Mon 4 th June1934
The House on Fire
Two Lives Lost
Early last Sunday morning a Catastrophe happened in Caernarfôn, when an occupied house was burnt to ashes, and a girl's life was lost in the fire. The house was 9 Skinner Street. This Street ran from the "Maes" in between Lonni's shop. These houses were very tiny.
Mr J.Pentir Williams (The Coroner for North Wales) proceeded with the inquest of the two bodies on Monday afternoon. The Jurymen were present also Major W. Lloyd. Williams Y.H (Councilor)blaenors The Coroner explained that the main facts regarding the events to the death of Rhiannon, and her Grandmother, Mrs Jane Anne Flynn. He said after examining the bodies that they were very badly burnt.
The Father's Testimony
The first testimony was John James Flynn, the father of this little girl and the son of the deceased. Mrs Flynn said that he was employed as a lorry driver for the Jays furniture Company. He identified the bodies as his daughter and mother. He described the events of Saturday night and Sunday morning. On the Saturday night he arrived home 10 o'clock to find that the occupants had gone to bed, except his wife and Betty Owen, a girl of twenty yrs old, whom they had adopted. After supper he sat down to listen to the radio, and at about midnight he decided to go up to bed. There were two small bedrooms in the house. He slept in the front room with his wife and baby (John James Flynn). His mother and three daughters, Jane Anne Flynn, Nellie Flynn, Betty Owen, and Rhiannon Flynn, slept in two beds in the back bedroom. The next thing that he remembered is his wife (Janet Flynn) shouting, "Smoke! There's smoke in this room!!". She rose and went into the back bedroom. The witness said that he grasped the lamp that was in his bedroom, and went downstairs. At the top of the stairs he extinguished the lamp, he then decided to ascend the stairs. Half way down the stairs collapsed underneath him. "I opened the front door and shouted for help" he said "Then I heard somebody screaming, FIRE! I rushed back into the house and opened the parlour door. I saw that the room was ablaze". The witness added that he was going to run up the stairs with the intention of opening the front window, but his wife had done this already. He couldn't see anything because of the smoke. The first person he rescued was Betty Owen, who had by now had gone to the front room. He lowered her to the arms of William Jones, a neighbour, who was also a policeman. His eldest daughter Nellie was next, at the same instance his wife went to rescue the baby. When it came to lowering his wife she fainted on the windowsill. He knew that his mother was still in the house. After rescuing his wife and child he decided to go back into the house. He saw his mother leaning against the windowsill, when he was about to clutch on to her, she slipped out of his hands and fell down into the street below. On rushing to the bedroom door with the intention of escaping that way, he found that it was impossible. So he returned to the window, this is the time he felt he floor falling from underneath him. He jumped down into the street and went to aid the police as best as he could. When he referred to his daughter, Rhiannon, he broke down and cried, the whole time he thought that she had been rescued and was safe. Nobody could get into the house after.
Coroner: -"Did you have two lamps in the house?"
Witness: -"Yes, one in my room and one in my mother's"
Coroner: -"After you woke up was your lamp alright?"
Witness: -"Yes, my wife said that it was alight at that time"
On answering further questions the witness said that he was sure that there wasn't a fire in the back kitchen. The last thing he did every night was to that the fire in the fireplace was extinguished. They found that the fire started in the parlour, there hadn't been a fire in the fireplace for years. On closing the father said that they had gas in the house, but so far as he knew, they had not ignited the pipes at all.
The Policeman's Testimony
The next witness was Hugh Roberts a policeman from Caernarfon. He passed Skinner Street at about ten past three Sunday morning, when he saw smoke. On rushing down the street he saw that 9 Skinner Street was alight. At twenty past two he passed Skinner Street and nothing was out of place at that time. The first person he came across was William Jones, and then he saw John Flynn shouting from his bedroom window. William Jones assisted with rescuing his children from upstairs. On inquiring if anyone had called for the Fire Brigade, he realised nobody hadn't, so he asked John Richard Hughes to run to the Guild Hall. When arriving there, he met young lad by the name of Rhys Roberts from Skinner Street, waking the people up. When John Flynn came out he wasn't sure that the young girl, Rhiannon, was out or not. At once John Richard Hughes and Wm Edward Jones went to assist by climbing the drainpipe that is in front of the house. They went as far as they could "It's impossible, nobody can get in" The witness then went to the front door, the heat was unbearable, there would be fatal for anyone that ventured through the door. When he had the chance the witness went to the Police Station, notified the Sergeant Policeman Jones (20) about the fire. Then went back to Skinner Street, he formed a chain with the neighbours to carry water in buckets. They did their best. The Fire Brigade arrived at about five to four. They found the small child, Rhiannon, at about five o'clock underneath the window in the parlour. She must have fallen through when the floor gave way. The witness added that the Fire Brigade had to wait for half an hour before they had enough pressure. It was important for the Police to do everything that they could to save the residents.
