Wiltshire: Old abbey saved from devastation after arson attack

Old abbey saved from devastation after arson attack

The fire had been started near a wall next to the historic abbey (Images: Ben Thornbury/SWNS)

A 12th-century abbey was saved from devastation after heroic locals took action to put out a fire.

Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire was targeted by arsonists on Friday night.

As the flames grew, so did concern that the fire could damage the ancient structure.

Malmesbury Fire Station, just 400 meters away, was unable to send help due to a shortage of on-call firefighters.

Instead, crews from the nearby town of Chippenham were called into action, but there was a 12-minute wait before they could arrive.

Brave local residents and business owners therefore stepped up to the plates to put out the flames.

Staff from The Bird Cage restaurant, The Old Bell Hotel and the Co-op Food Store were all involved in the fight to save the abbey.

Bird Cage’s Toby Lavan spotted the flames through the restaurant’s window.

He told Metro.co.uk: “The window looks straight onto the Abbey.

A 12th-century abbey was saved from an arson attack by local residents and restaurant workers who rushed to douse the flames with buckets of water. See bSWNS story SWBRabbey. Firefighters rushed to reports of a fire at Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire just after 9pm on Friday evening (03/06). But after a 10-mile sprint from Chippenham, firefighters found the fire was under control from The Bird Cage restaurant, The Old Bell Hotel and Co-op Food Store, using buckets of water and fire extinguishers to control the blaze. A local resident took to social media to praise her efforts, writing:

The Abbey brings large numbers of visitors to the Wiltshire town (Image: Ben Thornbury/SWNS)

“We got fire extinguishers from the restaurant and ran out. It wasn’t just us, there were about 40 people all helping.

“We had fire extinguishers, others had buckets of water.”

For the Malmesbury community, the thought of losing the Abbey is unfathomable.

The structure forms the “heart” of the city and attracts tourists to the area.

“The Abbey is why a lot of people visit,” Mr Lavan added.

“People were pretty upset after what happened, it was a strange night.”

Thanks to the efforts of the Local Heroes, the fire was brought under control within minutes.

Pablo Valente, General Manager of the Old Bell Hotel, was also one of the first on site.

He told Metro.co.uk: “We were having a busy night because of the anniversary when someone came in and said there was a fire.

“We took action, got our own fire extinguishers and ran over. Others did the same, and there were neighbors with large buckets of water.

A 12th-century abbey was saved from an arson attack by local residents and restaurant workers who rushed to douse the flames with buckets of water. See bSWNS story SWBRabbey. Firefighters rushed to reports of a fire at Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire just after 9pm on Friday evening (03/06). But after a 10-mile sprint from Chippenham, firefighters found the fire was under control from The Bird Cage restaurant, The Old Bell Hotel and Co-op Food Store, using buckets of water and fire extinguishers to control the blaze. A local resident took to social media to praise her efforts, writing:

Locals used buckets of water and fire extinguishers to fight the blaze (Image: Ben Thornbury/SWNS)

“The Abbey is really important to our community in Malmesbury, it’s part of the city.

“It’s a fragile structure and when we saw it on fire we knew we had to do something.”

After the blazes were put out, locals and business owners helped clear the debris while firefighters secured the area.

A resident, Charli Cumberpatch, later posted on Facebook: “Great well done and many thanks to The Birdcage and Old Bell staff and the local people who responded so quickly tonight with fire extinguishers and buckets of water to put out the fire at the Abbey Clear .

“It could have been a very different ending without everyone being so amazing.”

Others online branded the responders “absolute heroes.”

Historic Malmesbury Abbey in the spring sunshine, Wiltshire, UK

Caption: Historic Malmesbury Abbey in spring sunshine, Wiltshire, UK Photographer: ChrisAt Provider: Getty Images/iStockphoto Source: iStockphoto Copyright: Photo ? Chris Rose (Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Malmesbury Fire Station has also urged people to consider contacting them to ensure such an incident does not happen again.

A statement on Facebook said: “An incident occurred at Malmesbury Abbey last night and unfortunately your local fire station was unavailable.

“We have been working on recruitment for Malmesbury Fire Station for some time and this is a timely request!”

Police investigations into the intentional fire are ongoing.

Gavin Grant, Wiltshire Councilor for Malmesbury, said: “Following the disgraceful arson attack on the Abbey last night, the Mayor of Malmesbury, Cllr Kim Power, and I are meeting Wiltshire Police on Wednesday to ensure effective action is taken to take action against the perpetrators.

“In the meantime I urge anyone who has any relevant information, dashcam footage, photos etc. to forward it to the police on 101. Even the smallest detail is important to create the evidence.”

Malmesbury Abbey was built on the site of a former Saxon monastery dating back to 700 AD.

Athelstan, the first king of all England, was buried somewhere in the grounds of Malmesbury Abbey in 939.

The site was also an important Benedictine abbey and a well-known place of learning.

At the time it possessed the second largest library in Europe and one of its members was the 12th-century historian William of Malmesbury.

It was placed on the Grade I list in 1949, having survived previous fires and the English Civil War.

The nearby Abbey House and Gardens was also known for the “Naked Gardeners” – the Pollard family who enjoyed tending their greenery in the nude.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/05/wiltshire-ancient-abbey-saved-from-devastation-after-arson-attack-16771940/ Wiltshire: Old abbey saved from devastation after arson attack

Justin Scacco

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