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St Mary’s Church Escapes With Minor Damage as Fire Brigade is Summoned

Published on: 28 May, 2013
Updated on: 30 May, 2013
St Mary's Church, Guildford's oldest building

St Mary’s Church, Guildford’s oldest building.

A smouldering beam in Guildford’s oldest building, St Mary’s Church, Quarry Street, was noticed just in time to prevent a serious fire on Saturday afternoon (May 25). Surrey Fire & Rescue was called at 1.37pm and arrived within 10 minutes and prevented further damage.

An auxiliary light fitting had collapsed unnoticed and the light was left lying right flush to a wooden beam above the north side of the knave. Eventually heat from the light started to char the wood.

St Mary's Fire 1 470

Damage to the roof beam can just been discerned in the centre of the photo.

The church was being used by the Guildford Arts Society for an exhibition. One person present noticed a smell of burning and then realised that the beam was smouldering. The fire brigade was called immediately.

An auxilairy light fitting of the sort that collapsed against the beam causing it to smoulder

An auxiliary light fitting of the sort that collapsed against the beam causing it to smoulder

Two fire engines attended from Guildford fire station and, as it was a roof fire, they were joined by a high level appliance from Chertsey. Because a fire had not broken out firefighters were able to deal with the smouldering timber using ‘flexipacks’, portable extinguishers that can be strapped to a firefighter’s back.

Mary Alexander, church warden, said: “Fortunately there was not much damage and the fire brigade dealt with it very quickly. But it was nerve-racking to think what could have happened.”

St Mary’s Church is the only one of Guildford’s original three churches to survive in its medieval form. The flint tower is 10th century Saxon and is Guildford’s oldest structure. The church is likely to have been visited by many famous figures of the Plantagenet period when kings of England stayed at Guildford Castle.

In the 19th century, the Rev’d Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is known to have preached there while staying nearby at his sisters’ home, The Chestnuts, in Castle Hill.

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