15th April marks the anniversary of the RMS Titanic disaster - when over 1,500 passengers and crew members tragically lost their lives after the British passenger liner struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean just a few days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York back in 1912. One of the most senior crew members who lost his life on this date 109 years ago was the Titanic’s Chief Officer Lieutenant Henry Tingle Wilde (1872-1912) who had close links to the old Loxley Independent Chapel (which later became Loxley Congregational Chapel and eventually Loxley United Reformed Church) on the north-western outskirts of Sheffield. In our latest Sheffield City Archives and Local Studies Library ‘Monthly Marvels’ blog, we highlight the Wilde family’s longstanding association with the Loxley Chapel over multiple generations as revealed through a recent cataloguing project we have carried out centred on the chapel’s historic records.
Henry Tingle Wilde was born on 21st September 1872 in Liverpool (where his father Henry Wilde senior had relocated from Loxley) but baby Henry was taken to Loxley just a month after his birth to be baptised at the Loxley Chapel - an indication of the importance of the chapel to the Wilde family who had worshipped there for generations. It's apparent that young Henry and his family continued to make regular trips back to Loxley from Liverpool and the old chapel there continued to occupy a special place in their hearts.
The newly catalogued collection of Loxley Chapel records at Sheffield City Archives (collection reference: NR2324) includes a range of historic church minutes and account books, as well as registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, dating back to when the chapel was first built in 1787, which illustrate the Wilde family’s prominent role in supporting the chapel and the local community in the village of Loxley over successive generations.
The records include various documents, for instance, concerning Henry Tingle Wilde’s architect uncle George Arnold Wilde (1841-1914), who served as a deacon at the chapel, and who notably carried out significant restorations to the Loxley Congregational Chapel (as it was then known) in 1890, and later drew up plans for the extension of the graveyard there in the early 1900s.
One of the more unusual items in the Loxley Chapel collection which has been unearthed through our cataloguing project is a 19th-century account/memoranda book (which also includes brief diary entries) evidently kept by Thomas Wilde (c.1795-1866), who worked as a 'saw grinder' and 'farmer' in Loxley. Thomas Wilde was Henry Tingle Wilde’s grandfather and George Arnold Wilde’s father. Thomas Wilde’s account/memoranda book, which dates from c.1819 onwards, sheds intriguing light on the lives and preoccupations of members of the rural community of Loxley back in the 19th-century. The small volume also helps to chart how Thomas’ grandson made the unlikely journey from a landlocked farming family in the village of Loxley to the beginnings of a successful maritime career, before ultimately ending in tragedy and his death on board the Titanic.
There are lots of fascinating references to be found in Thomas Wilde’s account/memoranda book. On 25 August 1839, for instance, Thomas Wilde notes how the Rev. Sutton “preached to the chartists”. The following year, he records his duties as an 'Overseer of the Poor' for the wider parish of Ecclesfield in 1840. A year later, he includes notes on the census in his capacity as one of the census enumerators for the locality in 1841. In August 1853, there is an intriguing reference to payments for a Dr Thompson for "assisting a Hungarian refugee”.
Thomas Wilde’s account/memoranda book also includes a range of interesting medical and food recipes. Some of the recipes are reflective of the Wilde family’s farming duties, including recipes “for the scouring of young calves”, “for pleuro pneumonia among cattle” and even one “for a cow that gives bad butter” (this latter recipe comprising "2 ounces of ground ginger" and "3 pints of old wine"!)
There are also medicinal recipes designed to help with ailments such as sore throats, coughs, toothache, consumption, one recipe “to prevent infectious fever” and even recipes for “cholera prevention and cholera cure” . These latter recipes are indicative of how cholera was a major concern for people at the time with Sheffield facing a major cholera epidemic in 1832 which led to a number of fatalities (and further outbreaks occurring in 1849, 1854 and 1866).
Other (more pleasant-sounding sounding) recipes in the volume include those for “raspberry vinegar”, “blackberry wine”, “making buns”, “gingerbread cakes”, “sage puddings” and “mock madeira”.
As noted in his account/memoranda book, Thomas Wilde and his wife Ann had 10 children born between the years 1819 and 1841. The volume also includes some loose papers and notes relating to Thomas' second-youngest son Henry Wilde senior (born 1838) and shows how Henry relocated from Loxley to Liverpool where he obtained the post of ‘Chief Clerk and Cashier to the Liverpool and London Insurance Companies' and later became a 'Surveyor of Risks and Assessor of Losses' in Liverpool. Henry Wilde senior's move to Liverpool sparked the chain of events which would see his son Henry Tingle Wilde grow up in the Walton district of the maritime port city and embark on a seafaring career, becoming a Royal Navy Reserve officer and rising up the ranks with the White Star Line shipping company, culminating in his appointment as Chief Officer on the RMS Titanic's first and last voyage.
After the sinking of the Titanic, Sheffield newspapers (as they did all over the country) feverishly reported on the tragedy. Initially, as in the extract below from an article from The Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Henry Tingle Wilde was reported as missing before his death was finally confirmed. This particular article draws attention to the Titanic’s Chief Officer’s Sheffield connections, mentioning how it was Wilde’s practice during his maritime career "to spend much of his time ashore in Sheffield".
Wilde's final moments on board the sinking ship are disputed. One surviving witness at the subsequent inquest suggested Wilde shot himself on the bridge once the hopelessness of the situation became apparent. However other witnesses recalled seeing Wilde, "a big, powerful man", tirelessly working to the last to save the lives of others, loading as many people as he could into the available life boats before going down valiantly with the vessel, alongside Captain Edward Smith (1850-1912), the two men standing on the bridge, "with their arms extended to each other's shoulders".
Newspaper reports from the time revealed that Wilde had lost his wife just a year before the tragedy, meaning his death on board the Titanic resulted in his four young children being orphaned.
In 1989, the Loxley Reformed Church (as the old chapel became known) was damaged by heavy storms which forced it to close temporarily but it reopened in November 1990 thanks to repair work funded largely by English Heritage. It closed however as a place of worship shortly afterwards in 1992 and fell into disuse and disrepair. In direct contrast to Henry Tingle Wilde and the Great Sheffield Flood victims, who perished at the hands of water, it seems the old Loxley Chapel may have met its final end by fire. Having stood for well over two centuries, the chapel was devastated by a fire in August 2016 and now lies in ruins.
Although the future fate of the remains of the chapel seem uncertain, the fascinating stories of families like the Wilde family, who once worshipped there, are preserved and can be explored in the collection of Loxley Chapel records we hold at Sheffield City Archives.
For more information on our sources at Sheffield City Archives and Local Studies Library, please contact us (email: email@example.com, website: www.sheffield.gov.uk/archives).