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Battersea Arts Centre badly damaged by fire- battle to save south London’s iconic Victorian building

Battersea Art Centre, BAC engulfed in flames. Image: @jesscousins via @LFB

Battersea Art Centre, BAC engulfed in flames. Image: @jesscousins via @LFB

One of South London’s most well known landmarks- the Battersea Arts Centre, (BAC),  has been engulfed in a major blaze.

The iconic building used to be Battersea Town Hall and in the last few decades became a major centre for experimental theatre and arts in south London.

It’s been described by the Guardian as Britain’s ‘most influential theatre.’

Firefighters were called to the scene at 4.15pm after the venue’s Grand Hall went up in flames.

By 7 pm the London Fire Brigade said ‘Fire is affecting northern part of Battersea Arts Centre & we’re stopping it spreading.’

The fire affected part of the building, which is under refurbishment, and its roof.

The famous roof and bell tower facing away from Lavender Hill that used to dominate the skyline looking north towards the River Thames has been destroyed.

All performances have been cancelled.

The fire was reported as under control by 8 pm.

The Artistic Director of the BAC and CEO, David Jubb said everyone at the centre was devastated by what had happened.

He praised LFB  firefighters for doing their best to limit the damage.

He said: ‘We are all extremely grateful for all the offers of help.’

Mobile phone footage of the fire from @gasp via @LFB

Smoke could be seen for miles around and the London Fire Brigade advised people living and working nearby to keep doors and windows closed as a precaution.

Twelve fire engines and around 80 firefighters and officers tackled the blaze on Lavender Hill, SW11.

Two aerial appliances – similar to cherry pickers – fought the fire from above.

The London Fire Brigade says it has been engaged in a major battle to save as much of the beautiful building as it can.

Station Manager John Snelgrove who was at the scene said:

This is a large, challenging fire and crews are working hard to bring it under control. We’ve got 12 fire engines at the scene, as well as an aerial appliance and an aerial ladder platform fighting the fire from above.

Firefighters are working with a number of water jets around the building to contain the fire.

The London Fire Brigade said:

The cause is unknown at this stage. We have had no reports of any injuries at this moment in time.

The LFB’s Twitter account urged  anyone in the area to stay indoors due to the smoke: ‘Lot of smoke coming from #Battersea art centre fire. Please close doors & windows if you’re near.’

Images of the fire and LFB’s struggle to get it under control

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The view taken by a police officer attending the scene off Lavender Hill.

The Arts Centre said:

There is a fire in our building. Everyone is out safe and the fire brigade are working hard to get the fire under control.

London Ambulance Service said they had no reports of any casualties apart from treating one woman for smoke inhalation.

They’ve been on standby.

The BAC fire has been so fierce the huge plumes of black smoke could be seen from the River Thames.

This fire is a major tragedy for the heritage and history of south London.

As the old Battersea Town Hall the building was the centre of welfare, politics and administration for many decades during the 20th century.

It was completed in 1893 having been designed by E. W. Mountford.

It was the building where Britain’s first Black municipal mayor led local authority meetings and debates and hosted the parliamentary count where Britain’s first Asian MP and a communist was elected in the 1920s.

The borough elected the first black mayor in 1913 when John Archer took office, and in 1922 elected the Bombay-born Communist Party member Shapurji Saklatvala as MP for Battersea; one of only two communist members of Parliament.

Saklatvala campaigned for Indian independence and was arrested for seditious politicking during the General Strike of 1926.

It became a community arts centre from 1974.

In the late 1980s and 90s the BAC developed into one of the most important theatre and arts centres in London.

Images of Battersea Arts Centre before the fire 13th March 2015

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Its fringe theatre productions have been experimental and pioneering.

A previous Artistic Director Tom Morris (1994-2004) went onto be an associate director at the Royal National Theatre and co-directed/produced War Horse.

He’s currently artistic director of the Old Vic in Bristol and has overseen a massive refurbishment project there.

The BAC hosted Richard Thomas’s early work as Kombat Opera, including Tourette’s Diva, leading to the development of Jerry Springer – The Opera, which premièred at BAC in 2002, before transferring to the Royal National Theatre.

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