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The story of the White Star Line Plates
In 1991 Bob Jordan, then a Parish Councillor, later our Chairman, noticed that our tea-break biscuits were on a plate with a little red flag in the centre.
He looked more closely at it and at the smaller sized plate which was more clearly printed and observed the star on the flag and WHITE STAR LINE lettered on the banner below it. He decided it was worth investigation and with the Parish Council’s permission took one each of the two styles and touted them round some of the second-hand “antique” shops in Southampton. He reported back to us at the next meeting that he had been offered £15 each “for as many as you have”.
It was immediately decided to take the plates out of circulation, replace them with the new Parish Hall crockery, and I was asked to pursue research in to the background of the plates and to consider how we could best raise money from their sale for the benefit of the Parish.
We were told that Mrs Marjorie Abrahams in Shawford might remember something about them so invited her for a cup of tea and listened fascinated to her memories of childhood in our village. She told us she thought the plates were given by a gentleman named Blake who lived in Compton and that it might have happened in 1928 or 29. What a brilliant memory!
I next went to the Records office in Winchester to dig out the old Parish Council minutes covering that time – a hard backed book written in ink in fine “copper plate” handwriting – discovering that one Mr.F.J.Blake was then Vice Chairman of the council.
In September 1928 the following is recorded: “Arising out of the minutes Miss Edwards reported as to the suggested alteration in the charges for the hire of the Hall and in so doing said she wished to thank Mr Blake for his generous gift of crockery for use in the Hall.” Our first real clue!!
Frederick John Blake RD, RNR
I then consulted Austin Whitaker who has always been interested in the history of our village and luckily knew and could contact two of F.J.Blake’s grandchildren, Hilary and Denis, who were intrigued to hear of our research and told us their childhood home on Hurdle Way was originally named “Arcola” in their Grandfather’s day after a favourite golf course in America.
He came to Southampton (Hill Lane) with his wife Elizabeth before settling in Compton having started his career in shipping from Liverpool.
While in our parish he was a founder member of the golf club on Shawford Down and gave the club house which was eventually removed up to the Memorial Playing field where it is still in use!
Today it is easy to see why he had the novel idea of painting his golf balls bright red.. can you imagine the chalk bunkers!!
Frederick Blake served his engineering apprenticeship at the Railway Works in Crewe and worked for many years with the White Star Line, travelling frequently to America and became The Superintendent Engineer of the Company. He served on the “Olympic”, sister ship to the ill-fated “Titanic”.
He was a close friend of the chief engineer officer on that ship and took photographs of it in Southampton before it set sail on 10th April 1912.
Hilary remembers being told of her Grandfather dreaming on the night of the 14th that his friend had been trying to tell him “There is something terribly wrong….” News of the unbelievable disaster took several days to reach a shocked public.
Frederick’s son Basil Blake, father of Hilary and Denis, took his degree in engineering at Glasgow University and trained at David Rowan’s Clydeside shipyard before joining the Royal Navy.
The Blake grave at Compton
The memorial to the Engineer Officers of the Titanic stands at the north end of Above Bar Street with a fine winged angel perched on the prow of a boat centred above the listed names of those who perished.
Denis Blake recalled being told by his father Basil that “Grandfather was so affected by the tragedy and by the Titanic Memorial erected in Southampton that he left instructions that his own headstone should be a miniature version.”
In Compton churchyard the Blake grave is instantly recognised because it also features a winged angel standing on the prow of a boat.
The inscription reads “Frederick John Blake.R.D.R.N.R. born 21 Nov 1866 – Died 25 July 1930.”
His wife (1868-1951) and son Alfred Basil Blake (1893-1962), Engineer Captain in the Royal Navy, share the grave. His granddaughter Hilary Tudor, née Blake (1928-2012) is now also buried there.
The White Star plates
Efforts to trace official records of the White Star Line have not been successful – I’m told they may no longer exist – and as to how Mr Blake acquired a large number of plates just like those on the “Titanic” to give to the Parish Hall we can only accept the educated guess of a local British Titanic Society researcher and historian Brian Ticehurst . He says “If the Stores Superintendent of the White Star company in Southampton was approached one could imagine he might make available a quantity of plates.” I would add especially if they had been weeded out as unfit for further service on board such a high class liner due to minor chips etc. The plates we have are all in a “very well used” state -inevitable after sixty years of public occasions within the village – none without some blemish but some (from the bottom of the piles?) still remarkably pretty.
What were they worth ? We entered some plates in auctioneers Christie’s Maritime Sale held in London mid-April 1993 and were delighted to raise nearly £1,000 on 20 plates.
After that we continued to sell when approached. In January 1997 we finally sold off the last of the plates, apart from a few which we are keeping.
Overall, we have raised over £8,000 for the Parish from the sale of nearly 200 plates.
As Parish Councillors we were duty bound to raise as much as possible on the sale of this wonderful asset but we wanted also to keep the memory of this “Fairy Story -But True” alive with a display of the plates and their history in the Parish Hall which reached its centenary in December 1996.
We also felt our thanks to the Blake family should be demonstrated and gave Denis and Hilary each a plate with a commemorative stand at the 1995 village Fete when they kindly gave us – the Parish – a framed copy of a photograph of the “Titanic” in Southampton Docks taken by their father.
These notes were written in 1993 (and subsequently updated in 1994, 1996 and 1997) by Jean Millar, Parish Councillor of Compton and Shawford.
Further amended in 2011 on the advice of Denis Blake.
Minor amendments by Adrian Walmsley in 2020 to update the description of the Blake grave.
- Titanic Memorials in Compton
- Southampton Engineers’ Memorial
- Old Plates are Crocks of Gold
- Memories of the Heathcote Players for a description of the links between the Blake and Clegg families and the Heathcote Players
This article originally appeared on the Compton & Shawford Parish Council website