Owners reflect on devastation at wedding venue and vow to help brides-to-be

OWNERS of one of the region’s most popular wedding venues destroyed by a devastating fire have vowed to “soldier on” in a bid to fulfill bookings made by brides-to-be.

Flames more than 50-feet high tore through Chilford Hall in Linton early this morning (Wednesday), with reports smoke could be seen billowing into the sky from 15 miles away.

More than 60 firefighters from Essex, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk were called to the scene at around 3.15am after a police patrol vehicle raised the alarm.

No one was hurt but the owners of the venue, Fiona Alper and her son Reuben, were in the nearby house at the time.

Mrs Alper’s stepson Simon, who arrived later that morning, described how the two of them had felt the “searing heat” as the inferno threatened to spread.

The 53-year-old, who moved to the country house with his family in 1965 at the age of six, said his stepmother had watched on as their livelihood went up in flames.

“There is a lot of my life in there and it’s just gone up in smoke. It is devastating to see so many memories go up in flames and terrible for all of us,” Mr Alper told the Reporter.

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“Many people will be affected by it, not just those who have booked here for weddings and conferences but workers and suppliers too.”

Taking in the devastation, Mr Alper reflected on the many cherished family heirlooms and historical artifacts which had been destroyed.

“The business can continue but it will be a while before it is the same as before. We have now got to sit down and work out how we replace the irreplaceable.”

The blaze enveloped an area 50m by 50m in size, reducing the 18th-century Linton Hall, the Great Hall and the adjoining Pavilion and Gallery to rubble.

However, firefighters were praised by both the owners and workers for their swift action in bringing the fire under control and saving the house, wine store and shop from the flames.

Brides-to-be from across the district now face an anxious wait to find out whether or not the wedding they booked at Chilford Hall can still be fulfilled.

Mr Alper said the business would “soldier on” and hoped marquees could be erected in the house’s grounds to try and cater for some of the bookings made.

“We are in the process of getting in touch with everybody and will do our best to help in whatever way we can,” he added.

Station manager at Linton fire station, Steve Elve, said it took firefighters four or five hours to get the blaze under control and expected crews to remain at the site well into the evening to continue damping down.

Two men, aged 27 and 26 and both from Haverhill, have been arrested on suspicion of arson and taken into custody at Parkside Police Station.

An investigation has been launched into how the fire started.