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Major fires damage historic buildings in the South West

In October, fires severely damaged two historic buildings in the region. In such cases, and in close liaison with the emergency services and local authorities, we provide national expertise to secure the best outcome for the historic structures, both during the recovery process, and in planning for their repair, reconstruction or restoration.

The Royal Clarence Hotel, Exeter

A major fire in Exeter City Centre on 30 October destroyed the Grade II listed Royal Clarence Hotel, and severely damaged other listed buildings alongside the hotel.

Historic England's team of experts visited the site immediately following the fire to review the damage. Some demolition has subsequently been undertaken to address concerns over safety. However, in agreement with Exeter City Council's building control department, the bottom two storeys of the façade have been retained.

People standing behind fencing watching a building being partially demolished
Royal Clarence Hotel following October's fire

We were able to put Exeter City Council in touch with a number of people and organisations with experience of the aftermath of catastrophic fires in historic buildings, and our engineers continue to give advice on the emergency stabilisation of the remains of the hotel and the damaged buildings flanking it. We are also arranging for emergency recording work to take place, initially in the form of a drone survey.

We will continue to work with Exeter City Council, sharing our expertise and advising on structural issues, recording what remains or can be salvaged, and by joining a working party headed up by the Chief Executive to look at future options for the site.

For updates on the Royal Clarence Hotel go to the Exeter City Council website or facebook page.

Find out more about our fire research work

St Michael on the Mount, Bristol

On 16 October, a fire severely damaged the church of St Michael on the Mount in Bristol. It is thought that there has been a church on this site since the late 12th century, but the current church was built in the 1770s and retains a tower dating from 1490.

As a grade II* listed building, it is in the top 8% of listed buildings nationally. Although it has been empty since 1999, it remains an imposing presence on St Michael's Hill and contains a fine, if little known, interior.

Thankfully there was no loss of life, but the church was badly damaged. Around half the roof has been lost, although fire crews from Avon Fire & Rescue were able to prevent damage to the late medieval tower.

We have been in ongoing discussions with the Diocese of Bristol over potential re-use of this important building, which is on the Register of Heritage at Risk. Sadly, empty buildings such as St Michael's are often vulnerable to damage.

We will continue to work with the Diocese, providing expertise and advice from our conservation architects, engineers, and historic buildings advisers when access to the site is restored.

Read our guidance on 'Vacant Historic Buildings: An owner's guide to temporary uses, maintenance and mothballing'

Burnt out church roof
St Michael on the Mount following October’s devastating fire © Avon Fire & Rescue Service

Discover the latest war memorial listed in the South West

To mark Armistice Day we announced the listing of 50 war memorials across the country including The Hewetson Memorial Cross and Plaque, Fargo Plantation, Larkhill, Wiltshire (below), a relatively rare memorial erected in 1913 commemorating a flying accident which killed a pioneer aviator. The memorials are recognised for their historic and architectural importance and have been listed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.

Celtic cross memorial with fields in the background
Memorial to Major Alexander Hewetson, killed in an aeroplane crash near this spot on 17 July 1913. His memorial stands on the edge of the National Trust’s Fargo Woods, which bordered the former airfields at Stonehenge and Larkhill, the first military airfield. © Ashley Columbus (CC BY-SA)

But there is still more to do. We want you to nominate your memorial for listing to help meet our pledge to protect 2,500 memorials by 2018, marking the centenary of the First World War. This short film tells you more about what you can do for your local war memorial:


Need more inspiration? Read the story of how the children of Fishponds Church of England Academy in Bristol got their local war memorial listed as part of a First World War project, earning them a nomination for a 2016 Heritage Angel Award.

Follow us on Twitter at @HE_SouthWest to keep up to date with all the latest listings, news and pictures from the region.

Uncover the hidden stories behind the South West’s treasured historic places

Across the country Historic England is crowdsourcing knowledge and photographs for the official list of the nation's 400,000 most significant historic places. This is the first time in history the list has been opened up for public contributions and your chance to get involved.

Here in the South West we are asking you to share your images and information to discover the hidden history of:

  • Our historic towns and cities, particularly Plymouth, Exeter, Gloucester, Bristol and Taunton
  • Our iconic seaside towns, especially Bournemouth and Christchurch
  • The heritage of our two largest counties - Wiltshire and Cornwall

Some 99% of people in England live within a mile of a listed building or place and you can discover your nearest by searching the list using a postcode. With around 89,700 listed buildings and 7,300 other historic places in the South West there is bound to be one near you. By sharing your photos, old or new, and by telling the story of the people and events which have shaped the places we live in, you'll be part of a growing community of people getting involved in their local heritage.

You can see an example of a list description with a contribution here, on the entry for the Temple of Vaccinia in Gloucestershire,where Dr Edward Jenner performed his first vaccination against smallpox in 1796.

Once you've added your information please do let us know, you can share your entries with us on Twitter at @HE_SouthWest where you can also keep up to date with all the latest news and pictures from the region.

Jenner Hut
The Temple of Vaccinia, Berkeley, Stroud, Gloucestershire © IoE132203

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