London

Southwark museum and library blaze tackled by fire crews

  • 25 March 2013
  • From the section London

A fire has broken out in a building in Southwark which houses a library, a museum and the council "one stop shop".

Almost 120 firefighters and 20 fire engines tackled the blaze in the four-storey building in Wansey Street, Walworth, London Fire Brigade (LFB) said.

The fire was brought under control by 17:45 GMT, it said.

The roof of the library and museum was on fire and crews will remain throughout the night.

'Thick grey smoke'

No injuries have been reported and Southwark Council said it was too early to say what had been damaged.

The fire started a few minutes before 12:30 GMT and 30 people were evacuated from inside the building, which houses Newington Library.

LFB station manager Peter Critchell said flames were coming through the roof and there was thick grey smoke billowing up.

Mr Critchell said water jets were used at the four corners of the building and firefighters had made an effort to salvage as many of the artefacts as possible.

The Wansey Street building was previously the Old Walworth Town Hall.

Cuming Museum, which was founded in 1906 with the Cuming family's private collection, has artefacts from all over the world, including objects from Roman London, Chinese ornaments and African tribal costumes.

It also houses a permanent exhibition on the history of Southwark.

'Car alarms'

Councillor Peter John, leader of the council, said: "A fire has broken out in one of our buildings on the Walworth Road which houses the Cuming Museum, the home of the worldwide collection of the Cuming Family and the museum of Southwark's history.

"It is too early to say what the cause of the fire is and how long services from that building will be suspended for.

Fire crews in Walworth
Cuming Museum houses artefacts from Roman London and China

"Whilst our first concern is for the safety of residents and our staff, we are also worried about possible damage to the museum's collection."

It is not known how the blaze started, the fire brigade said.

Abhishek Agarwal, 30, a dentist, lives in a tower block near the Elephant and Castle roundabout, about 100m north-west of the fire.

He said: "There were a lot of car alarms going off and sirens, which made me look out of the window.

"There was a lot of smoke. The fire started in a very small area of the roof and within minutes I could see that it was spreading quickly to the rest of the roof.

"It is one of the oldest buildings in the area. It's a real shame as I think it will be very badly damaged.

"I can see flames on some of the other floors too now so I think it is spreading."

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