Police investigating after blaze tears through former Sheringham Hotel
PUBLISHED: 15:39 28 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:55 28 February 2018
Police are investigating the cause of a devastating fire that tore through a former Sheringham hotel in the early hours of yesterday morning, forcing people living nearby to rush to the safety of neighbours' homes in their nightwear.
Six fire crews, as well as an aerial ladder platform and a water carrier were called to the Southlands Hotel, in South Street, just after 1am.
The blaze was quickly brought under control, but firefighters expected to spend most of the rest of the day damping down flames and keeping the building safe.
Incident commander John Baker, who is station manager at North Walsham, said the Sheringham crew were first on the scene.
“They could see from the main roundabout that it was a severe fire, so they immediately asked for four appliances,” he explained.
This was then increased to six, with crews from North Walsham, Fakenham, Aylsham, Cromer and Holt, as well as a water carrier from Earlham, quickly joining the Sheringham crew.
Mr Baker estimated that the fire had been burning for up to 30 minutes before the emergency services were alerted by a member of the public.
“It was already through the first floor and roof, so it must have been burning for some time,” he said.
“Given the conditions, the crews did an amazing job, it was freezing cold, windy and they had at least an inch of snow on their fire helmets.”
Cynthia Thomas, who lives next door to the empty hotel with her partner Christine Craske, was alerted to the fire by a friend from the house opposite.
“The first thing we knew was our neighbour banging on the door and ringing the bell,” Ms Thomas explained. “She told us we had to get out, so we ran across the road in our pyjamas and slippers.”
Worried that their house would also go up in flames, the couple watched from a window as the fire crews worked, eventually returning home at 6am.
“It was terrifying, we were told it was touch and go at one point and I just thought we could lose everything.”
Another neighbour, who did not want to be named, said: “I woke up and there was an orange light in my bedroom; I looked out of the window, people were in the street and everything was ablaze – it was very scary.”
North Norfolk District Council chairman Richard Shepherd, who is councillor for Sheringham South, said: “It’s a shock. It was once a family-owned hotel.
“It has been up for sale for some time but to no avail as it needed quite a lot of work doing to make it the hotel it once was.
“It was hugely popular in Sheringham. I shall be very curious as to the cause.”
Sheringham town councillor Liz Withington, said: “I can’t say from a council perspective but, as an individual, it’s a very sad day for Sheringham.
“There is a lot of history in that hotel; weddings, funerals, all sorts of things were held there and it was very much part of the social history of the town.
“It was also a very attractive building so it is a huge loss to the town architecturally as well.
“I think it closed due to larger hotel chains moving in and it was also largely frequented by older people.
“It was extremely well run and a part of the community.”
Norfolk Police said they were investigating the cause of the fire, with the East of England Ambulance Service confirming that they had not attended the incident and no injuries had been reported.
The Southlands, which was a popular haunt for visitors and also regularly hosted local weddings, birthday parties, and other events, was built in 1911 by Sheringham man James William Weston, who also built ‘The Nest’ next door, which is now a retirement home.
The business was passed down to Mr Weston’s son after he returned from fighting in WW2, eventually being sold in the mid 1960s.
Mr Weston’s great-granddaughter Jenny Dandy said she was in tears when she heard that the hotel, which had been empty for some years, had gone up in flames.
“This is such bad news for our family, the hotel was built for my great-grandmother and I remember staying there. To see the room we actually slept in on fire was just awful,” she added.