The fascinating life of a woman born and bred in Dunchurch came to an end just before Christmas. Agnes Thwaite died three days after her 100th birthday, closing the book on a century of experiences that included close ties with the owner of the Titanic. Jon Cleaver pays tribute.
Agnes Thwaite worked as cook and kitchen maid at the household of Bruce Ismay, the owner of the ill-fated liner that sank in the North Atlantic on the night of April 14 1912.
As the liner was sinking, Ismay, who was on board, took to a lifeboat and was saved. There were spare places in the boats as some passengers refused to go not prepared to leave their loved ones. Many said Ismay should have gone down with his ship.
Agnes felt he was right to go if there were spare places. “He was a good man to his staff,” she said. “The Ismays spent three months from June until September on their estate at Costello County Galway taking all the kitchen staff with them.” Agnes recalled how after finishing work they were allowed to sail the family boats on the private beach.
Born Agnes Collins on December 9 1913, she the eldest of seven children to the village postman William Collins and wife May. Agnes was educated at Dunchurch Boughton Leigh Girls School where she won a scholarship but her parents couldn’t afford the fees.
Agnes left school at 14. In the early 1920s Dunchurch became known for the manufacture of gloves, many of which were bought by the famous including the Queen of Spain and the Prince of Wales. But Agnes wanted to go into service, securing a position with a Rugby family of drapers, Arthur and Fredrick Adnitt in Regent Street. She enjoyed her job, but wanted to go to London. She applied through an agency securing a position with the sister of Bruce Ismay, where he was a frequent visitor. He was impressed with Agnes, taking her as cook and scullery maid at his Berkeley Square home. Just 16, Agnes left for London knowing no-one. Her initiation with Ismay’s cook prepared the way. “God sends the food and the devil sends the cooks,” she told Agnes. “Well he certainly sent you,” Agnes retorted.
Agnes married Ismay’s head Footman Angus Thwaite in 1933, later becoming his valet. When their first child was born, Bruce Ismay bought a pram. Agnes left the Ismays but Angus remained in service, until the death of Ismay.
Agnes and Angus moved to Greens Road, Kersley, Coventry in 1939. Angus went to work at the Daimler Munitions Factory. Angus died in 1993. At 60, Agnes worked at the Warwick Arts Centre during construction in 1973, making bread pudding for the builders. Agnes said: “That building will never fall down – it has my bread pudding in its foundations!”
Agnes and Angus had four children, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. In 2000, Agnes moved into ExtraCare Willowbrook in Coventry, where she passed away peacefully on December 12. She formerly lived in one of the steel houses in Charter Avenue, Canley. Howard Nelson, founder of the Titanic Heritage Trust, said: “Agnes was the last living contact with Bruce Ismay.”