The Great Fire At Newport, 1907

Photo reference number: 1622

WWC postcard.

Unfortunately the message on the back - as usual - makes no mention to the photo on the front! So several methods were tried before we tracked down information about the fire. In summary:

Location: 3, Commercial Road.
Date: Sunday 10th February, 1907
Casualties: 4 dead.
Shop: George Probert, Cycles, Records, Gramophones
Shop left: Sunnocks, SG, Watchmaker, Jeweller
Shop right: Jones, G, Blaenavon Dining Rooms

We found a very detailed contemporary account from the "Weekly Mail" on the National Library of Wales "WELSH NEWSPAPERS ONLINE" web pages (see link at foot of page) which we reproduce in full below:





Newport was the scene in the early hours of Sunday morning of a fierce fire, which, unhappily, involved the loss of four lives. No such disaster with results so painful has been experienced in the town for a great many years. The full force of the blow is to some extent mitigated by the kindness and hospitality which were shown by a number of the neighbours.
At No. 3, Commercial-road, in the very centre of the chief thoroughfare of the town, is a three-storey (with attics) brick-built shop and dwelling-house. The shop has for about twelve months been occupied by George Probert, a cycle-maker, and been used for the display and sale of cycles and accessories, and also gramophones and records.
Probert and his wife and children lived on the premises, the upper portions of which were let in apartments to two other families and a lodger. In all there were eleven people in bed when the fire was discovered, shortly before one o'clock on Sunday morning, viz., Probert, his wife, and three children; a Great Western Railway fireman named David Pomeroy, his wife and baby, Henry Albert Johnson, a billiard-marker, his wife and baby, and a young man named Edgar Jones, a lodger.


The first outbreak of the fire was witnessed by a young man named David Hopkins, of Mill-parade, who states that he was standing at the top of Cardiff-road, a short distance from the place, when he saw a big light in the shop of Mr. Probert. He ran down, accompanied by the young man to whom he was talking, and tried to get in at the shop door, but failed. He also failed to rouse the inmates. His companion, James Shea, then decided to break the glass and get in. They went in, thinking that the fire could easily be put out by pressing their coats upon it, but they were soon obliged to retreat, as the flames immediately began to spread along the shop and upwards, and the fumes were nearly overpowering. They, therefore, left the place and called assistance as quickly as possible.


The shop and its contents were at the mercy of the flames in an incredibly short space of time. There was amongst the stock much that was highly inflammable. Half-pint tins of cycle oil, though severally screwed down, began to "pop" with alarming results. The celluloid gramophone records naturally added materially to the fierceness of the blaze, which was so great that the flames shot out through the shop front and made it impossible for the now gathering crowds to stand in the middle of the roadway. Bicycle parts were seen to be crumpling up and being distorted into unrecognisable shapes, while the rubber goods about them were giving off overpowering fumes.


The victims were:-
David Pomeroy, aged 26 fireman on the Great Western Railway.
Margaret Ann Pomeroy (his wife), 24 years of age.
Firmby Harold Pomeroy, aged eleven months.
Henry Albert Johnson, aged 22, billiard-marker at the Hotel Victoria, Corporation-road.


Mr. W. Lyndon Moore conducted the inquest at Newport Town-hall on Tuesday concerning the death of the victims of the Newport fire, viz., David John Pomeroy (26), a fireman employed by the Great Western Railway; his wife, Margaret Ann Pomeroy (24); their infant child, Fernley Harold Pomeroy; and Henry Albert Johnson (22), a billiard-marker. Captain Lyne represented the fire brigade, the borough engineer (Mr. R. H. Haynes), Mr. J. Martin Wood (representing the owners of the premises), and Mr. A. I. Sinclair (head-constable) being also present.
George Probert, who now resides next door to the premises which were destroyed, said that at 11.45 on Saturday night he put all the lights out in the shop at 3, Commercial-road, where he carried on business as a cycle repairer and dealer, except one over the counter. He then went to have his supper in the kitchen with his wife, Jones (the lodger), and a friend named Arthur Ross, living at 20, Jones-street. Ross went home about 12.15, witness locking the door after him and turning the remaining light out. After a conversation with Jones they went to bed. The Pomeroys had gone to bed earlier. Mr. Johnson had only been stopping there on Saturday nights, and he and his wife had also gone to bed. When he had only been in bed about minutes his wife told him someone was knocking at the door and the bell was ringing. He got up, and on opening the bedroom door found the house full of smoke. After opening the window he went to the top of the house and called Jones who woke up the Johnsons and called the Pomeroys. Witness went back to his room and got out on to the roof of the wash-house. Jones then handed him down the children. Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Probert also got out in this way. Two men then climbed on to the roof and handed them down into the garden of Mr. Sunnocks, the next-door neighbour.


