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At least 30 firemen using five appliances fought for more than two hours to quell a spectacular blaze which completely gutted the 90-years-old Church at Beechholme Residential School in Fir Tree-road, Banstead, during the early hours of Saturday morning.
Flames and sparks shot 20 feet in the air as men from three stations worked desperately to save part of the building - but all in vain. The inferno, which could be seen from nearly a mile away, completely destroyed the 200-seat brick and mortar building standing near the entrance to the school grounds.
The fire is believed to have started at 2.30 am on Saturday. It was discovered 10 minutes later by Mr Peter McTavish, the resident house master of Kerria House, part of the community. At this time the church was seen to be completely alight.
Mr McTavish called the Surrey Fire Brigade and alerted the internal fire system. This evacuated the other buildings in the grounds of its 400 population.
Two fire engines arrived from Epsom station, two more from Reigate and one from Sutton. The fire-fighting operation was at first under the control of Station Officer D. Ritherdon, of Epsom, but later Divisional Officer E. Moore and Assistant Chief Officer Butler took charge.
In just two hours the building. measuring about 75ft by 45ft. and its contents were completely gutted.
At 5 am the firemen withdrew when any further danger was over but a squad of 30 policemen from Epsom and Banstead. who had. attended since the start of the blaze, stayed at the scene until 10 am.
No one was injured during the fire.
Besides controlling traffic in Fir Tree-road. police also had to count all the children in the school in case anyone had been in the church at the time. Ambulances were standing by throughout the operation Just in case.
Banstead Police Chief, Insp John Mower. who. co-directed the police role, said this. week that the cause of the fire is unknown at present. It is being jointly investigated by both the police and the fire brigade.
Although a small ante-room attached to the main building was saved, he felt that it would be impossible to rebuild the whole structure as the foundations and surrounding area had also been damaged. It was a write-off.
The establishment is owned and controlled by the London Borough of Wandsworth Children's Department. Mr C. Dicker the deputy superintendent, stressed that it would be impossible to value the church because of its age. All the pews, the organ, the font and other usual church possessions were also destroyed.
"One of the saddest things about it." he added, "was that the special stained-glass window which was built over a number of years and put in place in the church by children at the school was also ruined. Children learnt the glass-staining and cutting trade especially for this purpose."