengers, would lead to him being reviled for the rest of his life, labelled as ‘The Coward of the Titanic’. He died, disgraced, in 1937, the same year as Harry Senior.

Newlyweds Daniel and Mary Marvin (nee Farquarson) gave their last address in London as 58 Acre Lane, Brixton. They were both 18, from wealthy families and First Class passengers. Daniel died in the sinking, after helping his wife into boat 10, saying “It’s alright, little girl. You go. I will stay.” Mary would later remarry and lived until 1975.

The last Lambeth-connected survivor I know of was also the last survivor to be rescued from the water. Thomas Whiteley was an 18-year-old Saloon Steward. On 27 April he told the Stevens Point Journal:

“I floated on my life preserver for several hours,” he said. “When the sun came up I saw the collapsible raft in the distance, just black with men. They were all standing up. Mr. Lightoller, the second officer, was one of them.
‘It’s 31 lives against yours,’ he said, ‘you can’t come aboard. There’s no room.’ I pleaded with him in vain, and then, I confess, I prayed that somebody might die so I could take his place. I was only human. And then someone did die and let me aboard.”

Whiteley, from a stage family, would later take to the boards in the USA giving talks about the Titanic disaster and how he survived it. In World War One he served in the Royal Flying Corps. In the twenties he was back in America appearing in musical comedies and later in several Hollywood films.  In 1932 he returned to the UK, married and lived with his wife Isabel and their two daughters in Streatham. At the outbreak of World War Two he rejoined the RAF, 87th Squadron, and served as a Warrant Officer until his sudden death in 1944, aged 50. He is buried in the Ancona War Cemetery in Italy.

London Nautical School, situated in Stamford Street in Lambeth, between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges, was founded in 1915, as a consequence of the official report by the Board of Trade into the loss of RMS Titanic. The school is a selective boys’ secondary, with an ethos aiming “to educate and prepare pupils to meet the needs of society either at sea or in any other occupation where responsibility, attention to duty and regard for others are valued equally with academic and practical skills.”

Postscript

This poem, The Wreck of the Titanic, appeared in the Streatham News of 20 April 1912, penned by someone named Honor Drury. For context, there was much scorn being poured on the Suffragette movement in the Streatham News at the time, and it was obviously hard to resist having a swipe at the Suffragettes in the middle of lamenting a huge maritime disaster.

The Titanic has sunk in her glory

With over a thousand souls,

The greatest liner in story -

And o’er her the broad ocean rolls!

The broad ocean rolls on for ever

While England sorrows aghast.

For her brave ones returning never

Who stayed with the wreck till the last.

For the rule of the sea prevailing

The women and children they save,

While in chivalry ever unfailing

The men found a watery grave.

Ye mothers and wives of England,

Who for women’s rights now pray,

Think on the wrecked Titanic -

Ye had your rights that day!

Rights ye have held through the ages,

Rights which still hold sway,

Though fiercely the Suffragette rages,

Think, will ye throw these away?

But the children of earth will struggle,

And labour and toil away,

While their newest and proudest achievement

Nature destroys in a day!

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Letter in the Evening Standard

This letter was printed in the Evening Standard on Friday 8 July, under the headline ‘Ending the rabid red-top culture’.

‘An unethical, vicious culture has grown up around a particular brand of journalism’

FAR from drawing a line under anything, the News of the World’s closure opens another range of issues. There are lots of journalists I like who have worked on the paper, but there has obviously been an endemic culture of obtaining information by illegal means. For Rupert Murdoch merely to relaunch the NoTW under the banner of a seven-day-a-week Sun is laughable.

He won’t want to let go of the formula of the country’s most successful Sunday title. The efforts made to hang on to Rebekah Brooks, while letting go 200 NoTW journalists, indicate an extraordinary amorality. Brooks, as editor at the time of the alleged Millie Dowler hacking, should surely have insisted on carrying out her intention to resign and pressure should be kept up on the organisation until she goes.

