Wallasey Mishaps

Brighton Street Fire

Wallasey News
Saturday February 7th, 1929

Wallasey’s Most Tragic Fire

Three Dead: Four Injured.

Heroic Efforts : Baulked By Flames

The disastrous fire which resulted in the loss of three lives and injuries to a man and his three children, in Brighton Street in the early hours of Tuesday morning, was the most tragic in Wallasey for many years.

It is made still more poignant by the fact that one of the victims, Mrs. Groves, wife of William Richard Groves, the occupant of the upholsterer’s shop, 188, Brighton Street, leaves three young children, the eldest being only four years of age.

The other victims were
Miss Rose O’Connor (86) and her niece, Miss Mary Linden, middle-aged, who were suffocated.
Mr. Groves and his three children were burned about the face and hands, the eldest child being the most badly burnt, and all were detained at the Central Hospital.

The outbreak which developed with fierce intensity was first discovered by Mr. Groves before 4.30 a.m., and he raised the alarm. Even then the flames had begun to sweep upwards, and he rushed from the room with his children, expecting Mrs. Groves to follow. He had got two of the children safely through the shop and into the street when he was found near the door by Police-Sergt. Collings, who immediately went into the shop and rescued the third child from the foot of the stairs, which were blazing furiously. As the sergeant carried the child out of the shop the stairs collapsed, and on his return he found the flames had been drive across the approach to the upper rooms. Undaunted, the officer attempted to find another way to the women trapped in their bedrooms above the shop, but after smashing a kitchen door at the rear of the premises he was beaten back by the flames and had to abandon his brave attempt.

Mr Groves Mrs Groves


When the foremen arrived, they also were baulked by the flames, which, fanned by the wind, swept upwards, and at one point cut through the roof, lighting up all the neighbourhood. It was then utterly impossible to enter the bedrooms, though several attempts were made, and it was only after the firemen had battled with the outbreak from extension flames at the front and rear of the house for some time that a search could be made and the full extent of the tragedy revealed.

Mrs. Groves was found suffocated under the bed, in the back bedroom; Miss. O’Connor was dead in bed in the front room, where she, too, had been suffocated, and Miss. Linden was on the floor at her bedside.

Mrs. Groves was partly dressed – a fact which rather substantiates a suggestion that she hesitated to follow her husband in order to put on some clothes, and was trapped by the flames while doing so.

The bodies were covered with sheets and lowered from a bedroom window by a lifeline, and afterwards taken to the Seacombe mortuary.


As the firemen battled with the outbreak they had the further hardship of the water freezing and forming icicles as it washed down the ladders. Fortunately, there was quite a strong force of water from the hydrants, and there was a no difficulty from this source.

Some idea of the intensity of the outbreak and the rapidity with which it developed was given to a “News” representative by Mr. Eddas, a dairyman who occupies the adjoining shop.

“The first I heard was a cry of ‘Fire’,” he said, “and I thought at first it might be in by our building. I found it was not, and on looking through the bedroom window I saw a man in his shirt and trousers screaming out ‘Fire’. He seemed to be almost demented with grief. Then I saw two police officers, and I went out. The whole of the building was a mass of flames, and burned like a furnace. It seemed certain that my shop and another on the other side would be destroyed, and I gathered what loose money I had in the shop. The brigade were faced with what seemed a hopeless task, because the flames were fierce and burnt through the first floor with amazing rapidity, lighting up the whole of the district. The blaze lasted altogether about an hour and a half, and the firemen did wonderfully well to save the adjoining shops, which, fortunately, were divided by a three brick wall.”


