The Illustrated London News, June 10, 1848



By this extraordinary conflagration, which occurred on Wednesday morning, the 31st ult., has been destroyed one of the most magnificent works upon the South Wales Railway - a vast timber bridge crossing the Usk, at Newport. The details of the catastrophe are as follow:-

At six o'clock in the morning, the workmen were engaged in completing the central arch, which was an immense pile, consisting of several tons weight of timber and iron bolts. In driving the latter, one man used a bolt which had been heated to an extraordinary degree. This immediately set fire the adjoining timber, which being highly kyanized, or " pickled," was like gunpowder to ignite. The man had a bucket of water at hand, as was usual, but it was of no service; for instantly the flames leaped along on each side, from the centre to each end of the bridge, and the whole structure was in a blaze. The men with difficulty escaped with their lives. A team of trains was passing at the time; the horses, put to their utmost gallop, dashed through the flames to escape. The alarm was given in Newport, and a great crowd rushed to the great stone bridge adjacent: there were hundreds of "navvies," carpenters, masons, labourers, tradesmen, and gentlemen, but it was of no avail. The town fire-engines were brought, but they were useless, the flames continuing to burst from the surface of the piles, the rails, the arches, and, in fact, wherever the fire could lay hold of wood to burn. The timberwork was so enormous that it took a considerable time to burn any portion wholly away; while the flames rose up with vast columns of blue and black smoke. At about nine o'clock, the ponderous work of the central arch, having lost its abutments in the fire, gave way with a terrible crash; and soon after this had fallen in, portion after portion gave way, until, with the exception of here and there a solitary black and charred fragment, with some portion on the banks, the whole of this magnificent work was totally destroyed. The river was black with burning wood which fell into it; and the tide being receding, the banks became strewn with enormous pieces of half-burnt wood, like the coast after a wreck. The engine from the barracks did great execution, worked by two companies of soldiers under the command of officers.

The bridge was almost completed when this unfortunate calamity occurred. It was built of kyanized timber by Messrs. Rennie, Logan, and Co., and cost upwards of £20,000 in the erection. Fortunately, the firm insured recently, for the full amount, so that their loss will be covered. The bridge will now, it is said, be built of stone, and the work, consequently is delayed two years.

Our artist's sketch is taken beneath an arch of the old stone bridge: he describes the steam from the burning timbers, as they fell into the water, to have had a very striking effect against the dense black smoke.