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Fire destroys historic church in north-west London

27 January 2023

‘Building may be broken, but St Mark’s is alive and well,’ says Vicar


The burnt-out structure of St Mark’s, Hamilton Terrace, in north-west London, after a fire on Thursday night

The burnt-out structure of St Mark’s, Hamilton Terrace, in north-west London, after a fire on Thursday night

A FIRE gutted St Mark’s, Hamilton Terrace, in north-west London, on Thursday night, but the Vicar, the Revd Kate Harrison, has vowed that the Candlemas service planned for Sunday will go ahead on the street.

“The building may be broken, but St Mark’s is alive and well,” Ms Harrison told the Church Times on Friday afternoon.

Asked about plans for the service on Sunday, Ms Harrison said that there was “no way on this earth that we would cancel it”, and pointed to the spire, blackened but still standing, as a symbol of defiance.

“We’re having our Candlemas service on Sunday, and we’re having it in the streets. We are going to be there, loud and proud and defiant,” she said.

The roof, windows, and much of the interior of the Grade II* building, built in 1857, were destroyed by a fire which broke out on Thursday night. Assessments are ongoing as to the full extent of the damage, and to determine the cause.

Twelve fire engines responded to the blaze, having been called at 11.19 p.m. A statement from the London Fire Brigade said that the situation was under control by 2.30 a.m, and that there were no reports of injuries.

Ms Harrison paid tribute to the firefighters, who she said had arrived “incredibly quickly”. She was first aware that something was wrong when a dog-walker knocked on the door of the Vicarage to report the suspected fire.

“It was such an amazing building that was so soaked with 175 years of prayer that you could feel it,” Ms Harrison said.

“We’d keep the doors open every day, and local people would just wander in. We had a children’s area where mums would take their kids, and we’d have people going in there to light a candle or to just sit in peace. That all soaked into those walls, and it was just the most amazing place.”

Ms Harrison also spoke of the wide range of community events that took place in the church — from comedy nights, concerts, and painting evenings to a Renew Wellbeing cafe.

The Revd Robert Thompson, the Vicar of St Mary’s, Kilburn — a neighbour of St Mark’s — visited the scene on Friday afternoon. “The building is completely gutted,” he said. A wide security cordon was in place around the site.

While the building was still ablaze, residents had been advised by firefighters to keep their windows closed owing to the amount of smoke.

Items from the sacristy, including silverware and vestments, had been rescued from the church, Mr Thompson said, and the sacristy itself was still standing. He hoped that the church hall would be deemed safe for use for worship in due course.

Photographs show that the roof and windows have been completely gutted by the fire, and the spire left blackened. Several adjoining structures have also been cordoned off, pending assessment of their structural integrity.

The church was built between 1846 and 1847, and the spire had been reconstructed after bomb damage during the Second World War.

In a statement issued on Friday, the National Churches Trust described St Mark’s as “outstandingly beautiful”, and noted that it was “packed with beautiful mosaics and memorials”.

Ms Harrison said that, from what she had seen, all that had gone. “The gorgeous mosaics that were on the walls have gone, the Victorian pews have gone, the gallery has just disappeared, the organ which was up in the gallery has disappeared. It looks like it’s been hit by a bomb. It’s a shell, with huge amounts of debris inside.”

The claims director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, Jeremy Trott, said on Friday that the images of the church in flames were “heartbreaking”.

“My thoughts go out to the church’s community, who will be devastated”, he said. “It’s always horrible to see catastrophic church fires — not only because of the damage caused to a beautiful Grade II listed building, but also the impact on the local community.”

Ecclesiastical Insurance was carrying out a site visit on Friday, Mr Trott said.

“We know from previous experience that buildings can be restored, despite the extensive damage.”

He referred to the example of the Church of the Ascension, Salford, which was badly damaged in an arson attack in 2017, but reopened in November last year after a £5-million restoration project (News, 22 November 2022).

Richard Carr-Archer, a church architect and former trustee of the National Churches Trust, advised churches to fit a fire alarm, and to ensure that the building had an up-to-date and regularly inspected lightning conductor.

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