John Avery Heritage
Member Southampton Heritage Federation
 Sharing local history with the community
In 1967 the Queen Mary set off on her final voyage to Longbeach, California. This watercolour by Eric Crompton records the farewell.A stone carving on the RSH Hospital Chapel.An afternoon stroll on Plymouth Breakwater
John Avery is a Fellow of the Huguenot Society of Britain and Ireland, a member of Southampton
Heritage Federation, City of Southampton Society [Honorary Life Member], Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery [Honorary Life Member],  Friends of  Town Quay Park, National Federation of Cemetery Friends, The Southampton Fryatt Plaque, Devon Family History Society, West Country Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust , Landmark Trust, National Trust
Copyright 2018

   Home      Programme and description of talks

John Avery presenting the talk Flying Enterprise and the tug Turmoil to a U3A Group at Borden image by Will Temple

The Cholera Years

I first began presenting this talk in 2001 and it has remained an often requested talk by local history and family history groups. I have updated it from time to time. Cholera came to these shores and there were several outbreaks killing hundreds of our citizens, those fortunate to survive are no doubt some member of somebody's family tree. The government of the day floundered around looking how to treet the new threat. This varied from orders for churches to hold days of prayer and fasting or some saw it as God's wrath if a brother married the widow of a deceased man, others blamed cucumbers. From this era of course developed modern public health laws, filtration of water and safe disposal of sewage plus of course vaccines [and numerous cemeteries owned by local councils].
A cholera grave with multiple bodies within at Bere Ferrers on the Devon / Cornwall border copyright John G. Avery 2000.

I keep meaning to write to thank you for your talk at our Group recently.  Our members really enjoyed it - I had very positive feedback from it. [Lin Perry speaker secretary HGS Basingstoke Group March 2014]

Many thanks for the most interesting talk on The Cholera Years this week at our Brockenhurst meeting.  After hearing you mentioning the numbers dying in Southampton in 1848 due to Cholera I am now wondering if my great great grandfather and his infant son's death on the same day were due to that awful illness.  They are both buried in an unmarked grave at The Old Cemetery, Southampton. [Allison, HGS group May 2014]

I must admit knowing relatively little about cholera and the fact that it was the subject of today's talk I was probably a little uninspired but now after such an interesting presentation you have surprised and engaged us all and we are grateful to you for coming today. [Peter, Ringwood U3A 20th Nov 2014]

Dust on their Shoes

A search through those associated with Southampton by birth, residence or simply that was the place they chose to die in. I wanted a more punchy title so "Dust on their Shoes" seemed to sum it up. The talk follows a few well knowns such as Benny Hill, Block and Quale who gave the country its first supermarkets for DIY [also looking for a pithy name we got B &Q then on to lesser known Ellen Wren a prostitute whose death caused an outcry and brought about the building of social housing by the council.

John Melody Town Crier a focal of civic pride in Southampton

The City of Southampton Society

The Society a registered charity was formed as a civic trust and apart from a watchful eye on heritage, conservation areas and listed buildings [including graves and monuments] it actively engages with the council on planning projects such as the re development of the Royal Pier and Southampton Water Front. It takes issue on the large number of unoccupied luxury upmarket flats and the lack of 2 or 3 bed accommodation for families and the incorporation of a super casino in the plans proposed for the Water Front. It is regretfull that the only means seen necessary to fund the much needed improvement will be based on the increase in gambling often causing distress in families when it gets out of hand. The Society sometimes of course loses a case such as the carbuncles added onto the Grade II* Civic Centre which was designed in the 20/30's by E. Berry Webber.
City of Southampton Society members attending the ceremony of unveiling the commemorative plaque for a former leprosy hostel in Southampton. image courtsy Will Temple.The Mayor of Southampton Councillor Cathy Mc Ewing with secretary of City of Southampton Society Sue Sefton at the Green Open Spaces award ceremony, Queen's Park, Southampton 8th Sept 2016. Copyright Arthur Jeffery 

