When the last remaining pub in Wickham Market was destroyed by a devastating fire, the local community did not give up hope that it would one day be restored and reopened. Here Shaun Soanes explains how Nicholas Jacob Architects is helping the village sift through the ashes and bring it back to life.
In the early hours of April 18th, 2013, a ferocious fire broke out in the Grade II listed George pub, the last surviving pub in Wickham Market. Flames tore through the building, leaving behind a charred shell of what was once a thriving, bustling focal point for the whole community.
For the last four years the pub has been left derelict and in need of complete restoration. But the town has never given up hope. And options to rebuild and restore the pub for the benefit of the community have been actively progressed.
Now, a project team of people within the village with expertise in heritage, law, business, finance, project management and marketing look to be making some headway.
Where do we come in?
Nicholas Jacob Architects have been working with the George Community Pub Group to produce a scheme which has broad support for the community and local authority. Further investigations and project development is now planned and we have been supporting the group to win funding streams such as the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Our expertise on restoration following fire is second to none and we have worked on big and small projects. The largest involved historic Oulton Hall near Aylsham, an 18th century building bursting with character which had been gutted by an inferno fanned by high winds. It needed lots of attention to bring it back to life but our fire damage restoration techniques allowed us to save historic aspects and the basic fabric of a building without needing to replace it.
In the case of a fire in an old building, the debris matters. This debris might include structural elements made of wood and steel, glass windows, panels or decorative pieces, which must be salvaged where possible. We will certainly look to do this with what’s left of The George.
Looking to the future
There has been overwhelming support for retention of a pub in the village of Wickham Market and luckily the surviving structure has been saved from demolition because it was not deemed “acceptable or justifiable” to destroy it. We agree with this decision. After all, The George is steeped in history and this should be preserved at all cost.
At its height in about 1910 Wickham Market had seven public houses serving a community of 1,417. By 1999 all but one of these pubs closed, leaving the George as the last. The George is one of the four earliest recorded inns in the village and is thought to date back some five centuries.
Structurally, the George, comprised a two-storey, five bay timber-framed building, probably built in the early 16th century. The building had a crown post roof and a separate, single bay timber-framed structure had been added to its northern end, possibly as a separate property. Both properties appear to have had wattle and daub infill walls, of which, surprisingly, considerable areas have survived.
Protecting and preserving
We eagerly look forward to working on restoring The George and repairing all that was lost to the flames. Faithful recreation and painstaking attention to detail will be key as will making the building fit for the future.
For more information on the project, the pub and its history visit http://www.wmgeorge.co.uk