Come with me into the graveyard, all human life is here

Category: Music Makers

The Titanic: a Gold Pocket Watch, Contentious Commemorations, and Graves

Last week at an auction room in a small Wiltshire town a watch was sold for £1.175 million.

Henry Aldridge & Son in Devizes hold biannual sales of Titanic memorabilia and, at six times the expected figure, this represented the highest price ever paid for a single item.

The gold pocket watch was once the property of John Jacob Astor, but its value lay not in the gold nor in its ownership, but in the fact that it was found when Astor’s body was recovered from the Atlantic seven days after the sinking of the Titanic.

In April 1912 the RMS Titanic set out on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Built in the Harland and Woolf shipyard in Belfast, and registered in Liverpool, the headquarters of the White Star Line, it was the largest and the most luxurious ship ever to sail. The opulence of the First-Class accommodation and public rooms was not extended to the hundreds of emigrants who travelled steerage, but even there the quality of the cabins was superior to the open dormitories common on most liners. The ship was described as unsinkable having sixteen watertight compartments on its underside which could be electronically closed if water entered them. Even if four of the compartments were flooded by a head on collision the liner was expected to remain afloat.

On the late evening of 14 April, the Titanic collided with an iceberg which damaged the ship’s plates below the waterline and five of the watertight compartments were breached. The ship began to founder and two hours and forty minutes later it sank. There would only have been enough lifeboats to accommodate one third of the passengers and crew had the ship held its full complement. As it was there were only places for half of them and in the disorganised evacuation the boats were launched barely half full. Of 2,240 people on board,1,517 people died from drowning or hypothermia.

The official inquiry into the disaster found that regulations on numbers of lifeboats that ships had to carry were out of date and inadequate; the captain had failed to heed ice warnings; the lifeboats had not been properly filled; the collision resulted from the ship steaming at too high a speed in a dangerous area. But it concluded that since all these were standard practice and not previously shown to be unsafe, the incident was an Act of God. New safety measures were recommended but no negligence was found.

The sinking of the Titanic has commanded extraordinary and enduring fascination. Immediately there were novels, poems, songs, art works, postcards, commemorative plates, and a silent film Saved from the Titanic starred the actress Dorothy Gibson who had in reality been one of the surviving passengers. Other badly flawed but high grossing films which followed in 1953 and 1997 served to increase the Titanic obsession.

The discovery of the wreck on the ocean bed in 1985 led to exhibitions of recovered artifacts and expeditions in submersibles for tourists to view the wreckage. One of those submersibles, Titan, itself imploded in 2023 killing everyone on board.

There are at least five Titanic museums and experiences in the USA, others in Canada, Ireland, and Britain. In South Africa, the businessman Sarel Gaus, and in Australia the billionaire Clive Palmer, abandoned grotesque plans to build full sized replicas of the Titanic when faced with prohibitive costs. In Sichuan in China a rusting hulk is all that remains of a similar project designed to be a floating hotel.

The centenary of the disaster in 2012 was commemorated with radio programmes, postage stamps and, with questionable taste, restaurants offering Titanic Themed Dining Experiences recreating the final dinner served in the first-class restaurant.

The Titanic Experience in Belfast, located on the site where the ship was built, also opened in 2012.

The Titanic Experience, Belfast
Located in the Harland and Woolf shipyard
The site where the ship was built, seen from the windows of the museum

Whether spawned by nostalgia for an age of luxury, the wealth of social history provided by the extensive reportage and collected artefacts, or by a degree of schadenfreude in the face of arrogance and hubris, Titanic mania shows no sign of abating.

But what of the victims and survivors? Only three hundred and thirty-seven bodies were recovered. One hundred and nineteen, mainly third-class passengers and crew, were buried at sea, and a further one hundred and fifty in Halifax, Canada. Only fifty-nine bodies were claimed and repatriated.

Most of the lost crew came from Southampton where seven hundred red dots marked on a floor map of the city in the museum identify the addresses of those who died. None of their bodies were brought back because White Star wanted to charge freight fees which families could not afford. At Southampton Old Cemetery there are sixty graves with Titanic associations, but all the names were added retrospectively when widows or other family members were buried.

Similarly, Ernest Thomas Barker, a saloon steward, buried at sea, is named on a family grave in   Highgate East.

In Romsey Abbey, a memorial remembers Bob Ward, engineer.

A memorial in Romsey Abbey

In Belfast, a memorial outside the City Hall commemorates twenty-two men from Belfast who died in the disaster.

Memorial to Titanic victims from Belfast: an allegorical representation with Death holding a laurel wreath above the head of a drowned sailor

A memorial garden established around the sculpture at the centenary houses bronze plaques naming all the victims.

