Historic building destroyed by fire

AN HISTORIC building was destroyed by a fire on Monday evening. The old Black Bear pub in Hitchin Street, Biggleswade, which had stood on the site since 1661, was gutted by the mystery blaze that was spotted just before 6pm. The emergency services were ca

AN HISTORIC building was destroyed by a fire on Monday evening.

The old Black Bear pub in Hitchin Street, Biggleswade, which had stood on the site since 1661, was gutted by the mystery blaze that was spotted just before 6pm.

The emergency services were called after smoke and flames were seen coming from the timber-framed building.

Twenty-five firefighters from Biggleswade, Sandy, Potton and Bedford attended the blaze which took several hours to get under control.

At one stage the commander of the incident, Bedford station commander Tony New, ordered all his men out of the building fearing it had become unsafe.

Five minutes later the roof collapsed sending tons of debris crashing through the upper floor of the old pub.

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Firefighters used thermal imaging equipment to scan the scene as police had recently moved at least one person who had been sleeping rough in the old pub out of the building and children had also been seen in there.

"By the time we got there the building was well alight. Being a timber-framed building the fire spread very quickly and it was a very difficult fire to fight," said Mr New.

"The fire quickly went through the first floor and into the roof and fearing for the safety of my men I pulled them out and the roof finally collapsed five minutes later.

"We then had the danger of the slates falling off the roof into the street so we all retreated to a safe distance as the debris continued to fall."

Three hours after the fire was reported it was finally declared out but firefighters returned twice during the night to make sure there was no re-ignition.

The investigation into how the fire started was hampered the following day by the unsafe state of the building.

Two chimney stacks are now unstable and are being demolished before fire investigators are able to enter the building which may have been late yesterday or early today (Thursday).

"It remains a crime scene and we are keeping an open mind as to how the fire started," said Mr New.

"The investigation will be carried out between us and the police and I will go in first once the building has been deemed safe by building inspectors."

A small area of Hitchin Street remained closed yesterday and it could be later today (Thursday) before it is reopened causing major diversions around the town centre.

The pub closed in 1989 but reopened as a restaurant named Busters. Since that closed, the building has been empty for more than three years.

Local historian Ken Page said: "It is very sad when a fire destroys such an old building that has been part of the town's history for over 300 years and survived the great fire of Biggleswade in 1785."

The building next door to the Black Bear, currently occupied by the Woolwich Building Society, was closed the day after the fire as surveyors inspected it for heat damage.

A planning application for the Black Bear was recently submitted to open the premises as a restaurant with a flat above.