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From the Crown in All Saints Street to lucky Lifeboat 13

David & Lynda Russell recount the story of Alexander Littlejohn, Hastings pub landlord who survived the Titanic (Above, before and after Titanic; left, the old Crown Inn)

Alexander James Littlejohn was landlord of the Crown, All Saints Street for about six years from 1902. Although the pub is still with us it is now a different building having been rebuilt after a fire in 1921 and refurbished in 1984.

In 1910 Alexander Littlejohn gave up the pub business and joined the merchant navy. Initially he signed on with the White Star line as a steward and sailed with the ‘Adriatic’ for New York. Then in 1912 he signed on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic.

His grandson Phillip Littlejohn said: “My grandfather was a first class steward on the Titanic but survived the ordeal after being ordered to row lifeboat 13. It was in this boat that the youngest passenger aboard, nine weeks old Millvina Dean was rescued. She became the longest surviving passenger and died in 2009, aged 97.”

Alexander Littlejohn later described his experience in lifeboat 13. “We could see the Titanic sinking by the head. Her forward ports were under water and we could see the lights gradually going out …  We watched her like this for some time. Then suddenly she gave a plunge forward … her stern went right up in the air … there were two or three explosions … after there were cries for help. They were awful and heartrending.”

A fuller version can be found in Phillip Littlejohn’s book: ‘Titanic: Waiting for Orders’. The story of Alexander James Littlejohn. Crescent Co., 1999.

In 1998 when Phillip was researching this book he visited the Crown, All Saints Street, collecting information. By this time the landlord was Alex Napier, ex drummer with rock band Uriah Heep. Phillip was astonished to find that Alex Napier called time on a reproduction ‘Titanic’ brass bell kept behind the bar. This was pure coincidence. The connection between his grandfather and the Crown was unknown outside the family until then.

Talking to some customers in the Crown recently, a regular, an elderly man called Bill, told us that “when A.J. was rowing the lifeboat, posh first-class ladies kept on at him to row faster”. Remember he was a steward not a seaman.

Phillip Littlejohn is giving a talk about his grandfather and the Titanic at the Shipwrecks Centre in Rock-a Nore on 18th September 2010 at 7pm. Ticket only.

This should be good. Phillip accompanied James Cameron in a submersible MR1 on a dive to the wreck of the Titanic on the bottom of the Atlantic. The talk will be illustrated with pictures from the dive. Cameron’s film ‘Titanic’ (1997) was, at the time, the most expensive film ever made and became the highest grossing film of all time.

Posted 20:31 Sunday, Sep 5, 2010 In: Hastings People

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