ARSONISTS are suspected to have caused a blaze that raged through Mayford Village Hall in the early hours of Sunday.
Much of the old wooden building was destroyed in the 4am fire which has shocked villagers.
Anne Couter, who lives opposite the hall in Saunders Lane, called the emergency services when she was woken up suddenly.
She said: “I heard a roaring noise and my bedroom completely lit up. I thought I was dreaming until I ran outside and saw the village hall roof ablaze, so I ran back and called 999. It must have been about 4.10am.”
Two fire engines from Woking’s Red Watch and police were first to arrive at the scene.
Ms Couter added: “It was all very dramatic. Firefighters had to smash the glass fire doors to access the building.”
The roof was completely destroyed and the old, timber-clad building gutted. Not much could be salvaged but a few historic pieces.
Six fire engines attended the blaze – two from Woking, three from Guildford and one from Chertsey – which took approximately two-and-a-half hours to put out.
There was also a fire investigation dog. Eighty per cent of the roof and 60 per cent of the ground floor were destroyed.
A number of police officers also attended the scene.
Investigating officer Det Con Nicholas Swindells told the Woking News & Mail: “Arson is strongly suspected. We can’t say anything for certain until the fire service and police have completed their investigations but the incident is being treated as suspicious.”
Alan Briggs, secretary to the trustees of Mayford Village Hall, said: “Emergency services said it was almost certainly deliberate as an accelerant was used, which must have been sprayed under the rear door where the fire started.
“I don’t think there’s any way we can salvage the lovely old building. It will probably require a complete rebuild. It’s horrendous.”
Ms Couter added: “The building is in use all the time. I don’t know what people are going to do now. I’ve lived here for 13 years and have never seen anything like it – it’s normally such a quiet, peaceful area.”
The irreparable damage to the privately-owned venue means that not only will all the parties, the dozen or so regular clubs, organisations and WI meetings there have to be cancelled, but the daily pre-school will have to come to an end.
Mr Briggs added: “It’s very sad for everybody. My granddaughter will be very disappointed – she’s just started preschool here.”
The popular venue was built in 1947 and the extension at the back, which was added on in 1981 remains undamaged. The land was given to the village by the 4th Marquess of Bristol and is run by a group of 11 trustees.
Mayford Pre-School owner-manager, Chris Wilshire, who lives in nearby Honeypots Lane, said: “We won’t be returning to the hall for some time. I’ve been trying to contact the parents to tell them the school is closed – we have about 30 pupils in all who attend.
“We were so looking forward to a magical Christmas with the children – it was going to look fantastic with all the decorations and presents for each child. The renovations since lightning hit the hall about five years ago have been completed and everything was spick and span.
Chris, who has a staff of seven, added: “But, like in The Blitz, we have to pull together and carry on. The fallout from this is massive. All the clubs, societies, brownies and rainbows. And closing the school will hit working mums who drop off their children here.
“Still, we have a couple of irons in the fire – possibilities of a new home. But all that has to be checked for health and safety and meet the Ofsted and Early Years standards, as well as parking for parents. The mechanics of it all is huge.
“The school is reliant on funds from Ofsted so I’m hoping they will continue until we find an alternative home. It’s very popular and I’ve been running it since 1997, before which I was a nursery teacher there. The school has gone from strength to strength over the last 15 years.
“I’m sure we’ll get through it.”