Who hasn’t heard of the Titanic liner which hit an iceberg and sank on its first voyage in 1912? Who ran the company behind it? It was Thomas Ismay and I thought I had found his impressive burial tomb while wandering around Anfield Cemetery one dusky evening. It was only when I got home I found out it wasn't a grave but a monument for the people of Liverpool. He’s really buried across the water on The Wirral where he lived in a grand house. When returning from a long weekend in Llandudno I decided to take a detour on the way home and visit the grave.
Thomas was the founder of the White Star Line shipping company. As with many owners of huge companies he had a meagre start in life in the north east of England with three sisters. Perhaps he got the business-building habit from his dad who bought shares in five vessels coming in and out of Maryport. Or perhaps it was because of the view from their lounge window was of monstrous ship ropes in the yard outside (their house was called "The Ropery")
Aged 16 he left school and started an apprentice with a shipbrokers in Liverpool. He started a business with a partner but it didn’t work well as they thought wooden ships were the future (but iron ships were.) Aged 22 Thomas got married to Margaret and they had a daughter. From age 26 he was president of White Star Line which grew as wide as world. He was the boss for 36 years though the burden of responsibility must have weighed as heavy as one of his 50 ships/liners. While running the empire he had a further sons and daughters. One son called Joseph was on the Titanic on that fateful night but was one of the 750 survivors.
It was quite an early death probably hastened by the responsibility of running a big company. In 1899, aged 62, he started suffering from chest pains and his health deteriorated. Two months later he seemed to be recovering and went on holiday to Windermere in the Lake District with his wife. The holiday was ruined by illness and months later a doctor diagnosed a gallstone. It was an inaccurate diagnosis though and Thomas was not to see the year 1900. Two operations to relieve pain didn’t work. He suffered a heart attack in September 1899 and died in November. His wife never fully recovered and endured seven miserable years until she died. They were reunited in this tomb in a small overgrown cemetery behind a bonny church. On the tomb are the words, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” I hope they saw Him. Another blessing was that Titanic sank 13 years after Thomas's death. The Ismay children aren't here; they buried in London, Hertfordshire and Tunisia.
While in Liverpool I walked down to the front to look at the former White Star Liner office building. The building is called Albion House though and it's now the 30 James Street Hotel (good to see a plaque outside remembers its former use.) I peeped in the reception and though bearing an old-fashioned charm I expected something larger. I walked back out to the front and looked up at all the windows wonder which one was Thomas's. I guess it was high up on the frontage so he could looked out onto the water. This must have been a quiet place in 1912 when the Titanic went down. When news reached the offices the officials were too afraid to leave and instead read out the names of the deceased from a balcony. The only balcony I could see was on the front and too high up to be within earshot. It's a charming building, knocking spots off the neighbouring soulless contemporary things ganging up on it. The building was hit by a bomb in the Second World War and had to be repaired. I did a salute and left. I'd parked the car up passed the big cathedral and used its cacophony of clanging bells to guide me back.
Bet Henry and his wife are buried in that one up there….
Not a bad view of the church…
The Ismay monument in Anfield Cemetery (which was a memorial, not a grave)…