Cupola House fire in Bury St Edmunds an 'absolute tragedy'

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Media captionFirefighters were still damping down two days after the blaze

"To see it on fire was heartbreaking and an absolute tragedy," said Paul Romaine as he surveyed the smouldering ruins of The Cupola House in Bury St Edmunds his company restored in 2004.

A kitchen fire in the Strada restaurant, current occupier of the 17th Century house, led to the roof and back of the five-storey building collapsing on Saturday night.

"It was a truly splendid grade I listed building," Mr Romaine added.

His firm's work, involving a £0.5m restoration of the building, led to it being taken off the English Heritage Buildings At Risk register.

'Iconic building'

Ornate plastering, gold leaf work and restoration of the five-storey wooden staircase and octagonal cupola, were all undertaken.

Mr Romaine went to look at the fire on Saturday evening, after 120 diners and staff were successfully evacuated.

"It was an iconic building of Bury St Edmunds and it's stood there since 1693 towering above everything.

"The restoration was a labour of love and everyone who worked there and was involved in it became very fond of it."

Image caption The cupola on the roof was part of a restoration project in 2003-4

The building was constructed for Thomas Marco who was a local apothecary - a forerunner of the modern pharmacist.

The house took its name from the cupola on its roof.

Mr Romaine sold the building to the Strada group in 2006, and he estimates it was worth up to £4m.

Simon Pott, former chairman of the Bury Society which campaigns for the preservation of historic buildings in the town, said: "I believe very strongly that this needs to be rebuilt. It's not going to be the same but it can be done.

"There was an amazing wooden staircase and it can look the same.

"This is what things like English Heritage are up for and the Heritage Lottery Fund if it's required."

Mr Romaine said: "Every effort should be made, if it's structurally possible, to retain the front facade and then painstakingly, lovingly, using proper expertise, it should be reinstated to its former glory."

An English Heritage spokesman said they were "very saddened" by the fire damage.

"Its handsome facade and distinctive rooftop cupola made an important contribution to the townscape," he said.

"English Heritage is in discussions with St Edmundsbury Borough Council about the next steps, but these will depend upon a thorough appraisal of the condition of the building and how much historic fabric may potentially be salvageable.

"We will continue to work with the council to ensure the most appropriate conservation approach is taken."

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