Southampton Daily Echo Editorials

SeeSouthampton provide weekly historical articles to the Daily Echo. Please find a selection of these articles; other articles are linked to from our Facebook page.

Speeding Through History
A famous map maker, a poet and a respected historian

John Speed is a familiar name in Southampton because of three publications each involving a different John Speed.

The first is the plan of the town published in 1611 in John Speed’s atlas “The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine”. Southampton’s plan was included with the map of the Isle of Wight as there wasn’t room on the Hampshire page. Speed probably visited the town to survey his plan. He was born in Cheshire in 1552 but lived in London. He was a tailor who early in life turned his hand to map making, and developed a keen interest in history. He was encouraged in his work by several patrons including Elizabeth I and James I. He married Susanna Draper and had a total of 18 children including a son also named John.

The second publication is a poem written by John Speed the cartographer’s grandson. This John was born in 1628 at Oxford and was a scholar at St John’s College. As a Royalist he was turned away from the College for defending the King, and in 1648 he lived at Grove Place, Nursling with Sir Henry Knollys, whose mother was Margaret Fleming. Sir Henry had been a loyal servant to Charles I.

In 1667 John Speed settled in Southampton where he practised as a doctor and lived behind Holyrood Church. It was here that he met Bartholomew Kempster, the parish clerk who was renowned for his verse. Kempster had written verse about the doctor who replied with a poem he published as a book called “Batt upon Batt. A poem upon the Parts, Patience and Pains of Bartholomew Kempster, Clerk, Poet and Cutler of Holyrood

Parish in Southampton”. This went to seven editions with two editions published after Speed’s death in 1711. It would appear that Southampton was populated by men of verse as Isaac Watts was also a resident at that time. Speed was Mayor of Southampton in 1681 and again in 1694. It is the son of this John Speed whose tomb is in Holyrood Church.

The final publication is “The History and Antiquity of Southampton” written by the great, great grandson of the cartographer with whom he shared the same love of history and was born in Southampton in 1703. This John was also a doctor and lived behind Holyrood Church. Just a short walk from his home in front of Holyrood Church was the Audit House where the historical manuscripts of the Corporation of the Town were stored albeit in a state of some disorder. With access to these documents Speed produced the manuscript for his book. On his death in 1781 the manuscript passed to his son John who was the Vicar of Eling and from his widow Harriot, nee Davies, to the Corporation. It was published as a limited edition of 250 copies by the Southampton Record Society in 1909.


The last surviving tram driver
He spent his career on the trams and buses.

Meet 93 year old Ben Ventham, the last surviving Southampton tram driver.

Ben was born in 1926 and spent a lifetime working on the trams and then the buses in Southampton.
Although known as Ben his name is in fact Arthur. As a young man he was a Petty Officer in the Navy and lived in Southampton during all the preparations for D-Day. He was later deployed to the Far East for fifteen months and then went on to join the 14th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. Upon his return to Southampton, Ben got a job as a tram driver, but only having first passed his medical in Oxford Street.

Ben’s wife’s aunt and uncle, Stanley and Sheila Lovegrove, worked for Southampton Corporation Tramways, and so Ben thought he would apply to work there too. Ben is particularly proud of his wife’s Aunt Sheila who was a tram conductor during both World Wars as well as a tram driver!
During world war two trams and buses were often seen with bullet holes, or with their windows blown out and repaired with canvas. By 1945, Southampton was recovering from the bombing raids and blasts, and life for Sotonians was starting to get back to normal.
“To become a tram driver you had to gain experience as a tram conductor, practice 24 hours on your own time with a qualified driver, and then go up to Shirley to see a man called Burt Wheeler, who would test you to see if you were fit to drive”, Ben explains. Burt Wheeler obviously thought Ben was fit and so his life as a tram driver began.

