Posted in Highbridge on Tuesday 22nd April 2008 at 11:24pm

The debate about the regeneration of Highbridge turned ugly tonight. Over the weekend, a series of small fires have occurred around the town, most notably including a minor incident in the abandoned and boarded-up Highbridge Hotel. The same hotel which is Grade II listed in part, and currently owned by Mead Realisations - a group of businesses that specialise in redeveloping 'difficult' sites. Since the pub closed in early 2008, security on the site has been poor, and this once proud building, parts of which have survived since the 18th century, has slipped quickly into decline.

Tonight, after lazily listening to more fire appliances screaming by and sparked by a message from my sister, I looked out of the window to see smoke and flames in the sky. A quick look at the internet indicated that a fire had taken hold of the hotel. Like many others I was drawn out of my house to watch the building disintegrate before our eyes. I thought it would be crass to take my camera - but plenty didn't. My 'phone had to suffice to document events.

A view of the fire at the Highbridge Hotel from Tyler Way
A view of the fire at the Highbridge Hotel from Tyler Way

There was a strange, almost dangerous and semi-criminal taint to the atmosphere. Much of the town seemed to be lining the fence, groups of children playing chicken with the Police Officer put on crowd control duty - sprinting across the former market grounds to the line of tape and back as she lunged for them. Next to me a young boy said quite simply "this is the most exciting day ever!". Older folk reminisced about the pub, and about its decline - both before and after closure. Someone called the former landlord "Its OK, your 'book early for Christmas sign' isn't burning!". With the railway bridge closed again and the police turning cars back at the roundabout, the road began to fill with cars - mostly those of locals down to get a picture or watch the action.

Strangely, the Market was the centre of Highbridge once again tonight. People passed the time, bemoaning 'kids' or adding to the conspiracy theory about planning consent, listing and conditions. Only a full hour after the drama began did someone - a kindly soul - say "I hope there was no-one in there". Names of potential pyromaniacs were tendered. People reminisced about Jewson's burning many years ago. It was like the Carnival had finally come to Highbridge. I took a brief and very poor quality video, and again cursed my sensitivity at not bringing a better camera. It's curious to note the general level of excitement and banter among the watchers.

Whilst the conspiracy theories may well be unfounded, there are questions for the developer to answer about the security of the site and protection of the public. Since the Police were keeping us away, its hard to know if a salvagable facade remains. I left as the fire had died to embers, but it continued to retain the power to regenerate in a way the Town has never managed - springing up, bright and hot again in some new corner. The roof, collapsing under the jets of water, no longer containing the flames. The firemen trying to break skylights by throwing bricks and cheering each other's efforts on!

Whatever happens, one of the oldest buildings and perhaps part of the very core of the town is gone, and both the fabric and genus loci of Highbridge has changed again forever. Strangely though, the fire seems to have stirred some sense of belonging and place once again, and the reaction is threatening to turn against the 'developer'. Perhaps another chapter is already beginning?

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I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.

I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.

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