Owner of Blackbirds Inn says pub will rise from ashes
The owner of Wood Ditton’s Blackbirds Inn has pledged to rebuild the 17th century pub after it was engulfed in flames on Friday.
The fire, which started just before 10am, quickly took hold of the thatched roof.
Firefighters were called by John Mills, the pub’s general manager, as he noticed thick black smoke coming from one of the two chimney stacks of the historic building.
As fire crews from across Cambridgeshire and Suffolk arrived about seven minutes later, the roof was engulfed in flames.
By midday much of the pub had been destroyed, with well over 30 firefighters battling the blaze until about 9pm.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue.
The popular pub and restaurant on Ditton Green, formerly known as The Three Blackbirds, re-opened a year ago after an extensive £125,000 refurbishment carried out by owners The Chestnut Group, which bought the property in August 2016.
Philip Turner, who owns the group, said: “What has happened has been devastating and we are all dealing with it as much as we can.
“We are very much front foot forwards about who we have to work with in order to get this project back up and running.
“It’s going to be a long drawn-out process rebuilding it and the sooner we start the better. We are very much here to see that business be the phoenix that rises from the Blackbirds’ ashes.”
Built in 1642 as the English Civil War began, the pub has had several additions, including a Victorian-era extension.
The majority of the damage was to the original part of the property, with the thatched roof being destroyed along with the oak trusses which were supporting the roof and everything below it.
“The Victorian bit has not totally escaped damage but that is largely intact and there were still tables and chairs with knives and forks and glasses on in that room, so the damage has been contained predominantly in the older part of the building,” said Mr Turner.
Firefighters were forced to knock down one of the chimney stacks because of concerns about its structural integrity.
As the fire was taking hold the pub was not open and all staff escaped unharmed. But one of the establishment’s chefs lived in the pub, and has lost not only his home but all of his possessions, said Mr Turner. The company has since found alternate accommodation for him and are transferring staff to other sites.
“Although there was a disaster unfolding, and the remnants of the building sit there to remind us all of what a terrible day Friday was, the way in which everybody rallied around to support was absolutely fantastic,” said Mr Turner.
“The villagers and the community were astonishing in their support. There were endless properties which opened themselves up, providing both firefighters and my team members with hot drinks, warmth and blankets,” he said.
The Chestnut Group was weeks away from beginning to build a nine-bedroom barn-style complex at the back of the pub, but those plans have been put on hold because of the fire.
“We are incredibly grateful to the firefighters, incredibly grateful to John Mills, incredibly grateful to members of the public and the community who helped us deal with everything we had to deal with on Friday,” said Mr Turner.