Holnest Park House seriously damaged by fire – may collapse

Holnest Park House, Dorset (Image: Bournemouth Echo)

Earlier today, the Grade-II listed Holnest Park House in Dorset suffered a serious fire which has gutted the central section of the house leaving the core at risk of collapse.  The fire started in one of the seven flats through the careless use of an electric blanket which lacked a thermostat and simply heated up until it caught fire.  The fire destroyed the two flats in the central section but the 60 firemen in attendance were able to prevent the blaze spreading to the wings.

The Georgian house was built in 1768, and rebuilt in the 1830s, on land formerly owned by the Bishops of Salisbury. It became a secondary seat of the Sawbridge-Erle-Drax family through marriage, and so was regularly tenented as the family were mainly based at Charborough Park (a large house also in Dorset) and Olantigh Towers in Kent.

The house was sold in 1919 and then used as military hospital for injured servicemen during WWII.  It was subsequently sold to timber merchants who stripped the park of it’s fine trees even felling the avenue to the house, and then selling the land off for agriculture.  The house then became an island in the middle of the fields, neglected until someone decided to ill-advisedly convert this remote house into a nightclub.  The left-hand side was divided up and much damage done to the interior during this process.  The right-hand side became (or was) houses.  After the inevitable failure of the nightclub the rest of the house was converted into further apartments.

Fire is one of the most worrying dangers faced by country houses as they can be started so easily, especially during renovations, and due to the materials used in construction the fire can spread quickly.  Of course, this danger is increased where a house has been split into multiple apartments as there are now more sources of ignition such as kitchens.  Older houses are usually not fitted with many of the modern fire safety features as this would compromise the historic fabric of the building meaning there is a extra responsibility for the owners to be vigilant.

Although the intial reports indicate that the fire-damaged section of the house has been declared structurally unsafe,  it’s hoped that restoration will be possible.  Insurance can cover the cost of re-instatement but it can’t bring back the historical aspect of what’s been lost.

Full story: ‘Fire hit Dorset stately home at risk of collapsing‘ [BBC News] / ‘Fire at stately home caused by electric blanket‘ [Bournemouth Echo]

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About Matthew Beckett - The Country Seat

An amateur architectural historian with a particular love of UK country houses in all their many varied and beautiful forms.
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