Sunday, 24 January 2010

Fire strikes again

Another Georgian country house, Holnest Park in Dorset (pictured right in a photograph by Brian Kingsland), has been severely damaged by fire and at the time of writing is in danger of collapsing. Fire, either deliberate or in this case accidental (by way of an electic blanket), is nowadays the main threat to historic buildings and it is alarming how many fires occur (as, famously, at Uppark in Sussex) when restoration or refurbishment work is taking place and workmen's tools such as blowtorches are left unattended. In some ways, historic buildings are never in greater danger than when being restored. Plus, of course, they are likely to contain naturally flammable materials, such as wood, and are much less likely to be fitted with state-of-the-art fire retardants such as conventional fire doors, which may conflict with building conservation requirements. Ironically, those buildings which, from an historical perspective, we can least afford to lose to fire are also those which are most vulnerable. So extra vigilance is required. Should the worst happen, insurance will normally cover reinstatement, although nothing can replace the patina of age. But authentic rebuilding can be an opportunity, as at Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace and Uppark itself, for investment in traditional craft skills. Our concern at Holnest, once the extent of damage has been assessed, will be to ensure the salvage of as much original fabric as possible and its reincorporation in the rebuilt house.

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