Exeter fire: Royal Clarence Hotel collapses in blaze

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Media captionPolice drone footage of the smouldering hotel

A hotel has been destroyed by a huge fire that continues to burn after more than 24 hours.

The front of the Royal Clarence, described as England's oldest hotel, has partially fallen away due to the blaze in Exeter, Devon.

The fire broke out at about 05:00 BST on Friday in buildings on Cathedral Green before spreading to the hotel, which dates back to 1769.

The gas supply was turned off after a ruptured main fuelled the fire.

At the scene

Image caption The facade of the Royal Clarence Hotel has started to fall away

by Simon Hall, BBC South West News

Police believe the fire in the hotel is now largely out. They are bringing in a drone to assess the structure of the building.

Structural engineers I have spoken with expect the facade of the hotel to crumble further.

The fire did spread into the Laura Ashley store on High Street but that has been contained.

Services and a concert at Exeter Cathedral have been cancelled and there is an overwhelming sense of sadness in the city.

The fire broke out above the Castle Fine Art gallery where renovation work was under way, before spreading to the Well House Tavern, a cafe and the Royal Clarence Hotel.

A spokesman for the fire service said the gallery and hotel had been destroyed by the blaze, but that the cause of the fire was unknown.

Fire crews are expected to remain at the scene until Sunday.

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Media captionThe Bishop of Exeter says he is "immensely sad" about the damage
Image copyright PA
Image caption The structure dates back to 1769

Chief fire officer Lee Howell said: "We're grateful no one has been hurt in this incident but the community has lost a historic building which is a landmark of the city.

"We kept significant resources at the scene to ensure we were able to deal with every eventuality and we will continue to do everything we can to protect the heritage of this city."

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Media captionFire service: "The fire is still going quite intensely"
Image caption One couple still managed to get married nearby, at the historic Guildhall

Despite the road closures, fire officers, and crowds of onlookers, Nikki and Fraser Burling-Hobbs managed to get married at the Guildhall, just across the road from the partially collapsed Royal Clarence Hotel.

A statement from the hotel owners, Andrew Brownsword Hotels, said: "We are immensely grateful for the tremendous efforts made by all the emergency services and especially the fire service, who have worked with such focus and determination throughout the night.

"The support offered by the Mercure Hotel, Exeter City Council and colleagues in Exeter at this difficult time has been overwhelming."

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Image caption Upto 150 firefighters fought to control the blaze at its height

The group thanked its own "incredible team of staff" who behaved with "positivity and professionalism" in managing the situation.

Guests were evacuated from their rooms in the middle of the night to the nearby Mercure. There were no reported casualties.

Lucy, from Australia, told Radio Devon: "I was woken up by the fire alarm at five o'clock. Someone was banging on the door and all I could see were orange flames through the window.

"I grabbed my passport there was a lot of fiery ash falling down. The building was totally in flames."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption From above the hotel appears to have been gutted

Building control engineers told the BBC, the facade of the historic hotel was expected to crumble away.

Canon Anna Norman-Walker, from Exeter Cathedral, said: "Moments ago another great crash happened and the front facing is starting to come away.

"It's really heartbreaking to see because it's such a magnificent and beautiful building and so much a part of our heritage here in Exeter."

Firefighters have been using water from the River Exe hundreds of metres away to help extinguish the blaze.

Image caption Water was being pumped from the River Exe through the city to the site of the fire

The Bishop of Exeter, Robert Atwell, said: "When people think of bombing during World War Two they only think of London or Coventry, but Exeter was also bombed very heavily.

"Lots of our medieval buildings in Exeter were destroyed, but the one that didn't was the wonderful old Royal Clarence Hotel.

"To see this ancient building go up in smoke is so sad."

Image caption People have been sharing their memories of the Royal Clarence Hotel on social media

Oldest hotel in England?

  • The word hotel derives from the Latin "hospes" meaning "guest"
  • Inns are thought to have been common in England as far back as Roman times and would consist of a bed and breakfast type experience
  • In the Middle Ages, French monks used to provide some shelter for travellers and those houses were called "hospitale"
  • In France, "hospitale" gave rise to the word "hotel" - which at first simply meant any large house - before obtaining the meaning it now holds
  • The hotel was built in 1769, and the landlord in its early days was a Frenchman, Pierre Berlon, who is said to have been the first to apply the word "hotel" to an inn in England.
  • It became known in the city as "the Hotel" and was named the Royal Clarence in 1827 after the visit to Exeter by the Duchess of Clarence

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Image caption The blaze started at 05:00 BST in buildings on Cathedral Green
Image caption Large areas of Exeter around Cathedral Green were cordoned off

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