Bishop celebrates church’s restoration after blaze drama

ALL SMILES Left, the Bishop of Portsmouth the Right Rev Christopher Foster and the Rev Simon Sayers outside St Thomas a Becket church at its rededication yesterday.   Pictures Ian Hargreaves (112692-6)
ALL SMILES Left, the Bishop of Portsmouth the Right Rev Christopher Foster and the Rev Simon Sayers outside St Thomas a Becket church at its rededication yesterday. Pictures Ian Hargreaves (112692-6)
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SEVEN months after it was badly damaged by fire, a church in Warblington has reopened.

And the Bishop of Portsmouth was on hand to see the work that has been done in the £300,000 restoration.

FULL HOUSE Yesterday's congregation (112692-2)

FULL HOUSE Yesterday's congregation (112692-2)

More than 100 people gathered at St Thomas a Becket Church to celebrate the church being restored to its former glory.

In January, the church interior was left caked in smoke and soot after a fire took hold of a wooden pew.

It was only the quick-thinking of farmer Henry Young that saved the Saxon church.

He was milking cows nearby and noticed they were unsettled before he spotted a glow coming from the church.

Mr Young called the fire brigade and the blaze – caused by an electrical fault in the underfloor heating system – was out within half an hour.

Bishop Christopher Foster rededicated the church and said he was impressed with the restoration work.

He said: ‘It’s marvellous to be able to celebrate with the congregation and parish of Warblington.

‘This beautiful church has always held a special place in the affections of not only the people of Warblington, but the wider area and visitors. It’s a place hallowed by a thousand years of prayer.’

The restoration involved painting every surface of the interior with liquid latex.

It was then peeled away to remove the smoke damage.

Most of the 800 pipes in the organ had to be removed for cleaning.

Rob Butler, from restoration firm Continuity, said: ‘We are pleased and the turnaround was quick as you would normally be looking at about nine to 10 months for this kind of fire.’

Churchwarden Phoebe Eberle was given a round of applause and a gift to honour her work in the restoration. Theresa Saunders, who travelled from Bournemouth, said: ‘This is my family’s church and I wanted to come and celebrate and give thanks.’

Jane Mansell, 80, from Emsworth, said: ‘It’s wonderful. It’s very tragic, but in fact the fire has renewed it.’

Emsworth Councillor Brendan Gibb-Gray said: ‘It makes it look even more beautiful.’