It was my duty today to propose a vote of thanks but has proved to be my pleasure to do so, thank you for such an interesting talk and I believe speaking on behalf of my fellow members, we will be asking you to return in the future. Eastleigh & Chandlers Ford Probus 13th January 2015

The Thetis Widows
A brand new submarine sank during sea trials, the Admiralty bungled the rescue and 99 lives were lost plus one of the rescue divers. A story of great shame especially when one of the survivors with a young baby could not get any wages as he could not produce his pay book. It was just at the outbreak of WWII and when the widows grouped together to claim compensation, the Admiralty would not allow building plans of the submarine to be produced in case it aided the enemy.

"The presentation was excellent. The facts tumbled from your mouth without any apparent effort or unsureness……… your talk was amongst the top three given to us in the last 15 years  Thank you."

"I was a member of your audience but had to rush away before I had a chance to speak to you after the talk. You were too popular and I had other commitments.

As an ex RN Submariner I was delighted to get the background to the Thetis Incident from an unbiased mouth at last. The results on the families was almost entirely new for me.

Again my thanks that you should have investigated this affair and given such an interesting and informed expose"

Don Hayward [IOWFHS Nov 2011]

"I travelled 70 miles to be here tonight and enjoyed the talk and images very much indeed" [a relative of one of the survivors] [Hampshire Genealogical Society Waltham Chase meeting]

"Just a quick note to say, on behalf of our group, a very big thank you for helping us out and stepping in to give us a most interesting talk. I think we all found is very moving and it must have taken endless research to gather together all the accounts of such a tragic disaster. It was an amazing story". 

With kind regards Liz Norman [Nursling and Redbridge History Group]


Remembering Captain Charles Fryatt

Southampton born Fryatt became a master mariner with the Great Eastern Railway and during WWI made many voyages from Harwich to neutral Holland. When challenged by an on surface U -Boat Fryatt ordered the steersman to aim SS Brussels to try to ram the submarine. Some 15 months later the Germans lay in wait and captured the Brussels. The male crew members were treated as POW's for the remainder of the war, the female crew members were released after 3 weeks following worldwide condemnation. Charles Algernon Fryatt appeared before a court martial, was found guilty and executed by a firing squad at Brussels. Proceeds from this talk will be donated to the Southampton Fryatt Plaque.
You helped to make it a very memorable day and I had a lot of great feedback at the end of the day.  Everyone enjoyed it. [Anna Welch SCMAS Workshop Day 28th feb 2015]

A Walk in a Victorian Cemetery
images copyright John G. Avery 2001
Not an actual walk but a virtual one although the talk does whet a further interest and in some cases following this talk a guided tour has been arranged by the Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery.
I co-founded the group of volunteers [the Friends] and with the every increasing cuts in council budgets Friends of Cemeteries provide much needed man and woman hours in conservation work throughout the country.
Some group secretaries have at first hesitated in case [usually older] members would find the detail "gloomy" or"depressing" but the places where the talks have been presented raises interest from family and local historians and of those interested in wildlife and fauna. These old cemeteries house a large and varied range of wildlife and the high quality images of butterflies and moths, fungi on trees and the quality carving of features in the area balances any feeling of morbid thoughts.

 The Quaker Businesses in Britain
We enjoy all of your talks said one local secretary but could you do one other than shipwrecks, death or disease? So for those needing "a happy ending" here is how the Quakers [Society of Friends] changed Britain's social history and helped to shape the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. From Cookworthy's porcelain to Rowntree's chocolate we find Quaker builders of locomotives and new banks such as Lloyds and Barclays being created on the way not forgetting Lister's discoveries leading to antiseptics.
Thank you for such an interesting talk and for coming at short notice to replace our speaker - I have to say we were to benefit as the facts were an eye opener to us. [Romsey Probus 3rd Sept 2014]  

