Council’s Building Control service advising on fragile historic Sowton cottages damaged by fire

Council prioritises stabilising fragile heritage asset and reopening village road

Following a fire at two Grade II listed cottages in Sowton village last Thursday evening (8 March 2018), East Devon District Council’s Building Control service was called out to help advise the emergency services on the safety of the cottages while they were fighting the fire.

The Building Control team remains closely involved, advising on emergency repairs to the building and ensuring that the building is stable and therefore safe enough for pedestrians and vehicles to pass by safely in either direction.

The two thatched cottages were left in a fragile state following the fire, which ripped through the buildings. The structural integrity of the walls of the cottages has been severely affected and continues to be monitored closely by Building Control as its condition is unpredictable. 

The cob appeared to be safe at the end of last week and was being monitored over the weekend, but on Monday morning the structure failed with little warning while fire service damping down was still in progress. A side wall and chimney fell into the building, destabilising the front wall of one of the cottages (which is constructed from cob, which is a traditional building material, comprising subsoil and other organic materials), causing it to fall into the road. Unfortunately the stability of cob is hard to predict after a fire like this and can be vulnerable when wet. 

Fortunately, no-one was injured and everyone in attendance was able to get away from the building in time. Luckily, too, the village road was already closed. This collapse has now left the remaining parts of the cob cottage and its immediate neighbour, which is constructed mainly from stone and brick, vulnerable to further collapse.

The road past the site is likely to stay closed while the remaining parts of the cottage and its neighbour are secured. Work remains ongoing to secure the buildings and will involve putting up scaffolding, as well as the demolition of sections that cannot be rescued and the propping of sections that can be saved. The goal is to retain as much of these valued listed buildings as possible, as they date back to the 17th century and form an important part of the history of the village.

The council has had to bring in contractors to undertake these works on the basis of reclaiming the costs from the insurance companies involved. It is hoped that works will progress quickly and that the road can be re-opened by the end of today (14 March 2018) . In the meantime residents are asked to respect the cordoned off area around the building, which is in place for their own safety.

Cllr Mike Howe, Chairman of East Devon’s Development Management Committee and Ward Member for Clyst Valley, said:

It is really sad to see the damage caused by this fire on these historic listed cottages but the main thing is that no one was hurt in either the fire or the subsequent wall collapse.

Unfortunately access to Sowton village is limited to the one road which runs past this site and so I would ask residents to be patient while the site is made safe and secure and be assured that the road will be reopened as soon as possible. It is however vital for the health and safety of the community that these works are completed and that the cordoned off area around the site which is marked by barriers is respected in the meantime.