Liverpool has a handsome memorial to the ship’s engineers at the Pierhead, and in the Philharmonic Hall a plaque to the ship’s orchestra.

Memorial to Titanic stokers and engineers, Pierhead, Liverpool
Lifesize sculptures on the memorial

In Eastbourne in 1914 the opera singer Clara Butt unveiled a tablet opposite the bandstand on the seafront commemorating John Lesley Woodward, the cellist in the orchestra. Woodward, whose body was not recovered, had previously played at The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne.

St. Giles Hill Cemetery in Winchester houses the grave of William Arthur Lucas, a seaman who survived the sinking, served in the First World War, but shot himself in 1921 on a train from Leeds to Kings Cross. He died in the Royal Free Hospital, the coroner returning a verdict of suicide while insane. Also remembered on the stone is his brother-in-law Montague Vincent Mathias, another seaman who perished on the Titanic and whose body was never identified. Gertrude Mathias (nee Lucas) commissioned the stone for her brother and husband.

Grave of brothers in law, Lucas and Mathias, who respectively survived and drowned when the Titanic sank. St. Giles Hill Cemetery, Winchester.
It is hard to distinguish the names for the grave is worn and covered in lichen

It is not uncommon to find graves where people are defined by their association with the Titanic, either as victims or less commonly survivors. But Albert Titanic Chadwick buried in Sherston, Wiltshire is neither. When I first saw his grave, I thought that he must have been born, and possibly christened, on the Titanic on the very day before it sank. But there were no Chadwicks on the ship, and the strange middle name remains a mystery. For all the bizarre souvenirs on sale in the aftermath of the disaster, it still seems extraordinary that anyone would name their child after such an event.

“Calm After Storm, Sinking of the Titanic.” Albert Titanic Chadwick, Church of the Holy Cross, Sherston, Wiltshire

Two graves hold men who have been cast respectively as villain and hero of the maritime tragedy.

The chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay, was one of only 20% of the men on board who survived, but his reputation suffered. He was vilified in both the American and the British press for leaving the ship when there were still women and children on board. An inquiry into the sinking concluded that he had helped other passengers before leaving himself on the last lifeboat on the starboard side twenty minutes before the ship sank and he was exonerated from blame.

Ismay kept a low profile for the rest of his life but has a conspicuous grave in Putney Vale cemetery in London. The unusual design by Alfred Gerrard, is composed of three stones representing the prow, mast, and stern of a ship.

The upright stone represents the prow of a ship and the chest tomb the mast

The upright stone representing the prow bears an inscription taken from the Epistle of James 3,4:

Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds,

yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whither so ever the governor listeth.

The chest tomb representing the mast bears scrimshaw like decoration with sailing ships and a compass.

Scrimshaw like designs on the chest tomb

On the top of the tomb is an extract from Psalm 107, verses 23-24:

They that go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters,

These men see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

A stone seat carved with plants and a verse by Elizabeth Barrett Browning represents the stern of the ship.

-The little birds sang East, the little birds sang West

And I smiled to think of God’s greatness flowed around our incompleteness,

Round our restlessness, his rest.

No controversy surrounds the memory of Wallace Hartley, and in his hometown of Colne in Lancashire, his reputation could not stand higher. He led the orchestra whose members stood on deck continuing to play amongst the chaos of the evacuation, attempting to maintain calm as the lifeboats were loaded. As the ship sank, survivor accounts describe them playing the hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee.”

None of the eight band members survived, only three of their bodies were found. Hartley’s body was not found until two weeks after the sinking, by which time news of the quiet courage and dignity of band’s last performance had spread. Wallace Hartley was returned to England and his father took the body from Liverpool to Colne where 40,000 people lined the route of the funeral procession.

In the Keighley Road Cemetery above Colne on a grey, windswept hillside a broken column symbolises a young life cut short, and above a carved violin and the music score of Nearer my God to Thee, is a simple epitaph:

Grave of Wallace Hartley in Colne

In the town centre a handsome memorial bust is flanked by a model of the Titanic planted around with blue and white flowers representing waves and icebergs.

Memorial to Wallace Hartley in Colne
Model of the Titanic

There may not be any gold pocket watches on display in Colne, but they have a romantic local hero of whom they may be justly proud.

Dusty Springfield: the Dark Side of the Sixties

I suspect that in every generation sexagenarians glance  wistfully over their shoulders and peer through their rose-coloured spectacles, bringing into fuzzy focus the years of their youth, inevitably a time of hope and optimism, when everything was lighter, brighter, and more exciting. But surely this temptation has never been greater than for those of us  who grew up in the Swinging Sixties. The soubriquet was not some post hoc addition, for even at the time it was in use, applied especially to Swinging London with its psychedelic fashions, Carnaby Street and Biba, and the London Sound: The Rolling Stones; The Who; The Kinks. London swung, it led the world – effortlessly.

