Titanic’s Greater Manchester People
This blog is written by Lauren Jaye Gradwell. Lauren has over 15 years' worth of experience in researching family trees, assisting with history research projects, transcribing historical documents and helping people learn more about their own family history. She is currently working on her project Greater Manchester's Titanic People, researching the lives of people with links to Greater Manchester who were onboard the RMS Titanic 1912. Lauren is hoping to publish a book on this subject, but at present she is still gathering information. If you think you can help do please contact her and www.polarisgenealogy.co.uk
Many people grow up being aware of history, and live with the faint knowledge of historic events of national and local importance. Sometimes these historical events and people are evident in the very places we live in, on local buildings, historical sites, architecture, gravestones, or on display on thousands of blue plaques and interpretation boards across the nation. All a part of the local character and furniture of the everyday life which we live and take for granted.
Anyone with an interest in history or a place is generally told by other historians to look up, to pause and take notice of what is around them, taking a moment to learn and think about the historical events of the past and the people who lived before us. But most of the time we are all busy getting on with our daily lives, not really being aware of historically significant events that may have happened on our very own doorsteps.
Sometimes though it’s good to pause, to look around us or where we live, to discover and think about these local places or people, and recognised their importance in our lives, and maybe ask a few questions and see where those questions take us, this is what happened to me.
All my life I’ve been interested in history and genealogy, and spend a lot of my time reading and researching the local history of Greater Manchester and its people. But I can admit to not being fully aware of my own local history, because all my life, near to my home, I’ve seen a metal blue plaque on the side of a building on Lower Bent’s Lane, Bredbury, one of thousands across the country. This one occasionally sparked my interest because it is dedicated to Crewman William Watson, who was lost on the RMS Titanic on April 15th 1912.
Since childhood I’ve had a strong interest in the RMS Titanic and the story of the disaster. One of my earliest memories is of repeatedly watching Dr Robert Ballard discovering the wreak in 1985 on the National Geographic Secrets of The Titanic Documentary (1986) on video cassette, and as the years progressed seeing other Titanic documentaries and films such as a Night to Remember (1958) and Titanic (1997). I was fortunate enough to be in Belfast for the 100th anniversary event in 2012.
But over the years the plaque has just been a part of my local furniture, and not something I really thought about, until one day I stopped to look at it and thought, who was William Watson and why has he got a blue plaque dedicated to him? That brief thoughtful moment sent me on a deeper journey of discovery which has sustained me through a pandemic and continues to fill my interests today.
Embarking on my journey of discovery I first visited Stockport Local Heritage library, to view the information compiled towards the creation of the plaque, which now forms part of the Stockport Blue Plaque Trail across the Borough of Stockport. But the information available was only limited and it only led to me asking more questions about William. So I next moved onto online resources, Ancestry.com and Find My Past. Again the information was limited, but by chance I saw the Crew Agreement Document from 1912, containing the signatures and credentials of the Titanic’s crew. Examples included J. Butterworth, Manchester, Steward, and Leonard Taylor, Glossop, T.B. Attendant. This again led to me asking more questions, how many people from the Greater Manchester area were onboard the ship when she sank in 1912? How many were lost? how many were saved? Who were these people? How did they end up onboard? and what happened after the disaster?
Since then, to try and answer my questions, I have travelled extensively around the country, visiting numerous local archives and study centres. Trawling through miles and miles of newspapers on microfiche, spent countless hours researching information from books and online resources. Shielded myself at home during the pandemic, using the project to keep my mind focused during our darkest months, and since being given back our freedoms, I have been following in the footsteps of the people whom I have researched. Visiting the places where they were born and lived, trying to understand better who they were and how their lives were shaped with their eventual departure on the ship, before travelling on to destiny.
My own eventual destination will be with the creation of a publish book on the lives of Greater Manchester’s Titanic People. But at present this project is still ongoing and has many more destinations of discovery to be made. My estimation is there are approximately 30-40 passengers and crew with links to Greater Manchester who found themselves onboard the RMS Titanic during her short existence. Each person is a life, a story worth discovering and telling, but each with their own questions that need answering. Many more hours of research is still to be done, many archives still to be visited, and hopefully the chance to meet with relatives and descendants of these people. Helping answer the questions I had from first looking at William Watson’s plaque in Bredbury.
So after reading this blog, look outside, ask a question and see where it takes you. Hopefully you will be inspired to go on your own journey of historical discovery and learn more about the place you live in, and get a deeper understanding of the people who came before you and where you are from.