In 1946 Ben was on £2 17s 3d per week (£2.86p today). He happily drove trams No 11 and 12, on the different routes, 6 days a week, 8 hours a day. Tram No 11 is still in Southampton, and a second tram can be seen at the National Tramway Museum located at Crich in Derbyshire.
The main tram depot was in Portswood Road at the time, and the other depot was in Carlisle Road in Shirley. The work atmosphere and camaraderie were good. The only problem was the bitter cold. Ben described how cold drivers would get, and reminisced about “putting on more layers and using newspaper sheets” under his vest. Yes, newspaper is a good insulator! In the winter Ben wore a uniform jacket and hat, a big cape on top, and gauntlets on his hands.

Southampton Corporation Tramways operated from 1879 to 1949, at first with horse-drawn trams and then from 1900 onwards they were electric powered. Ben drove trams for the last four years of their operation until 1949 when the trams were either sold off or scrapped. The graveyard for the scrapped trams was in Bevois valley.
After that, Ben and his colleagues were transferred on to the buses. His bus route was: Houndwell, Woolston, Bitterne, city centre, Hill Lane, hospital and Shirley. It took him approximately 1.5 hours to complete it, as there was no Itchen Bridge then only the floating bridge which was unsuitable for buses. He often drove the Royal Pier – Shirley – Royal Pier route and our photo shows him and fellow driver Tex taking a break at the Royal Pier.

Ben later became a regulator (making sure buses were running on time), a ticket inspector, a relief inspector and a depot inspector. He would oversee the driver’s weekly payment: flat rate, paid cash in a brown envelope with a pay slip. Under Ben’s watchful eye, all drivers would receive extra remuneration for overtime.

By 1964 Southampton gained “city” status, and the bus network became the City of Southampton Transport Department. After a career spanning 38 years Ben finally retired from the buses. He loved it, but admits that “trams were more fun to drive”


“Goodbye, goodbye! Lord have me…”
The story of the Titanic of the Channel Island

The ship shuddered again; as it did the woman at the rails threw her arms into the air crying “Good bye, Goodbye, Lord have me”. The survivors in the lifeboat watched in horror as the ship and the woman sank beneath the waves. Forty four year old Mary Ann Rogers, Chief Stewardess on the London and South Western Railway Company (LSWR 1838-1922) cross channel mail boat, the Stella, had refused all calls to save herself, fearing she would capsize the already overloaded lifeboat. Somerset born Rogers had moved to Southampton on her marriage, aged twenty-one, to seaman and LSWR employee, Richard Rogers. As a token nod to his wife’s birthplace, the young couple set up home in the aptly named Frome Villa in Clovelly Road. Their happiness was short lived. Tragedy struck when Rogers was six and a half months pregnant with their second child (a son Frederick) in a reflection of her own fate, her husband drowned at sea.

The derisory pension offered by the company forced Mary, now the main breadwinner, to take up employment with the LSWR knowing there would be at least the possibility of promotion and increased earnings. It is a testament to her moral courage, that despite her hatred of the sea and her continuing battle against sea-sickness, Mary achieved the grade of Chief Stewardess. She was noted for her “cheery, bright, capable ways and absolute calmness. Nevertheless, on that particularly sunny morning, March 30th, Maundy Thursday, 1899, the first daytime sailing of the season, Rogers and her ladies might have felt some unease if they had heard the Stella’s Captain, Reeks response to the ships ten-minute late departure. “I shall be on time if I break my neck to do it.”

This was no cavalier boast; several hours later, plunging in to a thick bank of fog, Reeks refused to lessen speed. The London Times reported that the fierce competition between rival companies, LSWR and the Great Western Railway (GWR) was “reckless and disgraceful, causing the Stella to founder on the Casquet rocks off Alderney. Foreshadowing the Titanic, the Stella only had sufficient lifeboats for 148 people. The passenger list was lost with the wrecked steamer but 112 survivors were picked up the following morning and the likely number of victims was 105, including a few in the lifeboats who had died of exposure during the night. The disaster was exacerbated by the speed with which she sank – 8 minutes – and the fact that one of the lifeboats sank as it was launched. Although the women and children first protocol had supposedly been observed, an inquiry later confirmed that at least 18 women and children went down with the ship and one lifeboat was rescued containing 24 men and one woman.