In answer to the coroner, witness said the only explanation he could give was that something must have lit a box of wooden edges from which had recently been taken some wax phonograph records. During the evening several customers had been in the shop smoking. He had in all more than 1,000 wax cylinder records, celluloid mudguards and handle grips, and about 50 tins of carbide of calcium.
Witness said that if the Johnsons and Pomeroys had followed him they would have been saved. Edgar Jones got the children and Mrs. Probert and Mrs. Johnson out. He stayed two or three minutes in the building looking for Mr. Johnson and the Pomeroys, but the smoke prevented him getting in the front room. He heard them shouting once or twice. After that he got on the roof, and was taken down by the firemen.
Edgar Jones, 99, Raglan-street, said he had lodged with the Proberts three weeks. After being called by Mrs. Probert he aroused the Johnsons and the Pomeroys, and then went to Mr. Probert's room and handed him the children and his wife. Witness next went in search of the others. Mrs. Johnson, who had fallen down the stairs and injured her foot, fell into his arms, and he carried her out and handed her to some men who were on the roof of the wash-house.
Ernest Pike told how he saw the outbreak at 12.55 and gave the alarm before smashing the door. The fire was then small, but a man under the influence of drink smashed a window. It was about 1.15 when the brigade arrived. The victims could not be induced to jump. He saw the same man who smashed the window interfere with the brigade.
James Shea, in saying he smashed a door panel, wished to dispel any idea that he was the man under the influence of drink.


David Hopkins, labourer, of 23, Mill-parade, stated that he was passing down the street on his way home from a dance when he saw the fire. He went into the shop, but had to retreat, as the heat and smoke were too great. On two occasions a coat was held for the people in the room over the shop to jump out, or to throw the baby out. They could easily have thrown the baby out. Casey first climbed up the water-chute at the back of the house, and when followed by the other men helped the women and babies out of the windows.
Jeremiah Shea, of 20, James-street, and Mr. Syner, of the Salutation Hotel, gave corroborative evidence.
Mrs. Probert said she first heard the knocking at the door, the breaking of glass, and the crackling of something burning. She then called her husband, who was rather deaf, and he roused the other inmates of the house. Edgar Jones handed the baby out at the back window and afterwards handed witness out. He rushed back and saved the life of Mrs. Johnson, who fell into his arms on the stairs.
Police-sergeant Hiles said the fire brigade was on the scene three or four minutes after the alarm was given, and there was not a delay of a quarter of an hour as some people had suggested.
Police-constable Jackson, who called the fire brigade, said it was seven minutes from the ca11 to the appearance of the brigade at the fire.


Some thrilling evidence was given by Police-constable Birch, a young Policeman. He said that when he went to the burning place he was told that there was no one in the house. He went into the Blaenavon Dining-rooms and went upstairs, where he found a lodger who appeared to have been partly overcome by smoke. Witness smacked his face and pinched his ear. Then he heard that there was someone in the burning house. He went to the back of the premises, and, climbing up the water-chute got to where Jones was calling someone to come out of one of the windows. The smoke was too thick for anyone to get out there, and he, therefore, began to climb further up the chute to the attic. Someone shouted, "You are committing suicide." He replied, "I get up there or die." He smashed the attic window, got in the house, and found a bed upon which someone had been sleeping. As he was going downstairs with a handkerchief over his mouth he felt very faint, and fell towards a window in an unconscious condition. How long he was in that condition he did not know. He had been answering someone in shouts, and thought he was doing so still. He fell over the tiles, and was stopped by a chimney. The ladder which had been put up fell through the roof, and he was left with one leg dangling from the roof until he was rescued by Police-constable Maunders and a fireman.
The Coroner (to the jury): I am sure that this officer behaved with very great pluck.
Superintendent Tothill (of the fire brigade) said the brigade turned out in two to two-and-a-half minutes, and when they got to the place the fire was burning so fiercely in the front that it was impossible to get near the shop. He was told that the people were all out of the house, and it was not until after the fire he was told that there was a man inside. Lieutenant Lyne and one of the firemen got up over an American scaling-ladder and entered the house.


The Coroner: If the victims had gone to the back instead of the front they might have been saved? - Yes; that is my opinion.
Mr. Robert Francis Lyne, solicitor, and lieutenant, of the brigade, spoke to running down to the fire from the top of Stow Hill as soon as he had the telephone call. When he heard that there was someone left in the house he and Fireman Cookham went in. He sent Cookham round on a life-line, but the smoke was so dense that they could not see two yards in front of them. They crawled upstairs on their hands and knees, but found no one. They went down to the room above the shop, and his foot struck against something, but they could not tell that it was a human body until he had put the duck light down. No one of the brigade heard of the people being left in the house until after the fire had been put out, and if they had it would have been impossible to save them.
Engineer Webber, of the brigade, gave corroborative evidence.
The jury found that death was due to suffocation, and they desired to express sympathy with the sufferers. In their opinion the fire brigade, the police, and the civilians acted with commendable promptitude in doing all that was possible, and were deserving of the greatest praise.

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