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‘People will soon see progress’ - new building to rise from rubble of Fakenham’s biggest fire in living memory

PUBLISHED: 18:03 31 March 2017

A flashback to the fire in Fakenham Market Place in May, 2014. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

A flashback to the fire in Fakenham Market Place in May, 2014. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

Three years on from Fakenham’s biggest fire in living memory an empty shell continues to scar the town centre.

An artist's impression on how the site of the big Fakenham fire will look after it has been redeveloped. An artist's impression on how the site of the big Fakenham fire will look after it has been redeveloped.

May 25, 2014 was the day that one of Fakenham’s most historic and recognisable buildings was destroyed.

Various problems have delayed rebuilding works but just weeks from now people could see a new structure start to rise from the rubble.

Tim Summers, company secretary at Fakenham’s famous Aldiss department store company, which owns the building, said: “We have had workers on the site since May, 2016 but there have been various delays and frustrations including the discovery of a basement on the site. The restricted town centre access has meant we have had to carry out extensive consultations with neighbouring property owners, the town council, planners and conservation officers.

“But the good news is the rebuild is now underway in earnest.

Crowds gather as the Fakenham fire of May, 2014 blazes. PHOTO: Christine Hey. Crowds gather as the Fakenham fire of May, 2014 blazes. PHOTO: Christine Hey.

“In either April or May people will see the main steel framework start to be constructed and this will finally give a clear and positive sign that progress is being made.

“The revised timetable suggests a completion date towards the end of the year but we will endeavour to push to have completion as soon as possible so the market quare can return to normal and we can deliver a high quality and sympathetically designed building which will enhance the town centre for many years to come.”

Mr Summers said The Original Factory Shop, which was in the building before the fire, and is currently based at the Fakenham Industrial Estate, is expected to return to the site.

Around 100 fire fighters from 14 crews tackled the blaze, which broke out at 10.15am.

An overhead picture showing the extent of the damage caused by the  fire in FAkenham town centre in May, 2014. Picture: MIKE PAGE An overhead picture showing the extent of the damage caused by the fire in FAkenham town centre in May, 2014. Picture: MIKE PAGE

Two people were rescued from flats above the store. They were treated for smoke inhalation, while a makeshift evacuation centre was set up in the nearby Fakenham Connect building.

Months after the fire, investigators concluded it was likely to have been caused by an electrical fault.

Mr Summers said: “It has caused some disruption and the market was temporarily located by I have to say people have been really patient and understanding and there have been no negative comments.”

Aldiss company secretary Tim Summers. Picture: Ian Burt Aldiss company secretary Tim Summers. Picture: Ian Burt

Letter mystery

A brief, folded letter written more than a century ago to inform a future reader of a snippet of Fakenham’s history survived both the fire and the battle to put it out.

Contractors preparing the site for redevelopment last summer found it in what is now the attic of the Norfolk Hospice charity shop next door.

Site foreman Colin Phillips, from Norwich-based contractors Draper and Nichols, said it was discovered by plant operator Tim High-Caston tucked beneath the floorboards, as he was working in the shop building.

An artist's impression on how the site of the big Fakenham fire will look after it has been redeveloped. An artist's impression on how the site of the big Fakenham fire will look after it has been redeveloped.

Just over a century ago, the building housed a printer’s shop.

On June 12, 1900, printing foreman Ernest Stebbings sat down and described a violent thunderstorm which had just passed over the centre of Fakenham, before noting down the names of all those who worked for his employer, based in what is now the charity shop.

“From October 1899 to present date the Boer War in South Africa is being carried on under Lords Roberts, Kicthener, Sir Redvers Buller and others,” he writes.

“Mistress of this house is Jessie Kate Stewardson, printing foreman Ernest Stebbings (serving 13 yrs 9 mths to present date) apprentices in office Walter Wade, Fakenham, and William Meek, Hempton. Apprentice in shop Flossie Herring, assistant Gertie Bacon, servant Agnes Barnes. Staying in the house is Mr J Whitechurch, of London, nephew of Miss Stewardson.”

Fire fighters tackling the blaze in May, 2014.  PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY Fire fighters tackling the blaze in May, 2014. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

While what happened to most is unknown, the list includes apprentice Walter Wade, of Fakenham. Across the Market Place, the town’s war memorial carries the name of a Walter Wade who fell during the First World War.

Let’s Fight for Fakenham campaign

In 2014 the Eastern Daily Press and the Fakenham and Wells Times launched the Let’s Fight for Fakenham campaign to help victims of the fire.

A scene from the fire in Fakenham in May, 2014.. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY A scene from the fire in Fakenham in May, 2014.. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

It was set up to support people whose homes and businesses were affected by the blaze and encouraged people to send in donations.

The public support was so great that £10,000 was left over after all the applications for funding were dealt with.

That remaining money was divided up and given to three highly-valued Fakenham charities.

EP Youth, who were forced to move from their project building in Upper Market Place after the fire, received £4,000 and First Focus and The Wensum Centre each received £3,000.

Tim High-Caston, a plant operator working on the old Aldiss store site in Fakenham which was destroyed by fire, with the 100-year-old letter he found under the floorboards in the attic of the building next door.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY Tim High-Caston, a plant operator working on the old Aldiss store site in Fakenham which was destroyed by fire, with the 100-year-old letter he found under the floorboards in the attic of the building next door. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The campaign was run in partnership with North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) and the Norfolk Community Foundation.

The site of the Fakenham fire pictured this week. The site of the Fakenham fire pictured this week.

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