Even in the provinces the glamour rubbed off. As I walked through the town to school each day, it was as though I were walking through a theatre with spotlights being switched on all around me. The grey-drab fifties were receding before an onslaught of colour. No more  the dirty yellow smog, no more soot-stained buildings, no more bomb sites and derelict houses. Every day  brought change: bomb sites were cleared, skips appeared outside empty houses, fresh paint brought shop fronts to life and boutiques mushroomed throughout the town. My previously monochrome world was transformed into a glorious technicolour environment.

 After school we headed to Granny’s Garden, our favourite boutique, where the young shop assistants perused the rails of mini-skirts, skinny ribbed jumpers, lace blouses, feather boas, ponchos, PVC raincoats and velvet jackets as eagerly as we did, and no one minded how many outfits we tried on in the communal changing rooms. We would emerge in our finery and bop around the shop, casting covert glances at ourselves in the many mirrors, as the latest pop music pulsated through the building. And no one seemed to care if, as was commonly the case, we left without making any purchases.

A far cry this from the two prim department stores which had previously held a monopoly as purveyors of frocks. Their air may have been headily scented, but such a pall of silence prevailed that we  had automatically lowered our voices to a whisper on entering. Middle-aged assistants guarded goods behind counters and clothes from the few racks were surrendered reluctantly with a careful counting of hangers.

Discos replaced dances: you could tell the difference because the music was louder and faster, a disco ball reflected the lights, and the over thirties gave us a wide berth.

No pop star epitomised this emergence from the chrysalis of the fifties as vibrantly as Dusty Springfield. With her abundant blond bouffant;  panda-eyed with heavy  black eye liner, eyeshadow, and mascara; her makeup completed with a pale pink lipstick; and all this sitting atop glittery, sparkly, frilly dresses, she was the Swinging Sixties, the glamorous girl we all aspired, hopelessly, to be. With a breathy sensuality which struck envy into our hearts,  her songs accompanied us through the sixties: “ I Only Want To Be With You;” “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me;” “Son of a Preacher Man.”

And yet, and yet, if I remove my pink spectacles and turn to face the sixties head on, was it all  quite so bright and shiny?

Even before Kate Millett took us by the hand in 1970 (the year of the publication of Sexual Politics) and guided us towards an understanding of Modern Patriarchy, articulating the need for a Second Wave of Feminism, jarring notes were already penetrating our consciousness.

Casual sexism labelled  young women “dolly birds” or just “ birds.” Infantalising and undermining, the derogatory terms implied  that an interest in clothes and makeup was incompatible with intellect. Meanwhile, even in academic schools, it was not unusual for a cohort of girls to leave at sixteen to go to secretarial college. One of my friends took this route and subsequently hosted a party peopled mainly by her new college friends and their soul mates, The Young Farmers. After one of the latter had tried, unsuccessfully, to stick his tongue down my throat, he informed me: “It’s not very attractive for a girl to have too many O-levels. Girls should concentrate on looking attractive, getting married  and entertaining for their husbands.” Too my shame I was left speechless. A short-lived boyfriend, with the air of one who considers himself emancipated, opined “I approve of women working…except when the children are young of course.” A friend’s father eyeing his daughter and me ruefully, expostulated: “But what will you girls do if you meet millionaires on the tube tomorrow, and they ask you to marry them, and you have to admit that you can’t cook?” We rolled our eyes at each other: there were just too many non sequiturs there for us to engage with the question at all.

Even after the 1967 Family Planning Act, GPs were often reluctant to prescribe the pill for unmarried women. In the last weeks of school, a GP was called in to give us The Talk: oozing with self-importance, he left us in no doubt that it was our responsibility not to enflame the passions of young men who might not be able to control themselves, and concluded with pompous self-satisfaction that he had never prescribed the pill for any unmarried girl without insisting that she first return in the company of boyfriend and parents to discuss whether this course of action was wise. I wondered even then how many unwanted pregnancies his sanctimonious attitude had facilitated.

And when the Abortion Act, making abortion legal up to the point of twenty eight weeks gestation, came into effect in April 1968, there were still a lot of hoops to be jumped through and care was needed to give the right answers to the two doctors and the counsellor who had to be convinced that this course of action was strictly necessary.

Barbara Castle, then one of only twenty-four women in Parliament, was not able to get the Equal Pay Act passed until 1970, and  then its implementation was delayed for  a further five years.

Not so rosy then, life for women and girls in the sixties.