Though there were no actual eyewitnesses of the attempted escape of the victims of the exception of Mr. Groves, graphic stories were told by neighbours of the scenes immediately following the >>>

discovery, and an extraordinary fact was revealed. This was that the occupants of Messrs. Priestly’s, photographic premises opposite, were awakened two hours before the outbreak was discovered by a police officer who told them he could smell burningwhich seemed to have its source on their premises. A search was made immediately, and as a result it was thought that the fumes came from an oil stove in the house. Two hours later the household was again awakened, but this time by the cry of “Fire,” and they found Mr. Groves in the street crying out “My wife’s in there. Help, help.” It was then seen that the shop and the rooms above were ablaze. On running out they saw Mr. Groves in a grief-stricken state, banging his fists on the hoarding. He was taken into Miss Priestly’s houses, and the children also were cared for, their burns being dressed and the four afterwards taken to the hospital in the ambulance.

Brighton Street, Front Fire damage Brighton Street, Back fire damage

The children were at first sheltered in the watchman’s hut at the corner of Clarendon Road, where the Corporation watchman, Mr. Edward Horseman, very kindly looked after them and provided the two children with bread and butter and tea.

Everything in the shop and the bedrooms was destroyed, part of the roof fell in, furniture was burned and broken, and a motor cycle in the back was wrecked, its tyres being burned off and the bodywork charred and twisted.


When a “News” representative sought an official statement on the tragedy and its cause he was told that the cause had not been established, and that the only person able to give any information of what occurred in the building immediately after the discovery was the husband of the youngest victim, William Edward Groves, who is still in Central Hospital with his three children. He has not yet been able to make a complete statement on the occurrence, but we understand he had stated in hospital that he thought his wife was following him. When he attempted to return again to the bedroom he was prevented from doing so by the barricade formed by the blazing staircase. The police statement of the tragedy showed that Sergt. Collings and Police Constable Swetnam were on duty near the corner of Tobin Street, when they heard the shout of “Fire”.

They went to No. 188, Brighton Street and found the whole premises one mass of flames. As Sergeant Collings went through the door part of the staircase collapsed. He succeeded in rescuing one of the children from the burning house.

The father, Mr. Groves, had already escaped from the burning building with his two other children, who had been taken to a neighbour’s house, all having been more or less badly burned.

When the fire brigade arrived, in charge of Inspector Nicholson, the flames were so fierce that it was utterly impossible to enter the building, although repeated attempts were made.

When at last the firemen did enter the premises they found the old lady, Miss Rosie O’Connor, dead in bed in the front bedroom over the shop. They also found the old lady’s niece, Miss Mary Linden, and Mrs. Groves lying dead on the floor near the bed. They had, there is little doubt, died from suffocation, and their bodies were badly burned after death.

Apparently the fire had started in the back kitchen, and it was probable that nearby was a store of upholstery, and that this had been ignited and caused the furious flames, which ascended to the upper rooms and travelled right through to the roof. Part of the roof of the back bedroom had ultimately fallen in.

A statement afterwards made by Sergt. Collings said that the shop was a mass of flames when he arrived there and found Mr. Groves near the door with two of his children, shouting something about his wife being inside.


Several causes of the outbreak have been suggested, but no reliance can at present be placed on any of them. One is that a neighbour heard the sound of an explosion, apparently caused by gas; another is that a lamp had been left burning to keep the pipes free from frost, while the “News” was credibly informed that, the previous night some rubbish had been found burning at the rear of the premises and had been stamped out by Mr. Groves. Whether they smoldered and broke out again later is not known.


The inquest proceedings were opened by Mr. J.C. Bate, the West Cheshire Coroner, with a jury on Wednesday afternoon, and lasted four minutes, only evidence of identification being taken.

Mr. Alfred Edward Kelly, of 49 Rocky Lane, Anfield, Liverpool, identified the youngest victim as his daughter, Mrs. Emmelina May Groves (25), and the others as Miss   Rose O’Connor (86) and her niece, Miss Mary Linden (51).

The Coroner told the jury that Mr. Groves would not be the chief witness, but he was in hospital and would not be available for three weeks. The inquest would therefore be adjourned until February 13th.


Very little is known about the victims of the fore, as Mr. Groves and his family came to live in Wallasey less than nine months ago. Until then they had lived in Liverpool, Miss O’Connor being a distant relative of the family.