An unethical, vicious culture has grown up around a particular brand of journalism. The Press Complaints Commission has been toothless for years and it is not in the press’s interest to police its members’ behaviour properly. Professional codes of conduct are far too lax. I believe there is a case for statutory regulation, while protecting press freedom within that. It’s not so much about journalistic censorship, but censoring the worst excesses of behaviour (there’s an equivalent problem to be tackled in the police of a culture of taking money for information). At the very least, a decision on Sky’s ownership should be put on ice, until the Murdoch media shows it has commitment to the decent values of British people.

Cllr Mark Bennett

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My Tribute To David Cairns

Me with David in his office at the Scotland Office, 2008

I’ve been asked to share the words of the tribute I gave to the late David Cairns at the recent Lambeth Council meeting, two days after his death. Because of David’s three years as a priest in the borough, Lambeth councillors felt we should pay our respects in the formal setting of the council chamber. Because I was a friend of David, I was asked to speak about him. The entire council stood afterwards and observed a minute of silence for David, and also Cllr Tayo Situ, the late Mayor of Southwark.

Here is what I said about David.

Thank you, Madam Mayor.

I am grateful to have this opportunity to pay tribute to a man whose life, he admitted, was altered by his years in Lambeth. David Cairns was the Member of Parliament for Inverclyde from 2001 until his tragically early death on Monday night at the age of 44 after a cruel and sudden illness.

But David’s working life started on a different course. He was a Catholic priest at St Mary’s in Clapham from 1991 to 94, serving a parish that includes both Clapham wards, and parts of Ferndale, Larkhall and Thornton.

Clapham, David said, is “the kind of place where the very rich and the very poor live next to each other”. He recognized the problems such proximity of wealth and poverty, of conspicuous success and social deprivation, can present, saying: “It became clear that political action was going to be part of the solution.”

So he left the priesthood, finding expression for his religious and political beliefs as director of the Christian Socialist Movement.

He then became parliamentary researcher to Siobhain McDonagh, the MP for Mitcham and Morden, a job I inherited from him, which is how our friendship started. In 1998 he was elected as a Labour councillor in Longthornton ward in Merton, which borders Streatham South and shares a similar demographic. He later shared much good advice about representing an area like Streatham Vale, including his political theory of conservatories – which is that you can never be a good political representative if you can’t understand why anyone might want a conservatory. I hope Cllr Mark Harrison, who has been David’s parliamentary researcher for the past few months, has taken the conservatory theory on board as a guiding principle for his political career. 

David was as able a councillor as he was a diligent researcher, helping residents with the compassion he had once brought to the priesthood. Though a very strict Chief Whip in Merton, as Cllr Kingsley Abrams may remember from his previous life in our neighbouring borough, David was unafraid to throw the occasional cat among the pigeons on behalf of constituents, as when he publicly compared Merton’s Planning Committee to the Taliban over its uber-dogmatic adherence to an outdated Unitary Development Plan. My constituents in Streatham Vale would probably thank him for characteristically standing up for common sense, resulting as it did – eventually – in the regeneration of several large derelict eyesores near the borders of my ward.

David was elected to Parliament in 2001 in the constituency where he was born. He would serve Inverclyde with distinction, and was a respected minister in the Blair and Brown governments, before resigning in 2008 for reasons which are well known. He championed an array of causes in Parliament, from a local campaign to stop the closure of the Clyde Coastguard to the global scourge of HIV-AIDS.

David was highly intelligent without arrogance, warm, witty, wise; great company, a born storyteller but also an enthusiastic listener. His knowledge on myriad subjects ranging from Brixton-born David Bowie to Abraham Lincoln (no known connection to Lambeth) was encyclopedic.

He had much more to give to politics, not just to his party, but also to re-establishing politics as a vocation for good people to serve others. His early death is deeply sad and unjust on so many levels. 

