Gallery and video: End of an era – demolition work begins at fire-damaged former Aldiss store in Fakenham

The demolition has started on the former Aldiss building in Fakenham town centre, after it was destroyed by fire in May 2014. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The demolition has started on the former Aldiss building in Fakenham town centre, after it was destroyed by fire in May 2014. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

It was a day which changed Fakenham’s townscape forever, as the historic façade of one of its most recognisable buildings crumbled into rubble.

But as demolition work began on the fire-ravaged former Aldiss department store it also symbolised the determination to swiftly rebuild a positive future from the ashes of the disaster.

The proud, century-old landmark was among the buildings which were damaged by the devastating blaze which tore through Upper Market Place on May 25.

And after demolition experts bolstered the neighbouring properties, the process of clearing the debris from the site began in earnest today.

The Aldiss family commissioned the work which brought a 48-tonne high-reach demolition rig to the town – the only one of its kind in Norfolk – which used a 22m mechanical arm to ensure the unstable buildings could be dismantled from a safe distance.

Preparatory “propping” work ensured the structural integrity was maintained for the neighbouring Pedlar’s Gold store – one of the town’s oldest listed buildings, dating back to the 17th century. Although its damaged gable wall fell, as expected by the demolition crew, the chimney breast and frontage of the shop remain intact.

And to the rear of the building, scaffolding and boards were used to protect an ancient church wall and gravestones from the risk of falling masonry.

The clearance of the site is expected to take about three weeks, gradually reducing the buildings to a safe height before bricks and any salvageable architectural features can be reclaimed by hand.

Aldiss managing director Paul Clifford said: “The Aldiss family has commissioned this work to show their clear intent to begin the important process of bringing this site back into use as soon as possible.

“The first priority is to make the area safe for the people of the town and our fellow traders, but it is also the first positive step along the road to rebuilding, as we look ahead to the future.

“Like everybody else in Fakenham, we don’t want to see this site left as a hole in the heart of our town, and the family should be applauded for their swift action.”

Although there were some discussions about whether it was possible to save the ornate moulded render which decorated the front of the famous old department store, the cracked structure was deemed unsafe to work on.

Lee Storer, managing director of Attleborough-based firm Anglian Demolition and Asbestos, which is carrying out the work, said: “The main thing is making sure everything is done safely.

“Everyone was keen to save the façade. It is a shame, and I wish there was a way we could have done it, but we would need to get a crane in and put guys up there at height, and the cracks which you could see in the brickwork means it is so unstable that we couldn’t risk putting guys up there to retain it.

“It is really sad to see that this old building is gone. When you see a building that is damaged like this it is never good, but at the end of the day we are here to do a job and to get the rest of these shops and the bank open as soon as possible.”

-The rector at Fakenham Parish Church has reassured parishioners that a regular charity event will go ahead following the town’s major fire – with all refreshments money donated to the EDP’s appeal to help the blaze victims.

The Rev Adrian Bell said he has had numerous calls to the church office asking about the Grand Book and Jigsaw Fayre, which will be going ahead as planned tomorrow, Saturday June 7, from 10am to 1pm.

There will be thousands of books and jigsaws, and all proceeds from the refreshments will be donated to the EDP’s Let’s Fight for Fakenham appeal.

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