 John Claudius Loudon
We all have memorable characters in our re-call of history. I wrote a book on cholera and this led me into cemetery conservation [and my start of presenting talks with the then recently introduced computer imagery]. Southampton Old Cemetery was the third municipal owned cemetery and it opened in 1846. The council engaged Loudon for its design but did not accept The garden of remembrance concept and decided to offer a prize [money] to the person creating the chosen design. By chance a local nursery owner [who happened to be a councillor] won the chance to create and develop the cemetery. I was so busy forming the Friends[volunteers] and taking cemetery tours as we developed I at first placed Loudon further down the queue. Then with a little more time I studied Loudon and soon was engrossed with the man so true to say now one of heroes of history, someone I would have for a hypothetical dinner guest.
Horticulturalist, designer, inventor, author here was the man who encouraged parks and the green belt around cities and advocated crematoriums. Although Southampton rejected his plan for its new cemetery he made fine contributions at Histon Road Cambridge and Bath Abbey and was so dedicated to his work [forfeiting sleep one night per week such was his drive]. We know the expression "dead on my feet" when extra tired or exhausted but that is just how he died working in his study.

Titanic's Peopletitanic Book of Remembrance housed in the Civic Centre, Southampton image by Will Temple
I wrote a small booket about the Mackay Bennett - the funeral ship at the Titanic disaster. That fact plus we had numerous Titanic headstones in the Southampton cemeteries led me to create Titanic's People, a talk that remains a popular choice [this has allowed me to donate a regular series of donations to the charity Seafarers UK].
With often someone in an audience with personal memories or family stories of a person on the ship, the customary Q & A at the end of a talk often brings up new interesting anecdotes.

"Many thanks for the lecture which was widely praised"
Dr Henry Will MBE [Ford Park Cemetery Trust April 2012]
"I would like to say many thanks for the very interesting and informative talk you gave at Ford Park Cemetery on Wednesday 25th April"  [Anne Roberts]

"I am pleased to send you a cheque* for the splendid presentation that you gave to us. Thank you also for making your booklets available for purchase. There is so much ‘real’ information in them. I am pleased that I bought a copy."

Barrie Clark [Bitterne Church Men's Group April 2012]

"We all enjoyed today very much (a proper thank-you letter is in the post to you). Thank you very much again".

Robert Long [Probus Southampton North]
"Everyone very much enjoyed your talk".  [Stephen Prince Southampton Luncheon Club]
"I began to take an interest in the Titanic about 5 years ago and now watch various TV programmes and attended various talks and lectures. You hit the right spot today and it is the best talk on the subject that has come my way, thanks for making it so interesting" [U3A Chandlers Ford attendee].
"Thank you again for your wonderful talk which we all enjoyed so much" [Boldre Historical Society April 2014]
*cheques for this talk are added to donations to Seafarers UK

Mary Seacole - The Lady without the Lamp
Mrs "Mother" Seacole was of mixed descent from the WI's. She had experience in dealing with cholera and yellow fever in the West Indies and mainland Central America. On learning of a war in the Crimea she travelled to London to offer her services to the War Department to join Florence Nightingale's nursing party but was rejected. With a relative of her late husband she went to the Crimea and set up the British Hotel where troops could convalesce and buy goods from her store. There are occasions when she treated the wounds of troops [including enemy troops] on the battlefield. Inevitably there are comparisons with Florence Nightingale at Scrutari, both the ladies providing great dedication and service. When the War ended Mary Seacole was destitute and a grateful nation spurred on by WH Russell in The Times raised funds to support her.
The talk highlights the hardship of the troops and that more died of infection and disease than the number killed in battle.

