The Crown Inn, Maindee

The Crown Inn, Maindee, Newport

In 1879 an inquest was held at this pub into the suicide of John Byrne, who had received the Victoria Cross – Britain’s highest military honour – for his bravery in the Crimean War in the 1850s.

John was born in Castlecomer, Kilkenny, Ireland and served with the Durham Light Infantry’s 16th Battalion. His VC was one of the first ever awarded. It recognised his actions in rescuing a wounded soldier and, on another occasion, overpowering a Russian soldier in close combat and capturing the man’s musket. He later received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions in 1864 during a battle against Maori warriors in New Zealand.

After his war service, John spent some time at an asylum (home for people with mental health difficulties). He arrived destitute in Bristol, explaining that he’d lost his possessions in a fire in Cork. He was given a job with the South Wales division of the Ordnance Survey, the official map-making body.

On 10 July 1879 he believed that a young colleague called John Watts had insulted the Victoria Cross. Later that day he shot John Watts in the shoulder before returning to his lodgings at 7 Crown Street, where Crown Inn landlord William Davey visited him several times during the day and persuaded him to hand himself over to the police. As the pair were about to walk out of the house, John Byrne pointed his revolver at the waiting sergeant and then turned the gun around and fired into his own mouth.

The inquest returned a verdict of suicide while in a state of unsound mind. John’s grave in St Woolos Cemetery, Newport, was largely forgotten until 1985, when General Sir Peter de la Billiere unveiled a newly inscribed gravestone.

The Crown Inn was also the meeting place of the Loyal Maindee Lodge of Oddfellows (similar to Freemasons). In 1870 the lodge agreed to pay £3 annual rent but later insisted on paying only £2, as previously. The landlord lost his claim in court because the minutes recording the £3 agreement hadn’t been signed. The judge – clearly not an Oddfellow himself – said it was a “most shabby affair not to pay the money” but friendly societies were often known to be shabby.

With thanks to Shaun McGuire

Postcode: NP19 8FU    View Location Map