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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.


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.


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.”


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!



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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

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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.

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On coming 93rd without trying

It’s a very strange sensation, coming 93rd in the Total Politics poll of the 100 favourite Labour blogs. It means I’m fractionally more popular than Austin Mitchell, who came 99th. I am unsure how to deal with this level of celebrity.

What feels most strange is I really don’t deserve to be in the list – though of course I’m grateful to whoever voted for me. I’ll try to blog more regularly to justify the touching optimism of their votes. But, truth to tell, the Total Politics poll wasn’t on my radar, and nor was this very occasional blog.

My glittering 93rd place was effortless. Literally effortless. I did absolutely nothing to win any votes, and seeing myself propelled to the coveted 93rd spot came as a bit of a shock. I had one of those almost-falling-off-chair moments. It felt a bit like winning a school prize for not doing any homework.

I’m reminded of the time I was in a team representing my (comprehensive) school in a public speaking competition. We finished second, defeated by our hated rivals, a grammar school. Finishing second – silver medal, general glow of achievement, better luck next time – it doesn’t sound that bad I suppose. But there were only two teams taking part. Young man, they were better spoken, said one of the judges. We woz robbed.

But life goes on. I have, I must admit, had a very off and on attitude to blogging, to the extent that my blog posts in the past year have been about as frequent as panda sex. In the autumn of last year I rediscovered a love of messing around with a video camera. Armed with the editing software on my computer, I’ve turned out some YouTube videos I’m more proud of than anything I’ve written in a blog. So maybe that explains why I haven’t been doing words – I prefer making movies.

But as there are clearly innumerable numbers of people out there with an eager interest in what I have to say as 93rd most popular Labour blogger, I’ll try to overcome my blog-block and write a bit more.

Meanwhile here’s a video I made of Streatham Labour’s hard-fought campaign this year that saw Chuka Umunna elected as our MP, and some Labour councillors of some merit (one is 93rd most popular Labour blogger believe it or not) re-elected.

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The Streatham Hub

I haven’t blogged in a while, but I gave an undertaking to publish the text of my motion to the Environment and Community Safety Scrutiny Committee this evening. They also look at Cultural Services (leisure centres, libraries, crematoria and so on). As I’m not a member of the committee (they scrutinise my doings as a Lambeth cabinet member) I could only suggest a form of words. But with one welcome tweak (thanks to Conservative Cllr Clare Whelan – ‘sympathises with’ rather than ‘notes’), the committee then proposed and passed the motion unanimously.

Anyway, here is the text of the agreed motion, which I hope speaks for the people of Streatham.

The Committee sympathises with the continuing frustration of the people of Streatham that an agreement between Lambeth Council and Tesco Plc has yet to be reached for the acceptable development of the Streatham Hub.

We note with concern and disappointment the absence of Tesco at the recent public meeting organised by Streatham Action and call upon Tesco to give a firm and public commitment to the future of the Streatham Hub scheme.

We further call upon senior Tesco representatives to attend a special scrutiny meeting to be held at an early date following Tesco’s March board meeting to answer questions from the Streatham community and councillors. Relevant Lambeth Cabinet members should also attend to answer questions.

We call upon Tesco to reaffirm their commitment to continuity of ice rink provision in Streatham and to honour its promises to provide a new ice rink and contribute towards a leisure centre, promises which were accepted by the people of Streatham in good faith – and which should be delivered in the same spirit.

Finally, we note with concern the closure of Streatham Leisure Centre due to the deterioration of the building and urge Cultural Services officers to pursue and deliver the provision of satisfactory temporary facilities in Streatham.

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January Videos

A handful of videos made in January, largely because I’ve been busy with ward and Lambeth issues. Here is my favourite, with some others accessible here.

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December Videos

Quite  a busy month, December, what with Christmas and all that.

Here’s probably the biggest video I made, and there are others here.

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