Knowing that I was to give a vote of thanks today and not knowing of Mary Seacole I ventured onto the internet where there was a wealth of detail about her [and Florence Nightingale] so was much looking forward to your talk. What we were not prepared for was the dreadful incompetence of those administering the troops and the huge loss through infections of the wounds so today well filled my ignorance of the Crimean War. This is your third talk to the club and we look forward to a return visit...perhaps a talk with a happy ending! [Twynham Probus Club 9th Dec 2014]
Thank you once again for your extremely interesting talk yesterday
evening and coming out to speak to us while you were not feeling 100%.  
I was so pleased we had a capacity crowd to hear all about Mary Seacole and also her connection with Florence Nightingale, the local lass. [Liz Grover, Nursling and Rownhams History Group 11th Dec 2014]  

Victorian Funeral Traditions and Mourning Practices
Cloaking mirrors, curtains drawn for long periods, jet jewellery, black clothes and if you were well todo paid wailers at the funeral. However as all were expected to go through the rituals almost to a timetable including impressive headstones it actually helped the grieving process.

The Tichborne Claimant
The famous story of how a butcher from a remote town in Australia turned up several years after the disappearance in a shipwreck of the Tichborne heir to claim his inheritance and title. Shorter in height and many stones heavier and lacking social graces the claimant convinced the greiving mother that he was her long lost son. Two trials followed one in the civil court claiming his inheritance and fortune and after he lost that claim he was arrested for perjury and one of the longest trials in British legal history was to follow.

22nd Sept 2014 Just to say many thanks for your fascinating talk tonight which now has me intrigued! Kind regards, Bruce.

I never did say a proper thank you to you for the Tichbourne Claimant talk; it was a very interesting and remarkable story.Thanks. Marian

The tragic story of SS Mendi
 South Africa sent black native troops to fight for the motherland in WWI. The Mendi on passage from Capetown to Le Havre called at Plymouth to pick up a destroyer escort. South of the IOW the Mendi was accidentally rammed and sank immediately with a huge loss of life. The ship causing the accident hoved to a few hundred yards distant but did not offer any help whilst the 600 men drowned. There are memorial plaques naming the men lost at the Holybrook Cemetery in Southampton. The South African government introduced a Mendi medal to recognise bravery and sacrifice.

 The Cable Ships of Turnchapel
In war and peace our cable ships ensured that submarine message cables linked up the Empire and the world.
A new era in communication came about making the world a smaller place as lines stretched across huge expanse of continents such as America and India. At first typed in code was used and the final breakthrough was the trans atlantic cable system.
The cable ships based at Turnchapel on the Cattewater off Plymouth Sound were run by the Admiralty and the private enterprise Commercial Cable. The talk follows the story of the Mackay-Bennett, the ship sent to recover bodies after the Titanic tragedy and other ships such as Marie Louise Mackay and John W. Mackay. In the WWII our ships went into enemy territory and pulled up the Italian submarine cable - and- this I rather like sold it back to Italy after the war.

The Cable Ships of Turnchapel "We were all looking forward to this talk. several of use served  aboard or worked on cable ships in the dockyard. We were not disappointed and it brought back many memories. Please come back with another talk next year." [Ian Denton, ex deck officer John W. Mackay, secretary Plymouth branch WSS]
"As usual your talks bring a lively response from the audience and the questions and answers were just as interesting as the talk itself" [Bill White Hampshire Industrial Archaeology Society]
"Again you have brought us an interesting talk from your range of topics, we are grateful to learn of the Mackay-Bennett and of other ships" [Sept 2014 Man Friday Club, Bishopstoke]
Cable Ships of Turnchapel. at anchor Marie Louise Mackay and John W Mackay. Image copyright Ian Denton. 

