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Page updated: June 11, 2009

Fire in The George, December 2008

December 23rd, at about 10.30pm, looking at the back of the building. The fire started in the top right hand corner room. About midnight on Dec 23rd. The fire has just reached the front.

December 24th, 3am: The fire has run its course and consumed most of the thatched roof and the wooden structures etc., leaving just cob walls and chimney stacks standing. Damping down is taking place; a water spray from a turn table platform high above this picture is spraying a pile of thatch embers in the road (left).

December 26th, 3pm: Demolition crews arrived on Cristmas Eve to finish off what the fire could not.

Pictures left and above taken from the same spot.

Hundreds of years of history were lost Tuesday 23rd December as The George Hotel, one of the most loved landmarks of Hatherleigh, went up in flames. Fire crews seemed helpless to deal with the inferno as the flames devoured the thatched building. Hopes that at least some walls and those massive stone fireplaces might be left intact were dashed on Christmas Eve when a 20 ton digger was ordered in. It's not easy to be subtle with a 20 ton digger in those circumstances, regrettably, and almost everything left standing after the fire was down by about mid-day. An aching hole now sits at the centre of Hatherleigh, and no doubt in the hearts of most of those who live here.

A 'stunned' atmosphere prevails, even amongst visitors arriving hourly to view the destruction. Everyone has a tale to tell - of the last time they were in the building, or of some event that took place here years ago.

We took over 200 images of the fire and its aftermath but we don't intend to show any more because it feels wrong. Just one more perhaps - this one of the only remaining sash window, just to the right of the front gates, with smoke still curling up from the debris inside and a small 'island' still standing inside.

This site received 6 times the normal number of visits on Dec 23rd and visitor rates have stayed at twice their normal level since. Some emails have also been received and we think it's worth publishing them here to show the level of interest.

FOLLOW OUR NEWS COVERAGE: See our stories here and here and here and here and here

Emails have been received from:| Dennis Bater | Paul Gillard | Rev Norman Hillyer | Maurice Thomas | Audrey Parsons | Roger Willoughby | Heather Roberts | Bernard Drew | Diane Smith | Paul Taylor | Allison Dyte | Brad Hooper |


From Dennis Bater

First let me say 'Thank you' to all the Officers, Members of West Devon Borough Council and friends from home and (yes) from across the world who have sent their sorrow and disbelieve at the loss of the George Hotel.

It is a great comfort to me and the town to know how you all care.

Nevertheless, I feel I must get the keyboard on my P.C. to work and express my frustration at some aspects of this unfortunate event.

By Dennis Bater,
ex Mayor and Borough Councillor

Read here why Dennis, an ex-fireman, is so frustrated.

(These two pictures were submitted by Dennis, showing the front and back views on December 26th.)

 


From Paul Gillard

Dear Hatherleigh,

Here is a picture I took of the George one evening not so long ago. How sad it is that you have lost your jewel in your crown. I though that the George was such a beautiful place which emanated much atmosphere of so many generations gone before us. I shall always treasure my memories of going there. A truly unique place. So sorry to learn of your loss. It is tragic news.

Kindest regards and in sympathy

Paul Gillard, Penzance, Cornwall

Paul later wrote again ...

Here enclosed are some more pictures I have found in my collection. They were all taken from the church rooftop. You can add them to your website if you wish.

Kindest regards

Paul

(three more pictures not shown)


From Reverend Norman Hillyer

Not a happy Christmas for Hatherleigh this year. I happened to catch the only mention (I think) of the fire reported on the BBC, so went to the Hatherleigh website. The instant reporting of spark-to-blaze events was most impressive. All credit to the contributors.

This was my first view of the website (shame on me) and I found it most attractively displayed. But one matter hit my eye as a sometime vicar of the parish. The headings listed all manner of subjects, but nothing about the churches. It struck me as implying that Hatherleigh these days is as pagan as when Cradock Glascott arrived! Not true of course! The 'History' section does outline some main events concerning the parish church. And 'The Story of Hatherleigh' gives more details (although there seems to be nothing about Methodists, Baptists and its present day successor, or the Quakers).

Would the History Society consider launching projects to publish advertise short accounts of aspects of the religious life of the town - plus historic figures (Thomas Roberts, Colonel Morris etc)? I realise that much of the material already exists in 'The Story of Hatherleigh', but my point is that it could be brought out more to the public gaze.

With all good wishes for a strong recovery in the coming year

Revd Norman Hillyer

Editor's Note: Thanks Reverend Hillyer. We had only one reporter - me - on the spot for 4 hours! I got to bed at 4am. Your broader point is a good one however, and we hope readers won't mind us highlighting it here. There have been some technical problems in recent weeks that have stopped up mentioning more 'events', which normally would have included all the Christmas religious happenings, and we apologise for that. The other problem is that we (that's Neil and I) can't handle everything. We do our best but we welcome help. All the societies and organizations in Hatherleigh know they have a open invitation to contribute to hatherleigh.net. We'll be contacting them again to emphasise this. Meantime, if you have something you want to submit - email us here.


From Maurice Thomas

Dear Editor,

I was with the MP for Torridge and West Devon, Mr Geoffrey Cox, when he visited Hatherleigh on Christmas Eve to see for himself the devastation caused by the horrendous fire that destroyed the George Hotel. I thought that you would be interested in seeing the attached photographs, some of which you may care to place on your web site for others to view.

With kind regards,
Maurice Thomas

Editor's Note: Maurice's pictures are part of an interesting record of what happened so we have placed them on their own page here.


Received by Dennis Bater and passed on ...

From Audrey Parsons nee Cudmore

My heart went out to all of  you in Hatherleigh, when my brother Don Cudmore, sent me the picture
of the `George Hotel` burning. Very sad !   I have lived in Australia for 50 years, but continue to have
warm feelings for my birthplace.  Regards, Audrey, nee Cudmore.

