Ex-Suffolk fire fighter to lead study into historic building fires

Suffolk fire crews tackling a huge thatch fire at The Ship Inn in Church Lane, Levington Picture: S

Suffolk fire crews tackling a huge thatch fire at The Ship Inn in Church Lane, Levington Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A former Suffolk fire safety expert is leading a comprehensive study into the risk historic buildings face from fire with the hope of preventing more heritage being lost.

Firefighters at the Ship Inn pub fire Picture: ADNAMS

Firefighters at the Ship Inn pub fire Picture: ADNAMS - Credit: Archant

Retired firefighter Henry Landis, who served with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service for 30 years, believes listed properties are up to three times more likely to be affected by blazes but says this is not fully recognised in current regulation and fire safety practice.

His PhD research at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) will examine fire incidents at 375,000 heritage buildings over the last 12 years.

Mr Landis became interested in the vulnerability of historic buildings while working in Suffolk, where in some years 14-20 thatched properties would be lost to fire.

Earlier this month there was a devastating blaze at the thatched Ship Inn at Levington and in recent years Suffolk has seen some landmarks buildings completely destroyed by fire.

The buildings in Market Square were completely destroyed by a fire in 2015 Picture: GREGG BROWN

The buildings in Market Square were completely destroyed by a fire in 2015 Picture: GREGG BROWN

The Sudbury fire, which took place on a Sunday night in September 2015, saw several historic buildings razed to the ground leaving 20 people homeless and creating a charred hole in the street scenery of the market square. The 17th century Cupola House in Bury St Edmunds was gutted by a blaze in 2012, causing chaos in the town centre for months to come.


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It is hoped Mr Landis’ research could make it easier for fire services to identify listed buildings as soon as an incident is reported and ensure they have the right equipment and support in place to deal with it.

Mr Landis, said: “We’ve all seen what happened at Notre Dame in Paris and the emotion it has generated not just in France but around the world.

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“There are many other examples up and down the land when historic properties are burned. These are more than just buildings, they are a tangible connection to our past and those who have gone before us.”

Firefighters battled through the night to tackle the major fire in the historic Cupola House in the

Firefighters battled through the night to tackle the major fire in the historic Cupola House in the Traverse, Bury St Edmunds in 2012 Picture: ANDY ABBOTT - Credit: Archant

The study aims to merge Ordnance Survey buildings data and data representing every building listed by Historic England with records of about 600,000 incidents attended by fire and rescue services annually in England, back to 2009.

Mr Landis, who expects the research to take several years, added: “I am never going to be able to pinpoint which buildings are going to burn down next. But I would hope to spot patterns - like the number of fire incidents affecting historic buildings which are being renovated, like Notre Dame cathedral.

“If my study can help change things, then I will have made a real difference now, and also for people who will continue to enjoy these buildings in the future.”

Firefighters tried to save Cupola House in the Traverse, Bury St Edmunds but all that was left was t

Firefighters tried to save Cupola House in the Traverse, Bury St Edmunds but all that was left was the crumbled facade Picture: ANDY ABBOTT - Credit: Archant

The major fire had a huge impact on the town centre in Bury St Edmunds for many months afterwards an

The major fire had a huge impact on the town centre in Bury St Edmunds for many months afterwards and destroyed part of the town's history Picture: ANDY ABBOTT - Credit: Archant

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