Sinking of the Titanic - Horsham’s links to historic event

JPCT-20-02-12 Titanic. West Sussex County Times, archive 1912 edition reports. The Titanic Disaster.
JPCT-20-02-12 Titanic. West Sussex County Times, archive 1912 edition reports. The Titanic Disaster.

Head of Digital Steve Payne has looked at the West Sussex County Times of 1912 to discover how the Horsham district reacted to the Titanic sinking and how for some families the disaster was very personal.

WHEN the Titanic sank 100 years ago on April 15 the world sat up and took notice.

JPCT-20-02-12 Titanic. West Sussex County Times, archive 1912 edition reports. The Titanic Fund.

JPCT-20-02-12 Titanic. West Sussex County Times, archive 1912 edition reports. The Titanic Fund.

A century on and the interest is just as intense.

As was the case with every other newspaper, the West Sussex County Times reported on the tragic events 100 years ago, receiving news items from national news agencies, as well as reporting on local events.

Back in 1912 the County Times was published on a Saturday so readers had to wait five days before reading their local paper’s take on the disaster.

Many would have already heard about the tragedy from daily newspapers and word of mouth.

Horsham’s close link to the tragedy was announced in the paper’s very first article.

While the fate of many of the crew and passengers on board was not known for several days, it quickly became clear that John Charman, whose mother lived in Horsham, had perished.

John James Charman, aged 25, was the son of a family well known and highly respected in the town. Indeed, there were and still are several Charmans in the Horsham district.

While his parents previously lived at Cuckfield and Holbrook, his widowed mother in 1912 lived at at 19 Burford Road in the town (the family had moved here from Gardeners Cottage, Pondtail Road, sometime between 1891 and 1901).

It soon became apparent that this family tragic tale was even sadder.

John’s mother was blind and depended on his income and contributions from her other children to get by.

The last letter Mrs Charman received from her son is full of pathos, in which he wrote: “I hope to make a bit of money this trip, so you will be all right when I come home, don’t worry, dear Mother.”

John had originally started work in the Horsham area as a hall-boy. He was then a valet and next a waiter, travelling round to find work in Alfold, London and Slough.

He spent two years in Southampton as a waiter at the Star Hotel until he secured a berth as a second class steward on the Titanic.

It seems he had been a popular young man and was remembered fondly at Horsham’s Brighton Road Baptist Church where his family had been regulars in the congregation.

At a service soon after the tragedy the Rev Adam Waugh said: “Mr John Charman was a bright young fellow, the son of one of our most respected members of the congregation, upon whom the loss has fallen as a crushing load.

“John Charman was formerly a Sunday School scholar belonging to us, and we deeply lament his premature end.”

Early on there were reports about other local men feared drowned.

One mentioned by the County Times was “a young fellow named Burrage, of Billingshurst”.

He formerly played for Bishopric Wanderers football team and had also turned out for Billingshurst.

However, Alfred Burrage was one of the lucky ones, rescued in a lifeboat.

Also in the article it was revealed that a Slinfold man was missing, feared drowned.

David Reeves, 36, a second-class passenger whose parents lived in Hayes Lane had not been accounted for.

He had missed sailing on the ‘Philadelphia’ and had been transferred to the Titanic.

He was on his way to Cleveland, Ohio, where he had a brother-in-law.

He also had a sister in Billingshurst and another near the family home in Slinfold.

Sadly, he too died, and if his body was recovered, it was never identified.

Virtually every church service in the Horsham district paid respects to the many who had lost their life.

There were memorial services the day after the sinking at the Congregational Church and the Salvation Army Barracks in the town.

At the Congregational Church, the pastor said: “No one had yet realised to the full the extent and meaning of this terrible catastrophe, the broken hearts, the desolated homes, the shattered hopes, the national loss.”

The Rev Walter C. Talbot rather controversially went on to say: “Surely this appalling wreck will create a public opinion amongst the nations which will put an end to the mad racing across the seas and also to the building of such gigantic vessels with their vast freight of human life and the consequent peril.”

However, the reason for Mr Talbot’s emotional appeal was revealed when he announced that a great friend of his, William Stead, had died on the ship - they had been boys together at school.

Stead was a journalist and pacifist on his way to New York City to give a lecture on world peace at Carnegie Hall.

The Rev Talbot hen talked about John Charman whose mother he had met shortly before. “Her heart is aching in its bitter woe, but God is her refuge and strength.”

A Titanic Disaster Fund was quickly set up nationally and the Horsham district gave generously.

At church services there were collections and more than £6 was raised at the Parish Church in the Causeway, St Mark’s amassing nearly £3 and £5 at the Congregational Church.

Horsham Recreation Silver Band’s had its own collection, raising £10 for the disaster fund, while Horsham Town Band handed over £7 10s.

A ‘charity’ football match was quickly arranged and Horsham Town faced a District League team at Horsham Football Club ground.

The event opened with the Town Band and and displays by the Church Lads Brigade.

The County Times reported that “Scouts with their bicycles went through some interesting evolutions” to further entertain the crowd.

Horsham won comfortably 5-1 and £8 7s 8d was added to Horsham district’s fund contribution.

Apart from references to the inquiry that followed the tragedy, this was the end of the County Times’ coverage of the event.

A few weeks later, though, the paper reported that “progress is being made in the construction of the huge new White Star liner”.

It was noted that plans had been adapted over the bulkheads to make them more secure than those the Titanic had been given.