From Roger Willougby

I was away over Christmas, so I missed this very depressing news. Belated condolences. Roger

From Heather Roberts in the Gambia

Yes we got the awful news about The George from Nicola. I forwarded it to Bryony Harris (Old Father Abraham as was!!) in Norway and she has replied to say she heard about it from daughter Merrily in USA via ex Hatherleigh friends in Oz!! Whatever did we do before the internet? Such global news sharing! I was so shocked. It was the heart of the town.


From Bernard Drew:  former Officer in Charge, Hatherleigh Fire Station

I find it quite strange and very unprofessional that Dennis Bater an ex-fireman feels that he is in a position to criticize the efforts of  the Fire Brigade at the recent fire on 23rd December at the George Hotel Hatherleigh when he was not involved.

I am also an ex-fireman 'from the old school' and fought thatched roof fires alongside Dennis and he knows as well as I do it is not always possible to make fire breaks when you get a very quick spread of fire in the roof space.

One fire springs to mind that I worked on with Dennis at Chattafin Farm Exbourne. We lost that roof because of quick fire spread. 'What happened there Dennis?' 

I agree that in theory a firebreak is what is needed but is not always possible and he must agree that most thatched roofs is accessible from both sides of the building which makes it much easier to tackle, unlike the George Hotel where the roof was of such a design that it was impossible to tackle it from all sides.

I think Dennis should appreciate the efforts of the crews to stop the fire from spreading to adjoining properties instead of criticising them.

I would like to add that most thatched roof fires start from around the chimney and has a simmering effect before developing into something more serious giving crews more time to attempt a firebreak.

From what I can gather the construction of lathe and plaster, internal walls and ceilings at the George Hotel and 600 years of debris and cobwebs in the roof space, any responsible fireman (even Lesley Orgar) would agree that as soon as a ceiling burns through and air along with fire rushes in to the roof space there is little hope of stopping the rapid spread of fire as was the case at this particular incident.

I did not serve as long as Dennis in the Fire Brigade but some people learn quicker than others! Perhaps Dennis should take up the position of Training Officer in the Fire Brigade (who knows owners of thatched properties might then get a reduction in their fire insurance premiums).

Bernard Drew

We invited Dennis to reply. He made several general comments but his main statement was: "I await a meeting with our Conservation Officer at West Devon after he returns from Christmas leave. The wonderful web site of Hatherleigh is not the place to have a personal argument, nor an inquiry that most people that I speak to are asking for."


From Diane Smith

I was an employee at the George Hotel back in the 70's when it was owned by the Giles family, I also had my wedding reception at the George, and I served the now deceased Poet Laureate Ted Hughes in the hotel restaurant.  I also have so many memories of the people and happenings at the ‘George', which I am sure, will also be shared by many other people in and around the Hatherleigh area.  I am very saddened by this event,  but will watch with hope to see if a new George Hotel can come out of this tragedy.

Diane Smith


From Paul Taylor

Dear Editor and residents of Hatherleigh. I wish to send my fondest thoughts to the people of Hatherleigh upon hearing the news of the disaster that has hit the community. I am currently working in the Nafoora Oil Field, South Libya, and had telephoned home on New Years Day to wish a happy new year to my parents Ray and Madeline who run the post office in Market Street.

After wishing them a happy new year, as it seemed, I was greeted with the news that The George had been involved in a devastating fire. My father informed me of this and sounded upset to say the least about the loss of such a monumental and historic building within the heart of the town.

I have been a resident of the town since my parents came to Hatherleigh 10 years ago. I myself had spent many a happy hour at the premises, enjoying its warmth and olde-worlde feel. With public houses now closing rapidly all over the country and the appearance of bars and soul-less,lifeless chain pubs, The George was a reminder of what was once great across the land, especially Devonshire.

Upon hearing the news, my stomach turned and I got that feeling of dread through my body. I have only been a resident for a short time, but how this must feel for the community who have known the pub since birth, or for many years, I do not know. My heartfelt feelings go out to the people who have celebrated such happy events there. My mother and father illustrated to me the significance of this building, not just as a public house, but it holds memories, feelings and moments from time gone. It is such a bad start for the town in this new year.

Myself and family just hope that something can now be done. The building being of historical significance it must be restored. I hope that the people of the town can work together to create something new, something positive for the town, as well as the powers that be, including the Conservation organisations. I know it has been a terrible disaster, but something positive must be made from this - it must!

My thoughts and feelings go out to the people of Hatherleigh at such a great loss.
 
Paul Taylor and family. 


From Allison Dyte

I was also employed at the George Hotel during the 80's when it was owned by the Giles family - I had some wonderful times there and was devastated when a friend let me know the news over Xmas (I now live in Yorkshire so didn't know). Just wanted to pass on my thoughts to all those affected in the village.

Regards, Allison Dyte


From Brad Hooper

I am most saddened by the fire over Christmas. My wife and myself were in Hatherleigh last February and had stayed at The George. Other family relations had done the same in the past. My uncle Frank James Hooper had done some family research which led him to Hatherleigh many years ago. We travelled to this splendid corner of Devon as part pilgrimage as well as a holiday. Parts of our family history fell in Hatherleigh but unfortunately our time in town was short, so we didn't have enough time to quiz the locals more than we had over a pint at The George. The staff and owner were most welcoming and the inherent charm of the inn and the community left an indelible mark in our memories.

We did find the history of Hatherleigh book at the post office which we still have in our front room,as well as our own pictures of The George. Fond memories we have and hope to return one day, hopefully to a new George! We wish all of you the best for the coming year.

Bradley James and Melissa Hooper, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada

 


 


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