During the refurbishment of Appleby’s bookshop (2017-19), several framed photographs of old Morpeth were found. Some of them have been scanned by the Antiquarians and added to their Collection.
Four of the photographs were from 1923 and show the dramatic explosion and fire from a lorry carrying cans of paraffin along Newgate Street. The following description has been collated from recent discussion of the event on the Morpeth History Matters Facebook Group – with the main contributors being Stephen Lewin and Kim Bibby-Wilson.
The incident took place on 4th January 1923:
The wagon was heading up Newgate Street and the paraffin caught alight. The driver stopped and the flames took hold. Realising the damage that could be done the driver risked his life getting back onto the wagon and moving it to the middle of the road just up from the Conservative Club to try and keep the buildings either side safe.
The image shown is from the original photograph, posted on “Morpeth History Matters” Facebook group by Andrew Primrose (and also in the Antiquarian Society collection) and coloured by Stephen Lewin.
Nevertheless, the resulting explosion still sent fuel flying through the air with several shops damaged including Duncan’s Bakery and a cycle and fish shop opposite, and also sent a canister through the window of 47 Newgate St which was then the Shoulder of Mutton pub (two decades later, the property became Marie Tweedie’s woolshop).
However, thanks to the driver’s bravery and quick thinking, the fire did not spread to other surrounding buildings though several suffered considerable smoke damage, including the property which became Appleby’s but was then Bob Hood’s greengrocery and fancy goods shop.
The total cost for the damage was £7000 – a fair sum in 1923 equivalent to about £450k in 2020 value
Another picture found in Appleby’s and now in the Antiquarian Society collection shows an advert from the late 1890’s for the relocation and expansion of Elliott’s greengrocery, stationery and newsagent’s business (subsequently owned by Bob Hood) to the premises which became Appleby’s. It was later, when Alfie Appleby took over the premises, that it became a newsagent, stationery and bookshop.
Also amongst the photographs are some adverts for shops selling tea and coffee as well as a cafe at 16 Newgate Street named Jobson’s Cocoa Rooms – “What Morpeth Wanted”