Nor for other minority groups: the Race Relations Act of 1965 failed to address issues of discrimination in housing and unemployment,  and while the follow up legislation of 1968 may have prohibited overt racism, racist violence by far-right groups continued and casual prejudice against those with darker skins was widespread.

Similarly, it was not until 1967 that the Sexual Offences Act legalised homosexual practices between men over the age of twenty-one. For much of the sixties loving the wrong person  could make you a criminal. Even after the act was passed  widespread homophobia remained, breeding and cultivating  a fear of coming out and facing discrimination in the workplace, bullying, and hate crime. And although lesbianism had never been illegal, the same prejudices prevailed against gay women.

And  Dusty Springfield? When I discovered her grave in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin in Henley it seemed a strange resting place for the sixties icon. For if anywhere in England was untouched by the Swinging Sixties surely it was Henley. As the bright comet of the sixties flashed briefly across the twentieth century sky, this compact little town with its smart shops, elegant houses, cosy old pubs facing the river, and famous regatta held annually since 1893, looked a prime candidate for being the one to conform to older, more staid and sober ways.

Grave of Dusty Springfield, St. Mary the Virgin, Henley
In an unusual tribute someone has left a selection of press cuttings

But if there is a marked disparity between Dusty Springfield, the  embodiment of the Swinging Sixties, and the town where she rests, far more disturbing is the realisation that beneath the froth, fun, and frivolity of the sixties the dark evils of sexism, racism, and homophobia were still firmly rooted. Dusty Springfield, talented, beautiful, successful, and admired,  felt obliged to conceal her sexuality, keeping her relationship with the singer-songwriter Norma Tanega quiet, and living a reclusive life for a time to avoid the scrutiny of the British tabloids. She feared the prurient media attention that would lead to loss of contracts, and her authorised biography Dancing with Demons recounts her tortured fear  that it could end her career if she were exposed as a lesbian. Sadness and despair emanate from the pages of the book.

And so, despite the temptation in these gloomy days, to gaze back nostalgically at the sixties, I am resisting their lure. And if the present days lack the joyous optimism of those times, still much of the bigotry and prejudice which also characterised them, though by no means eliminated, have unquestionably declined. Swinging those years may have been, but  a certain darkness lay beneath their technicolour surface.

Kate Millett, Sexual Politics, Doubleday, 1970

Penny Valentine and Vicki Wickham, Dancing with Demons:The Authorised Biography of Dusty Springfield, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2001.


Growing up in a provincial town in the northwest in the 1960s we felt about as far away from Swinging London as it was possible to be. A strictly enforced school uniform of navy-blue serge skirts, hemlines below the knee, and pudding basin hats above scraped back hair did not help. King’s Road and Carnaby Street, Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks existed in a parallel universe to which we did not have the key. Just a hop, skip and two short train rides away however was Liverpool, home of the Merseybeat, the city where our mothers occasionally took us shopping. We were familiar with the “ferry cross the Mersey” and the “statue exceedingly bare,” knew the whereabouts of Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. The Cavern however remained as mysterious to us as Ronnie Scott’s or The Marquee, being a bit too young and our parents a bit too strict to allow us ever to penetrate its alluring, murky depths. Instead on Saturday afternoons my friends and I donned our miniskirts, carefully applied our white lipstick, matching white kinky boots if we were incredibly lucky, combed our long straight hair carefully, we imagined seductively, over one eye and congregated in someone’s bedroom to play the latest singles. We were loyal to the local sound and The Beatles featured heavily, indeed it was essential to have a favourite Beatle (mine was George), along with Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Searchers, but the one we all liked best was Cilla. We loved her for her talent, her smile, for being a girl standing up alone on stage confidently belting out her songs and most of all because we really could believe that she was the girl next door, someone’s older sister, a more sophisticated version of ourselves who might irritate us immensely by referring to us as kids but who would always be on hand to help out when the eyeliner went wonky.

So, on a recent visit to Liverpool, I took a bus to Allerton Cemetery and sought her out. Allerton is a large municipal cemetery, and it houses some imposing graves but true to form Cilla was tucked up, near her mam and dad, beneath a very ordinary black stone. Well, not quite ordinary for the gold script bore familiar lyrics: extracts from Step Inside Love, Alfie, and You’re My World

I read them, I smiled, I was transported back to those Saturday afternoons when my friends and I sang along with more enthusiasm than tunefulness – always careful not to let our emotions get the better of our mascara. And I have no doubt that when darkness falls and the cemetery gates are locked for the night Cilla’s voice rings out leading her fellow residents in a hearty chorus of “You’re my world, You’re every breath I take, You’re my world you’re every move I make” bringing smiles to their faces as she did to ours more than half a century ago. Thanks, Cilla.

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