Bearing in mind the significant effect that the life of Lambeth had on David’s life, I know we will all wish to express our condolences to Dermot, his partner of many years, and his brother Billy and father John.

Thank you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Streatham On The TUC March For The Alternative

Over a hundred members of Streatham Labour Party took part in the TUC’s March for the Alternative on Saturday 26 March. Here is a video I made on the day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Campaigning, Politics

The Grid Guru And The Smoking Room

Me with Paul

Last night I was at Walkers, just off Whitehall, at retirement drinks for Paul Brown, who has been the guardian and guru of the government grid for the past 12 years.

I first met Paul in the smoking room at No 10, which was a dingy little room in the basement where the smokers in the building would come and go through the day. It doubled as the cleaners’ changing room. They also made their toast in there, which added to the unique aroma of ash and smoke, scorched bread and furniture polish.

There was a large table in the middle which smokers would sit around, shooting the acrid breeze before returning to their desks. At various times of day you’d see Jon Cruddas, then working in Tony Blair’s political office, drawing on a fag, thumb on cheek, brow furrowed, like he was playing a tricky poker hand. Or Anji Hunter, bustling in for a brisk, businesslike nicotine fix, aiming shrewd questions at members of the smokers’ focus group – ‘Mark, how would you describe the Third Way in one sentence?’. Er. Cigarette three quarters smoked, she’d rearrange whichever floaty scarf she was wearing, delve into her bag for her breath freshener, a quick spray, and off she went.

It was a democratic, gossipy gathering of people doing jobs at all levels. Detectives, Garden Room girls, messengers, IT, press officers, duty clerks, policy advisers.  It was in the smoking room that a chat with the head of IT, when I mentioned that I was looking for a flat, led to me buying his place in Streatham. It’s the flat I still live in, twelve years on.

A not infrequent visitor to the smoking room was the cardiganed figure of Paul Brown. He rolled his own cigarettes in the very precise, meticulous way that characterises everything he does. He was always interesting to chat to, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of, amongst other things, civil war battlefields, a sphinx-like smile and an ability to calmly take everything in his stride. When you’re dealing with the competing and sometimes antithetical policy and media demands of ministers and their departments, that’s a required quality.

Paul is rightly highly regarded as the civil servant par excellence, totally professional, hard-working and completely without the vanity that sometimes infects people who are doing important jobs. Whatever you think about the management of communications, through his management of the grid of events and announcements, Paul has done an enormous amount to make government communications more strategic and effective, serving three prime ministers – Blair, Brown and Cameron.

So I think it was a measure of the respect and affection Paul has earned over the years that the bar at Walkers was a friendly crush of people from Downing Street and Whitehall, past and present. It was nice to catch up with some old colleagues, Labour and civil service, and chat to some of the current bunch of No 10 staffers.

Paul has been one of the back-room heroes, and I wish him well in his retirement from Downing Street, and all the things he does in the future. And it’s good to hear he has successfully given up smoking.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Fictitious Birds Made Of Paper: Streatham Common Kite Day

I must echo the words of Dr Samuel Johnson, a frequent visitor to Streatham, who once said: ‘I am a great friend of public amusements, they keep people from vice’.

I don’t know whether Dr Johnson ever attempted to fly a kite. He defines a kite in his dictionary as ‘a fictitious bird made of paper’. If he did ever try kiting, I’m sure he’d be very impressed by Streatham Common Kite Day. It’s a public amusement and vice-free. And if that’s not enough to enthuse a weary lexicographer, there’s a bouncy castle and face-painting. Dr Johnson would have a whale of a time.

I’m looking forward to the simple fun of Streatham Common Kite Day on 10 April. Not because I’m a proficient kite flyer – most of my attempts have been, as Dr Johnson might say, tragick. But I love the multi-coloured spectacle of hundreds of kites flying high above the broad green expanse of the Common.

