Cadbury home Northfield Manor House destroyed in arson attack

Eyewitness Dominic Joy: "There were flames coming out of the first floor and the roof"

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A former home of the Cadbury family in Birmingham has been destroyed in an arson attack, the fire service said.

At its height, up to 100 firefighters were tackling the blaze at Northfield Manor House, which started on Wednesday evening.

Flames and smoke could be seen from the Lickey Hills about three miles (5km) away. No-one was injured.

The building has been described as part of Birmingham's heritage and architecturally significant.

It is listed by the city council as Grade A, but is not listed nationally.

Structural engineers said there was a "slight possibility" it could be saved from demolition.

BBC reporter Steve Hermon said he had been told by firefighters it was the second arson attack at the building in two days, although the fire on Tuesday night was small.

Twenty fire engines, hydraulic platforms and a high-volume water pump were sent to the four-storey brick building.

Northfield Manor House Flames and smoke from the fire could be seen about three miles away
Northfield Manor House fire Fire crews used hydraulic platforms and a high volume water pump

David Boucher, from West Midlands Fire Service, said the fire had taken about an hour to bring under control.

The Cadbury family and Birmingham

Cadbury chocolate

The Cadbury story began in 1824 when John Cadbury opened a shop in Birmingham selling coffee, tea, and drinking chocolate.

He started manufacturing chocolate on a commercial scale with his brother in the 1840s.

John's sons George and Richard took over the business in 1861 and expanded it, building a new factory four miles outside the city centre at Bournville.

George and his wife Elizabeth moved into Manor House in 1894 and during the World War Two she invited the Friends' Ambulance Unit to use the grounds for training.

The building was given to the University of Birmingham in 1952 to use as halls of residence.

George also gave the Bournville estate to the Bournville Village Trust in 1901 and donated the Lickey Hills Country Park to the people of Birmingham.

Cadbury was taken over by Kraft in 2010. The factory in Bournville still employs about 1,000 people.

"The house is adjoined to other premises but we managed to contain it to just the manor house itself," he said.

"Unfortunately the house is totally devastated and the structure is collapsing inside."

The fire service said the final decision on the building's future would be made by engineers at Birmingham City Council.

Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield Richard Burden said he had spoken to the engineers and "initial signs were that it could be saved".

"It's part of the area's heritage... it's important now that we retain the building," he said.

"It's appalling that people should do this kind of thing. There could have been people inside and it could have been much more serious."

Justin Cadbury, whose grandfather Egbert had lived in the manor house, said it was a "complete shock".

"There is a real sense of loss when you see something physically collapse and go up in smoke," he said.

"It is extraordinary that somebody could do something like this.

"I don't have the full facts but I don't think people realise the effect of their actions on lives of ordinary, decent people."

Jim Sparrow, who lives nearby, said: "It's been vandalised over the last two to three years and this has been coming for a long time.

"It's appalling that there's been no security around it and we've lost another building of architectural significance in the city."

The University of Birmingham, which owns the building, said there was round-the-clock security.

It bought the building from the Cadbury family in 1953 and used it as a student residence until 2007.

University vice-principal Professor Adam Tickell said: "The site, including the Manor House, was boarded up to prevent access and the university employed an external security company to provide 24/7 monitoring of the site.

"(The Manor House) was awaiting planning approval from the city council to be sensitively converted into flats as part of a wider redevelopment of the site."

Banner Homes said it submitted a joint application with the university in 2012 to turn the house into apartments.

A spokesman for CALA Homes, which acquired Banner Homes in March, said it was awaiting confirmation from the council whether the application would still be considered by the planning committee as originally planned, on 21 August.

Northfield Manor House Firefighters have been damping down throughout Thursday
Northfield Manor House The fire destroyed the roof and left a number of chimneys unstable
Northfield Manor House West Midlands Fire Service said the building may have to be demolished

The manor house, formerly known as Manor Farm, was originally built in 1820 and was the home of George and Elizabeth Cadbury from 1894.

After George died in 1922, Elizabeth continued to live there until her own death in 1951, aged 93.

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