A fire which destroyed part of the roof of a building at the historic Tonedale Mill in Wellington is being investigated as arson. The blaze was in one of the old single-storey buildings at the edge of the site, close to Thunder Bridge.
Firemen using breathing apparatus began searching the blazing building after reports that there could be people trapped inside. However, they were withdrawn as the gable end of the brick structure began to collapse.
Firefighters from Wellington, Taunton, Wiveliscombe and Bridgwater were called to the blaze at 7.50pm on Saturday and had brought it under control by 10pm. The roof collapsed during the fire and investigators were unable to access the building until this morning (Sunday 6 August) to check the site with thermal imaging cameras.
The fire was contained and then extinguished by the early hours of Sunday morning. Firemen were pumping water from the old factory leat to keep the blaze damped down.
Tonedale Mill was once the largest woollen mill in the South West of England. It has been derelict for decades but work has now begun on converting it into a large complex of houses and flats.
A party of builders, thought to be Romanian, has been living in portakabins on the Tonedale site for the past three months and carrying out preliminary work on one of the six main buildings. The 200-year-old mill has planning permission for conversion to 232 apartments. The current owner is a Middle-Eastern property company based in London.
The heritage charity SAVE put Tonedale at the head of its list of most-at-risk sites earlier this year. Momentum is gathering at official level to help preserve at least some of the site, with Historic England and Taunton Deane about to jointly fund a Wellington Heritage officer to oversee the project.