Wednesday, February 21

Day break reveals devastating scenes as Britain’s oldest hotel



Day break has revealed devastating scenes at the site of the country’s oldest hotel today after fire ripped through it yesterday leaving it a shell.

More than 24 hours after the blaze broke out in a next door fine art gallery, more than 100 firefighters are still in attendance at the scene in Exeter, Devon.

Reports are coming in this morning that a gas main has now ruptured underneath The Royal Clarence Hotel – and engineers are trying to isolate the point of the leak.

Senior police officers have asked people to stay away from city centre unless absolutely necessary.

It’s clear though The Royal Clarence Hotel – which was built in 1769 and credited as the first hotel in England – has been utterly destroyed.

Video shot on a police drone yesterday showed huge plumes of white smoke billowing over the building.

Fire hoses could be seen desperately trying to tackle the flames as firefighters continued to work through the night.

Emergency services began tackling the fire at a fine art gallery close to the city’s landmark cathedral at 5am yesterday morning, the Exeter Express and Echo reports.

Firefighters initially thought they had it under control but later confirmed that it has spread to other venues on the Cathedral Green – including the historic Royal Clarence.

Devon and Cornwall Police have issued a statement confirming there were no injuries from the incident.

Deputy Chief Constable Bill Skelly said: “We are very grateful to members of the public and businesses who have listened to our advice to stay away from the area which assists the fire fighting operation.

“We are very happy that there have been no injuries resulting from this incident.”

Road closures have been issued and are likely to remain in place today.

Closures affect High Street and South Street, of South Street and the Cathedral Green, on Queen Street at the rear end of Tesco, on North Street at the Iron Bridge end, on Musgrave Road and on Bedford Square at the junction with High Street.

A hotel spokesman confirmed all the guests were safe after they were evacuated as a precaution.

But then a spokesman for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service soon confirmed the grim news: “The fire is involving a block of buildings on Cathedral Yard and has been declared as a major incident.

“Fire spread to adjacent Royal Clarence hotel.”

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Celebrity chef Michael Caines, who started his ABode chain of restaurants in the Royal Clarence Hotel, said it was a “black day for Exeter”.

“I’m devastated to hear the news about the Royal Clarence,” he said.

“Having run the hotel for 15 years from 2000 to this year, it is personally upsetting for me and my heart now goes out to the current owners.

“This hotel is of historical value to Exeter as a building that has played a significant role to the city over the centuries.

“There have been several significant fires in Exeter recently and it’s appalling to think that a fire has now ravaged two historical buildings.

“Today is a black day for Exeter.”

It is understood the fire broke out at the Laura Ashley store and the Castle Fine Art Gallery although it’s not yet clear what caused it to start.

Devon and Somerset Fire Service said crews from across Devon were at the scene tackling the blaze which has effected a block of building on Cathedral Yard.

“It is not known at this time where or how the fire started or how many properties have been affected. No injuries are reported,” a spokesman said.

Devon and Cornwall Police said road closures were in place around the city centre.

“It is hoped to open High Street to pedestrians and public transport as soon as possible, but this is dependent on the fire service safely completing its activities at the scene of the fire on Cathedral Green,” a force spokesman said.

“It is likely that Cathedral Green will remain cordoned off and not accessible to the public for some time.

“It is not known at this time how the fire started. No injuries are reported.”

The Royal Clarence Hotel has stood on the same spot for 300 years and is reported to be the oldest hotel in England.

The 17th century coaching inn, which is now called the Abode Hotel, is part of the Andrew Brownsword group.

Work is now being done to try and save the Royal Clarence Hotel from being burnt to the ground.

A spokesman for the hotel said last night: “Following, this morning’s fire in the building next door all our guests and safe were evacuated and are all safe and accounted for.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation and send our sympathies to our neighbours and all those affected by the fire.”

No-one is believed to have been injured.