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Blaze at former Langley Preparatory School ‘entirely foreseeable’, town council claims

PUBLISHED: 12:34 04 June 2018 | UPDATED: 17:39 04 June 2018

The fire as seen from the aerial platform at the former Thorpe House Langley Preparatory School site in Yarmouth Road, Thorpe St Andrew. Picture: NFRS

The fire as seen from the aerial platform at the former Thorpe House Langley Preparatory School site in Yarmouth Road, Thorpe St Andrew. Picture: NFRS

Archant

A blaze which ripped through a derelict 19th century former school in Thorpe St Andrew was “entirely foreseeable,” a council spokesman has claimed.

The fire as seen from the aerial platform at the former Thorpe House Langley Preparatory School site in Yarmouth Road, Thorpe St Andrew. Picture: NFRS.The fire as seen from the aerial platform at the former Thorpe House Langley Preparatory School site in Yarmouth Road, Thorpe St Andrew. Picture: NFRS.

Fire gutted part of the former Langley Preparatory School at Beech Hill, off Yarmouth Road, on Sunday in a suspected arson attack.

It comes less than four years after arsonists targeted the nearby Pinebanks building, which is owned by the same developer.

The fire service was called to the school site at around 9.20pm, with around 40 firefighters tackling the blaze at its peak.

Thomas Foreman, Thorpe St Andrew Town Council clerk, said there had been long-standing concern around the site’s future.

A fire which took hold at the former Langley Preparatory School site is thought to have been arson. Picture: Dominic GilbertA fire which took hold at the former Langley Preparatory School site is thought to have been arson. Picture: Dominic Gilbert

“It is tragic that Thorpe has lost another historic building to arson on a site, that combined with Pinebanks, has 24-hour security,” he said.

“It was entirely foreseeable given the history of that site.”

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service watch manager Kevin Flaxman said crews had been called to the site before in relation to smaller fires.

Crews were scaled back at around 2am on Monday morning when it appeared the fire had been fully extinguished.

The fire at the former Langley Preparatory School, as seen from Whitlingham Lake. Picture: Louise LinnellThe fire at the former Langley Preparatory School, as seen from Whitlingham Lake. Picture: Louise Linnell

Ocubis, development manager for site owner Berliet Ltd, said it spends £100,000 each year on security at the site.

The company said it had made “considerable efforts” to protect the buildings against “extremely persistent and aggressive” criminal acts.

A spokesman said three security staff are based 24/7 on the site in Old Thorpe House.

The spokesman added that Berliet will review what action should be taken in regard to making the Beech Hill building safe if required.

It is understood the building has been derelict since 2010 when Langley moved to Thorpe House. In July 2016, the school merged with Taverham Hall School.

Town Mayor John Fisher said: “It is annoying and we believe unnecessary because we thought they [the developers] had put in place sufficient security.”

He said his concern was now for Thorpe St Andrew’s other historic buildings.

He said he met with the developer - along with the town clerk - last year to “specifically” discuss the future of the building.

“Our concern is now for the other historic buildings, such as the [Pinebanks] tower,” Mr Fisher said.

Watch manager Mr Flaxman said it was “pretty obvious” what had happened in regard to the fire.

He said: “There has been a forced entry around the rear of the property, they have prised a door open and gone in through a first floor window.

“Other crews have been here previously to smaller fires.”

Norfolk County Council said an investigation into the case of the fire was ongoing.

The building’s history

Nick Williams, secretary of the Thorpe History Group, said the Beech Hill building was believed to have been built in the mid 19th century.

Between 1880 and 1895 it served as the home of Hugh Gurney Barclay, and was later purchased by George Morse around 1896.

Mr Williams said it was during that time that the property changed its name from Bellvue to Beech Hill.

He said there is record of Mr Morse entertaining the then Conservative prime minister Stanley Baldwin and his wife at Beech Hill house in the 1920s.

Mr Morse lived there until 1931 when he died.

He was said to be a very generous benefactor to Thorpe St Andrew. A park off Laundry Lane features the George Morse Pavilion.

The house became a preparatory school after the Second World War.

“It is extremely sad,” Mr Williams said. “We have lost another building which was important to the history of Thorpe St Andrew.”

Other historic buildings destroyed by fire

The former Langley school building is not the first historic building to catch fire in Norfolk in recent years.

In July 2014 the nearby former Pinebanks sports and social club in Thorpe St Andrew was targeted by arsonists.

The building, which was built in the 19th century, had been empty since 2008 since

It was then purchased in 2009 by Jersey-based Berliet Ltd.

In 2013 planning permission was granted for 231 homes at the site, but development is still yet to start.

The Pinebanks building has since been demolished following safety concerns by Broadland District Council.

Meanwhile, in Little Plumstead, arsonists struck the former 19th century hospital on August 14, 2016.

The building, which dated back to 1889, had to be pulled down.

Cripps Developments Ltd, which owns the site, has already started building work on 88 homes nearby.

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