Medstead Village Hall Fire - December 20th, 2009

Medstead Village Hall fire - December 2009

Medstead History goes up in Flames - by Mike Overy

On Sunday morning on hearing the news of the fire in Medstead Village Hall, we rushed to the scene to be met by a sight that we'll never forget. Smoke was pouring out from the Hall, scores of fire-fighters were on the scene, supported by several fire engines and specialist vehicles. Dozens of local people were standing watching in awe and disbelief as the Hall, that most of them were familiar with was 'going up in smoke in front of their very eyes'. Many people were openly weeping, trying to comfort each other, as they tried to take in what they were seeing.

The upstairs store area at the front of the Hall was well alight and the crews were doing all they could to contain the fire with the limited access available. Later on they broke through the roof where first smoke, then flames leapt out, which were then doused back down, until the fire was eventually extinguished.

Having been in the Medstead Players for 30 years and even having been operating the sound and lights the day before from the upstairs, it was both frightening and heartbreaking to see such destruction, resulting in the loss of all the costumes that we had accumulated over the years, quite a few of which I had even worn in various productions, the last one just a week earlier.

Fortunately in dire situations such as this, everyone pulls together, and no doubt the Hall will rise 'phoenix like' from the ashes and the Players certainly won't be held back by the tragic loss of so much of their period costumes and effects.

Blaze Guts Village Hall - by Moira Howells
[Reproduced with permission from the Alton Herald]

The people of Medstead are in shock this Christmas after fire ripped through their treasured village hall, leaving it unfit for use.

The incident occurred on Sunday morning when an electrical fault in the mains intake is thought to have started a fire in an internal fuse box.

The fire spread rapidly, gutting part of the roof and the stairway to the first floor lighting and storage area, the floor of which later collapsed into the Wiltshire Room below. The entrance hall and toilets were also destroyed in the fire.

According to Village Hall Committee vice chairman, Trevor Marlow, at least one third of the building is fire damaged and the rest has suffered smoke and water damage.

The building is no longer safe and has been closed, pending an insurance claim.

Medstead Parish Council chairman Ken Kercher said it had been "a massive blow" for the village. It had been surreal, he said, standing on the green seeing flames coming out of the roof of the building which, for the past 40 years has been at the centre of so many community activities.

But, as the flames took hold on Sunday morning all the assembled crowd could do was watch as firefighters fought to stem the blaze.

According to booking secretary Kath Whitcher, the alarm was raised at around 9.40am by members of the Jubilee Church, who had hired the hall for their regular morning service.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service was alerted and residents rushed to the scene to try and recover what they could, but the flames had taken too strong a hold and they were beaten back.

First on the scene were two pumps from Alton which were joined by crews from Alresford, Winchester and Basingstoke, including a special equipment unit and an aerial ladder platform. Reinforcements were later sent from Droxford and Rushmoor.

On arrival the crews were faced with severe fire in the Wiltshire room, both at ground and first-floor storage level.

At the height of the fire there were around 40 fire-fighters, using breathing apparatus, two hose reels, two jets and an aerial ladder platform to bring the fire under control.

Officer in charge Brian Neat said his crews had worked hard to save the hall from total destruction: "Fire crews worked in extremely difficult circumstances to successfully contain this fire to one end of the building. The hard work and effort by the crews saved this valuable community resource by preventing the fire from spreading and affecting the rest of the building."

Recalling the start of the incident, Helen Jenkin of the Jubilee Church said that a team of eight were in the main hall preparing for the morning service and the congregation were arriving when a series of sparks and bangs heralded the start of the fire. Everybody was evacuated to the safety of the car park to await the arrival of the fire brigade.

Medstead Players' member Mike Overy was among those who rushed to the rescue but there was nothing to be done other than stand and watch as the hall, and with it years of coveted costumes, props, sound and lighting equipment, went up in flames.

They watched while fire-fighters secured the area and began to work on the blaze. Most alarming was when they opened up the roof void to check if there was any residual fire lingering in the attic. "The flames reared up again and shot out of the roof. It took a further hour to bring the blaze under control by which time the entrance hall, the Wiltshire room and the toilets had been gutted and the main hall was badly damaged," said Mr Overy.

Ken Kercher said that the parish council had only recently agreed to release 10k of reserves to help with a 100k project to make internal improvements to the hall, to extend the storage area beside the stage into the roof and to enlarge the car park. Now they would have to wait for an insurance assessment to find out the cost of reconstruction and repair work.

But this would be the tip of the iceberg - there would be considerable loss of income through bookings.

The village hall operates a busy schedule - according to Trevor Marlow, the only time it was not booked over the festive period was Boxing Day afternoon. But, while the one off bookings may be accommodated elsewhere, regular users could be in difficulty, bringing a determination to get the building back on its feet as quickly as possible.

When Medstead Tennis Club burnt down in October 2000, the village learnt a salutary lesson. It took five years before a new building was up and running - the management committee is determined that this will not be the case with the village hall. They have already met with the insurers and there is a general determination that the work will be done as quickly as possible. The committee believes it is looking at a ball park figure of around 250k for the reconstruction and repair work.

Medstead Village Hall fire - December 2009