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Historic hall near the Blickling Estate destroyed by fire

PUBLISHED: 10:23 01 April 2015 | UPDATED: 16:59 01 April 2015

Oulton Hall fire. Picture: Brian Walshe

Oulton Hall fire. Picture: Brian Walshe

Brian Walshe

A rural hall which has stood for centuries has been gutted after fire ripped through the private home.

Fire Oulton Hall in the early hours of Tuesday morning with 7 fire engines in attendance overnight.

Picture: MARK BULLIMOREFire Oulton Hall in the early hours of Tuesday morning with 7 fire engines in attendance overnight. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

The blaze at Oulton Hall, near the Blickling Estate, broke out in the roof early yesterday morning and quickly spread throughout the historic property.

Its owner Bolton Agnew was woken up by the flames and escaped unharmed in his pyjamas.

The only possession he rescued, before calling the fire service, was his wallet, according to his brother.

No-one else was in the house at the time and at the peak of the blaze, between midnight and 3am, there were 50 firefighters and fire officers on the scene.

Norfolk fire service will lead the investigation into the cause of the fire.

Hethersett firefighter Brian Walshe, who was incident commander after arrived at 12.45am, said 90-95pc of the building had been damaged by flames and smoke.

He said: “The fire appears to have started in the roof and then spread very quickly to all parts of the building.

“We had the added complications of it being an old building and the weather and wind.”

Because of concerns of structural damage inside the hall, firefighters could not go inside the building.

Instead they fought the flames from outside the imposing hall, which dates back to the 16th century in parts.

Mr Agnew, who was born in the hall and is involved with farming and many company directorships, stayed with the firefighters for two hours.

“It is very unfortunate for the owner that we were not able to conduct any salvage operations. He was obviously concerned but was very calm.

“I did feel for him. Oulton Hall was a fabulous place and so well-looked after. I like heritage buildings and it is a shame another one has gone,” Mr Walshe added.

It is believed the fire spread after dry timbers from the roof fell down to the first and second floors.

Fire crews managed to stop the blaze spreading to an extension at the back and a tank of heating oil.

Mr Walshe said there were four possible causes of the incident, including an open fire or electrics.

Carrow firefighter Glen South, who took over as incident commander after arriving at 3.30pm, said: “Wind conditions made it extremely difficult to fight the fire.”

The hall is well-known as it opens its stunning grounds under the National Gardens Scheme.

It previously belonged to the Agnew family between the 1940s and 1960s and was bought by Mr Agnew in the 1980s.

The trained solicitor refurbished the hall and gardens about 15 years ago with his estranged wife Clare.

Mr Agnew’s brother, Stuart Agnew MEP, from Helhoughton near Fakenham, said: “Both him and Clare spent a great deal of money on the house. They have put an enormous amount of effort into it. Bolton was very fastidious about the house and garden.

“The fire would have hit him hard. I was extremely shocked when I heard about it. It must have been extremely frightening for Bolton.”

Mr Agnew added the blaze would be a major blow for his brother as he saw it as a family home.

He said his brother, who is involved in the Norfolk Community Foundation, had gone to London after the fire broke out.

The Oulton Hall grounds are due to open on Sunday May 31 between 1-5pm for the National Gardens Scheme in Norfolk, which raises money for care charities.

Graham Watts, press officer for the Norfolk scheme, said: “It is a lovely building with lovely grounds. The damage to the hall will be a disaster for the family. It is really sad and unfortunate that something like this has happened. We at the National Gardens Scheme will given them all the support they need.”

He added: “The garden is very interesting and one of our top gardens.”

Every year it attracts more than 200 visitors and raises more than £1,000 for charities including Marie Curie Cancer Care, Macmillan Cancer Support nurses, the Queen’s Nursing Institute and Carers Trust.

The first fire crews which arrived at the hall were from Aylsham, Reepham, Holt, Sheringham, Sprowston, Earlham, including an aerial ladder platform, a control unit from Wymondham and a water carrier from Fakenham.

Relief crews took over the scene after the blaze was under control and continued spraying water on the hall until about 6pm yesterday.

Oulton artist and poet Vince Laws, 54, who lives opposite the hall, saw the fire from his bedroom window.

He said: “You could see the roof burning away.”

Do you have a fire rescue story? Email sophie.wyllie@archant.co.uk

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