Coroner: -"Did you see the Fire Brigade connecting their pipes?"
Witness: -"No, they had difficulty in getting water"
Coroner: -"Do you know the Caernarfôn Water Foreman?"
Witness: -"Yes, but I didn't see him arriving"
Sergeant Thomas said that he was in the Police Station about twenty past three on Sunday morning and that Policeman Roberts had told him about the house on fire in Skinner Street. He rushed there with Policeman 103 (Jones). When they were a little distance away they heard a fire bell, he noticed that it was twenty past three. W.D.Hughes told him that he thought that everybody had been rescued from the dwelling. Later on he understood that there was a young girl in the fire. He tried to get in the house but it was impossible. The Fire Brigade arrived about half an hour later, there was a shortage of water. An hour had past between the fire bell being rung and the Fire Brigade working frantically. William Jones found the body of Rhiannon Flynn, a member of the Fire Brigade. She had been grievously burnt. They took the old lady Jane Anne Flynn in the ambulance to the hospital. The sergeant told the coroner that fire hoses were all right, the only fault was a shortage of water. When they called on Mrs Parry, custodian of the Guild Hall, the town clerk (Mr John Williams) representing the public, asked to approach her. He told her the purpose of the Inquest was determining the cause of death. The Town Council was going to hold an investigation of their own, about other matters that arose. The Coroner realised that it would be ridiculous to investigate the cause of death because that was obvious. He said that the Inquest would be held for the public. If he were one of the Caernarfôn's inhabitants, he would surely be interested that the fire bell was effective or not.
Town Clerk: -"I'm objecting"
Coroner: -"Well I'm going to hear what the Fire Brigade has to say first"
The Fire Bell
Mrs Parry said that you could hear the Fire Bell from Anglesey. Also there were electric fire bells in every Fireman's house, she said, but she hadn't been given permission to use them. "I wasn't sure if they had all been installed" she said.
Coroner: -"Did you know how to use them?"
Witness: -"Yes, I did"
Coroner: -"You hadn't had any permission to use them?"
Witness: -"No, I hadn't"
In reply to the Town Clerk, Mrs parry said that it was twenty past four that the young man came to ask her to sound the Fire Bell. The Town Clerk told her that the Policeman had testified that it was twenty past three.
The Coroner and The Fire Brigade The Coroner said that he was of the opinion, that it would be in the interest of the Town Council, to publish everything.
"We will hold your official investigation," said the Town Clerk "in a meeting, but a public investigation this will be, on matters which are of grave importance for the public. Two lives have been lost. I'm not that the Fire Brigade didn't do their best, but they have a duty to the public to explain what they did. Many grave accusations have been said. Maybe everything is all right, but in the Policeman's testimony an hour had past before the Fire Brigade were in place. They had been standing for half an hour before they had enough water. Maybe there is a sufficient reason for this, but I think it would be of interest for the Caernarfôn's Corporation, that they will do everything in their power to avoid such a catastrophe in the future if possible."
The Captain of the Fire Brigade's Testimony
Robert Jones, the Captain of the Fire Brigade, said that the electric fire bells had been installed in the Firemen's houses since four months. But they had had difficulties in getting the proprietor's permission to install them. The Coroner said seeing that the Corporation were going to build council house of their own, he hoped that they would make the effort to house the Firemen as near to each other as possible.
Coroner: -"What time did you arrive?"
Witness: -"We were installing the hydrants at about five to four.
There was a shortage of water, and to save time I sent for a Fire Engine to call on the Water Foreman. Through working on the valves in different places we managed to raise the water pressure. But the scene was impossible when we arrived."
The Reason for the Shortage of Water
One of the jury asked what was the reason for the delay in getting enough water. The witness replied that the water was turned off every night. He couldn't understand why they had to do this. There's plenty of water in the Town for any reason.
Jury: --"Just say that a fire broke out tomorrow would you be in this turmoil again?-If the valves were open would everything be alright?"
The Coroner noticed that the local jurisdiction had advised to stop wasting water. The Town Clerk suggested that the witness's statement was wrong. "We have the same water pressure day and night," he said. William Roberts, the Water Foreman, he went down the "Maes" Sunday morning and found that one of he Fire Hydrants was broken. He managed to restore the pressure in a few minutes.
The Coroner's Comments
In closing the Coroner said that he disagreed with the times that they had enough water. Maybe in future they will make use of the electric Fire Bells. "It appears," he said "that the lives would have been saved if the Fire Brigade had arrived there sooner." He paid tribute to the behaviour of the neighbours. The Policemen and the Fire Brigade played their part. The Caernarfôn Town Council should be glad that they had a Captain like Mr Robert Jones
The Coroner's Verdict
After hearing all the testimonies the jury passed that the cause of death was "Accidental death by being burnt." The Coroner gave his condolences to the bereaved family