Historic building fire was arson

PUBLISHED: 18:29 07 January 2009 | UPDATED: 13:51 06 May 2010

The 16th-century Old Rectory

The 16th-century Old Rectory

A FIRE which damaged an historic and part-listed building is being treated as arson. The Old Rectory in King Edward Place, Wheathampstead, went up in flames on the evening of Tuesday December 30. A subsequent fire investigation determined that it was sta

A FIRE which damaged an historic and part-listed building is being treated as arson.

The Old Rectory in King Edward Place, Wheathampstead, went up in flames on the evening of Tuesday December 30. A subsequent fire investigation determined that it was started deliberately and police are now investigating.

The Wheathampstead and District Preservation Society (WDPS) has criticised St Albans District Council for not putting enough pressure on the empty building's owner, Hammersmatch Ltd, to protect and preserve it.

The Old Rectory, a Grade Two listed building, stands within a walled garden adjacent to St Helen's Church and it is thought to date back to the 16th century.

The building, which suffered damage to its roof and interior in the fire, was used as the offices for Helmets until 2002 and it has stood empty since that time.

Hammersmatch has twice unsuccessfully applied for permission to convert it for residential use - the second application of which is going to appeal. The applications have been turned down on the grounds that it would compromise the historic character of the building and be detrimental to a Conservation Area but the building has got commercial office consent.

Chairman of the WDPS, Rick Sanderson, said they have been pressing the district council to take action against the owner to preserve the building or secure it.

He said: "This was an event waiting to happen. We have been concerned about the deterioration of the building for several years and have been pressing the district council to take enforcement action to get the owners to preserve it, or at least to make it completely secure and weather-tight until its future can be decided.

"Some work to board up the building was done a few weeks ago but this has proved to be ineffective because a gap in the fence was left at the corner of the site."

He added: "It is imperative that the owners now act to secure the building and the site to prevent further loss and damage."

David Payne, managing director of Hammersmatch, said that in the current climate it was difficult to get insurance for empty buildings but the Old Rectory had been securely padlocked and the windows boarded up before Christmas. Security fencing had also been put up across the front.

He added: "It seem as though local yobs got in and set fire to the staircase and it went up and created a hole in the roof. We have builders in this week resecuring the building and putting tarpaulin over the roof."

Both the Wheathampstead Cricket Club and the Tennis Club pavilions have been targeted by arsonists in recent years but a spokesperson for Herts Police said the fires were not being linked at this stage..

Anyone with information should contact Pc Shelley Farmer on 0845 3300 222 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

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