The resulting memorial, a fountain of Portland Stone on the Town Quay, has been named after the ship but it was erected by public subscription specifically in tribute to the selfless courage of Mrs Rogers. Some of the money raised was put in trust to help her aged father and orphaned son and daughter. Frances Cobbe’s inscription in memory of the stewardess was cast in raised lettering fixed to the central pillar and surrounded by the fountain’s six columns. In the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, she takes her rightful place in the “Noble Women” stained glass window.

She is also remembered on a glazed Dalton tile among the memorials for ordinary people who performed heroic deeds in Postman Park in the City of London.Nearly one hundred years after the event, in 1997, the memory of Rogers’ sacrifice has been reinforced by a bronze-coloured plaque unveiled in St. Peter Port Guernsey, as a memorial for the “Titanic of the Channel Isles”.


Social reformers in Victorian England
Building a church as well as a legacy

It is 160 years since the original Unitarian church in Southampton, founded by Edmund and Elizabeth Kell, opened for worship in March 1860. Today these once prominent Sotonians seem to have been largely forgotten. The 500 capacity Church of the Saviour in London Road was built in the Pointed Early English style and cost £2,600. Despite a lack of evidence of any professional qualifications, Kell employed his friend Philip Brannon as the architect. At its opening ceremony it was said to have been a labour of love for Brannon and described as elegant and “the cheapest church in Great Britain”.
In 1940 it was destroyed during the Second World War aerial bombardment of Southampton. Only the front door key survives today. It was then replaced in 1956 by a new church built on the corner of London Road and Bellevue Road. The present building in Bellevue Road was officially opened on 2nd June 1990.

The hall is hired by many local organisations. Edmund Kell (1799-1874) was born in Wareham, the son of the local Unitarian minister. He took an MA in Glasgow and then studied divinity at York. He followed his father in becoming a Unitarian minister, his first post taking him in 1823 to Newport on the Isle of Wight where he remained for 30 years. He moved to Southampton in 1853 and purchased land which had formerly been part of the Bellevue House estate on which he built a new church.
Edmund was shocked at the town’s drunkenness and disorder, and he concluded that the best way to tackle this was to build a drinking fountain so that not just alcoholic drinks would be available to people outside of their homes. This was such a new concept that he had to explain what a drinking fountain was.

The first drinking fountain in Southampton in 1859 was a result of collaboration between Edmund Kell and Charles Melly, a philanthropist from Liverpool. Originally at the bottom of East Street, today it is in Houndwell Park.
In addition to the temperance movement Kell was involved in many reforming projects in the mid-19th century, including in 1870 being on the local committee for women’s suffrage.

A member of the Society of Antiquarians, a keen archaeologist and historian, he was involved in a dig at Netley Abbey in 1860. Much was discovered; unfortunately, much was also destroyed. In Victorian fashion, they demolished all parts of the site they thought were post mediaeval, meaning that today we know comparatively little about Netley’s history as a Tudor and Stuart palace in the 16th and 17th centuries. Edmund Kell also persuaded the executors of the will of Henry Hartley to build the Hartley Institute in the High Street, which was the forerunner of Southampton University.

Kell’s wife Elizabeth (1803-1872) co-founded the church in 1860. She was also active in reform movements, notably in work with the town’s prostitutes. In particular she campaigned against the provisions of the Contagious Diseases Act 1864, under which women in naval and garrison towns suspected of being prostitutes were forced to undergo degrading examinations to combat sexually transmitted diseases. Men were not subject to the same scrutiny. Elizabeth believed ”No one, however humble or despised their station in life, is beyond the pale of sympathy of God and man.” After her death in 1872 Edmund built a school adjoining the church in her memory. Unitarians describe themselves as a spiritually diverse faith community and were the first in Southampton to enable same sex marriages. Theirs is a creedless faith which says: “We are a compassionate and inclusive community encompassing diverse spiritual paths. Our purpose is to help people meet their spiritual needs while promoting social justice.” Today they have a friendship with the Quaker movement and sometimes hold Eucharist and healing services with the Liberal Catholic church. The 19th century social reformers Edmund Kell and his wife Elizabeth are buried in Southampton Old Cemetery near the east side of the non-conformist chapel.

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