I like the camaraderie of the event, where dedicated kiteologists show feats of airborne skill alongside people who come along determined to get their kites off the ground for more than five seconds. I also like the fact that Kite Day is organised by the community for the community, and attracts people from far and wide. It’s a proud expression of Streatham at its best.

And I’m doubly proud because it happens in my ward! To misquote Judy Garland’s closing line in Meet Me in St Louis, ‘I can’t believe it. Right here where we live. Right here in St. Reatham’.

Anyway, put some time aside on 10 April to visit Streatham Common. Buy, borrow or make a kite and bring it with you. Here is a video I made of last year’s Kite Day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Streatham

On Galliano And Streatham

John Galliano

When I hear the name Galliano, I don’t really associate it with Streatham.

My first thought is of the tall thin bottle of Galliano, a sickly yellow Italian liqueur, that used to stand behind the bar in the pub my parents ran. It’s the main ingredient of a Harvey Wallbanger, which in the Iron Duke wasn’t the usual tipple of choice – a pint of best was more the thing. But my parents had to keep a small supply of such things in an unassuming Berkshire pub, and keep dusting them, just in case the cocktail set pranced in.

My second thought would be of the excellent journalist Joseph Galliano, who I used to have dealings with when I was a Labour press officer.

Only thirdly would come fashion designer John Galliano. I knew vaguely of his connection with Streatham before his whole shameful ‘I love Hitler’ drunken tirade blew made the news. Galliano’s Streathamite credentials have been much quoted in the past few days, though only in the off-hand way that Naomi Campbell is always mentioned by journalists as being ‘Streatham-born’ when she does something wrong. Galliano, when he transgresses, is written about as ‘Streatham-raised’.

It’s all a shorthand for ‘Isn’t he or she actually a bit of a bad ‘un, a bit common, dodgy, dangerous?’, which of course ends up characterising Streatham in the minds of people who don’t live here.

Simon Callow, the distinguished actor, is ‘Streatham-born’ but you don’t read about that very often, if at all, in coverage of his career. Perhaps it’s because he talks with a plummy accent. Perhaps because he hasn’t committed any offence – if he did, I imagine he’d be written up as ‘Streatham-born’ in every paper.

Streatham has, and has always had, many good and strong things to recommend it, not least of which today is its diverse and vibrant community.  Streatham’s history, its past, is fascinating. Its present is promising, despite the recession. And its future is in the hands, not so much of local councillors like me, but of its young people. So it’s not fair to them that journalists persist, deliberately and lazily, in using and abusing Streatham as a badge of disrepute.

That said, what is John Galliano’s connection with Streatham anyway? We know, through the official blurb, that he arrived here from Gibraltar at the age of 6 in 1966. His father worked as a plumber, apparently in the area. The family seems to have moved quite soon after arriving in the UK, decamping to Brockley (Lewisham). So ‘Streatham-raised’ is therefore pretty tenuous. We know he attended St Anthony’s, a Roman Catholic primary in Peckham Rye (Southwark), some distance away. After that, Wilson’s Grammar School for Boys in Camberwell (Southwark). Thereafter, St Martins College of Art, also not in Streatham. So is he really all that connected with Streatham?

Galliano’s anti-semitic comments, made in a bar in Paris, were disgusting. We have two synagogues in Streatham, numerous churches and mosques. Streatham, a diverse place which is its strength, does not represent the mindset of people like John Galliano. As an openly gay man, he should also know and feel sorrow and anger for the 100,000 homosexuals imprisoned or locked away in mental institutions by the Nazis, and of the 15,000 who died in death camps wearing pink triangles. Being brought up a Catholic, he should feel sorrow and anger for the deaths of 3,000 Polish clergy at the hands of the Nazis. Above all, he should feel sorrow and anger at the fate of 6 million Jews.

It is obvious to me that living in the glittering, pampered bubble of high fashion in Paris, and being indulged for years in his behaviour, has been Galliano’s downfall, not any vague connection with SW2 or SW16.

Leave a comment

Filed under Berkshire, Streatham