The Building of Plymouth Breakwater
The Victorians classed the Breakwater as one of the great wonders of the world. It took about 40 years to build and the might of the sea changed the intended line and regularly over the last 100 years or so huge granite and limestone blocks have been tossed like a child's Leggo blocks during enormous storms. A story of the Rennie dynasty with their great civil engineering skills and Joseph Whidbey supervising the work for the Admiralty.
"One of the most interesting talks I believe that we have had in the last 7 years or so" [Plymouth Postcards Collector's Club]
The Hampshire Industrial Archaeology Society's report on my presentation on the subject on 4 January 2010:
Our first talk of the New Year was John Avery on the "Building of the Plymouth Breakwater 1812-1841".  A great engineering feat in its time even by today's standards, it was decided in 1806 to provide the Channel Fleet with a safe anchorage  in Plymouth Sound.  After purchasing a 25 acre site from the Duke of Bedford at a cost of £10,000 John Rennie and Joseph Whidbey were commissioned to come up with a scheme.  Four million tons of stone were excavated from nearby quarries which were then transported to the site on ten specially converted sailing barges.  The scheme was finally completed in 1841 by John Rennie's son, Sir John Rennie and turned out to be well over budget equating to about 72 million pounds by today's standards.  Because of the cost, only one lighthouse was built on the Breakwater and is situated at the western end.  Started in 1841 it was finished in 1843 and built of white Cornish granite.  At the eastern end a beacon was constructed with a stepped base and topped with a pole and cage which could accommodate several shipwrecked sailors.  Trinity House acquired the lighthouse bell from Montreal Cathedral as it was shipped back to the  foundry where it was made, as considered " too flat" in tone for it's original purpose.  John ended his talk on rather a sad note with stories and some slides of various shipwrecks that had occurred over the years.  In particular in 1905 a submarine sunk just off the Breakwater with hardly any survivors and all the lighthouse keeper could do was to look on in horror as the tragedy unfolded. 
The Loss of Lord Kitchener on HMS Hampshire

Herbert Horatio Kitchener following a distinguished military career in Sudan and the Second Boer War, was appointed by Prime Minister Asquith to become Secretary of State for War when WWI broke out. He dealt with the Easter Uprising in Dublin in a ruthless fashion and during WWI preparations made many enemies of cabinet colleagues.
Seeing that the Czar's control of his army was weakening and possibly Russia would withdraw as an ally, Kitchener went to Scapa Flow in the Orkneys to travel to Archangel - it is said HMS Hampshire carried a shipment of gold for the venture. Setting out in a dreadful gale, the ship hit a mine laid by a U Boat with a huge loss of life. Rumours persisted, had the IRA planted explosives or had a Boer supporter turned spy liaising with the enemy or was General Kitchener not actually on the ship but replaced by a corporal closely of similar appearance?


 Member southampton Heritage Federation Bosham copyright John Avery
Charmouth, Dorset copyright John Avery
Town Crier of Southampton copyright Jill Ghanouni MBE
Sea Cadets southampton copyright Ann MacGillivray 
Mayor of Southampton Councillor Carol Cunio unveiling Huguenot commemorative plaque at Town Quay Park
City of Southampton members on a visit to Twyford water works June 2015 
Military Grave Southampton Old Cemetery copyright John Avery 
southampton Old cemetery copyright John Avery 
Dorset, Charmouth image copyright John Avery Interior St Julien's French Church at Southampton copyright John Avery
The Mayor of Southampton planting a mulberry tree at the Huguenot Garden, Town Quay Park 1985 copyright John Avery 
City of Southampton members using a Guy Arab bus in preservation for a trip out image by Will temple 

Queen Mary leaving Southampton on final voyage 1967 painting by Eric Crompton
Royal Blue Coach in preservation
HM The Queen at naming ceremony of P&Oship Southampton 2015 copyright Ann MacGillivray



snowfall Southampton Old Cemetery courtesy FoSOCSeamen's strike at Southampton 1966Royal Blues at Bournemouth c 1949 photo by Derek Amey local historians Jim Brown and John Avery deep in thought. Image Ann MacGillivray Veronica Tippetts addressing Court Leet Oct 2nd 2012. Image Will TempleJohn Melody Southampton Town Crier at Court Leet 2012. Image Will Temple