Felixstowe in flames
OVER the years too many of Felixstowe's most prominent buildings - important properties of character and part of the resort's history - have been lost from the seafront.
By Richard Cornwell
OVER the years too many of Felixstowe's most prominent buildings - important properties of character and part of the resort's history - have been lost from the seafront. Those buildings have all been burned down maliciously. RICHARD CORNWELL reports on Felixstowe in flames.
ANYONE looking for where Wallis Simpson lived - and was visited secretly by Edward VIII as she waited for her divorce - will today find little more than a plaque.
Mrs Simpson spent six weeks at Beach House in Felixstowe in 1936 during the Abdication crisis which rocked not only the Royal family and country, but caused reverberations around the world.
But today there is no sign of the delightful five-bedroom house with its wonderful sea views - my description, not Mrs Simpson's. She hated the house because it wasn't grand enough.
Back in 1989, arsonists broke into the building in Undercliff Road East and set a fire which caused terrible damage and sealed its fate - leaving demolition to make way for flats the only option when it would have made a perfect family home with a great history.
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It was the latest in what has now become a long line of historic Felixstowe buildings which have been victims of fire. This month has seen another vanish - Dougie Goodall's old leaning ramshackle fishing hut, which had stood on the beach near the Spa Pavilion for 60 years or more, a favourite landmark for visitors and residents, loved by photographers and painters.
No-one has ever been prosecuted for any of the fires, which have included the Herman de Stern community centre and theatre, the old Ranelagh Theatre on the clifftop, The Hermitage, and - going back to 1914 - the Bath Hotel, torched by suffragettes.
Most of the fires have simply left gaps in the seafront, eroding the resort's precious heritage.
Amazingly, The Hermitage rose like a phoenix with a new building mirroring the design of the old, while the Shorebreak café survived an arson attack and was refurbished and carried on until it had to be demolished because the threat of the sea.
The pier has suffered at least two fires in the past 20 years, though both were accidental, caused by stray embers from firework displays.
The old dock offices on the port were also lost accidentally in a spectacular blaze.
Felixstowe historian Doreen Rayner said the losses to fire were very sad.
“I couldn't believe it when I heard about Dougie Goodall's old fishing hut - another important part of our seafront heritage lost by people who like to play with matches,” she said.
“These fires over the years have been awful.
“They have destroyed the character of our town.
“There is very little of Felixstowe as an Edwardian or Victorian resort left on our seafront now. You cannot walk along and think, oh, that place looks old or that's a rather nice stylish building, like you can on seafronts in other towns. There is really only the Town Hall left.
“There are some lovely buildings still in Hamilton Road if you look up and ignore the modern shopfronts - but very few people walk along the road looking up.”
Mrs Rayner said more needed to be done to preserve the town's heritage, especially to protect any buildings which fall empty for any length of time to stop fire-raisers getting in while a property's future is being decided.
Which Felixstowe buildings do you miss most?
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Felixstowe's most famous fire was the arson attack by suffragettes Hilda Burkett and Florence Tunks on the Bath Hotel - used by millionaires, minor royalty and statesmen - on April 28, 1914, which left the huge hotel in ruins. Today it is the site of the Bartlet Hospital.
In 1985, the timber-built house The Hermitage was destroyed. Today a wood-clad block of flats in a similar style stands on the corner of Undercliff Road East and Beach Road East.
Firefighters fought in vain to save the old Ranelagh Theatre on the clifftops in Ranelegh Road, while also having to stop the inferno spreading to the nearby Norseland School. Today it is the site of a sheltered homes complex.
Beach House was gutted by fire in December 1989 just after a marketing campaign to sell it. It had to be demolished and its site was used for a massive complex of flats.
Already earmarked for demolition, the Herman de Stern - a former convalescent home, community centre and theatre - was devastated by fire in summer 2005, ending campaigners' hopes of saving it. A group of children were arrested but no charges were brought.
Dougie Goodall's old fishing hut - currently owned by the Fryer family - was burnt to the ground last weekend . The hut, with its famous lean, had stood on the shore for 60 years.