A church in Beachamwell, Norfolk, has been “really significantly damaged” after the thatched roof caught fire.
St Mary’s Parish Church is more than 1,000-years-old; the Grade – I listed property was set ablaze at around 10:45am on Wednesday, February 2.
It’s believed that workmen had been welding lead, to replace the metals recently stolen from the building, when a spark flew up and set the roof alight.
The work was just two days from being completed, but the fire took hold quickly.
No one was hurt during the incident, but there was fears that the church tower could collapse, along with the two large bells that sit inside it.
In a public statement, The Ven Hugh McCurdy, Archdeacon of Huntingdon and Wisbech, said: “The community will understandably be devastated by the damage caused to the ancient and beautiful St Mary the Virgin Church.
"We must now await further investigation as to the cause of the fire, and we are so thankful that no one appears to have been harmed. In the coming days, once the area has been made safe, we will be able to understand further the full extent of the damage.
"We are so grateful to the brave fire crews who tackled the blaze and that when the alarm was raised they were able to respond so quickly”.
The Revd Dr Ian Mack, Assistant Curate in The Wissey Valley Benefice in which St Mary the Virgin Church is located, added; “This is terrible news and will sadden the whole community, many of whom will have lasting memories of significant life moments at St Mary’s.
"As a community we will now come together in prayer and worship in the neighbouring churches, as we begin to understand the full impact of the fire damage and what we now need to do in the coming weeks and months”.
Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service urged locals to stay away from the scene, and asked them to keep their windows and doors shut as they scrambled to extinguish the blaze.
In a further statement, made today, the fire crew said: "We've been visiting St Mary's Church in Beachamwell throughout the night and this morning to check for hot spots and reignition.
"Crews will also visit village homes today to provide reassurance and offer home safety advice.
"Our thoughts are with the local community following this devastating fire."
It was the oldest church in Norfolk, but now it has been reduced to dereliction.
Historic England said they were “saddened” by the loss, calling the church a “rare surviving example of a medieval, thatched-roof church.”