The charred remains of metal chairs were all that was left standing of Castle Park’s well loved bowling ‘bower’ as Councillor Gordon Nicolson, Leader of Eden Council surveyed the smouldering remains the morning after the building was razed to the ground.
Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service were called out to the park in Penrith on the evening of Sunday 18 March after the park had been locked for the night, to put out the flames of the 1920’s pavilion.
Councillor Gordon Nicolson said: “This is a devastating blow for the bowling club and for all residents and visitors who enjoy the park, the bowling green, bower and cafe. It appears to be a mindless act of arson and has come at a terrible time for the bowling club as they were due to begin their season on 14 April.”
Club members met with Councillor Nicolson on the scorched green and looked on as fire crew pulled out the blackened and contorted remnants of metal plaques, bowling bowls and the club’s clock.
Hillary Squires, Secretary of Castle Park Bowling Club said: “So much of what has been lost is irreplaceable. There was a lot of history in that building, including the honours boards, photographs and trophies.” The furniture and crockery in the club house had all been paid for through fundraising by the ladies of the club. “Club members had clothing and personal items stored in lockers in the club house and it’s all gone now.” Continued Mrs Squires.
The bower building, which belonged to Eden District Council and housed the club room and adjoining cafe was valued at £100,000 and was insured to the full reinstatement value. The club room was leased to Castle Park Bowling Club, although visitors were also permitted to use it and the cafe was let as a business during the spring and summer. Eden Council confirmed that their insurers were due to visit the site to make an assessment and that the park would not reopen until the visit had taken place and the site made safe.
The nearby toilet block also suffered heat damage, with Perspex windows and guttering having been destroyed. An Eden Council spokesperson confirmed that re-opening of the toilet block was a priority but that it would not be straight forward as water and electricity to the toilets had been supplied via the bower building. The Council spokesperson stated that discussions with the utility companies were ongoing in an attempt to reinstate the toilet block at the earliest possible opportunity. The adjacent tennis courts were also damaged in the blaze.
Eden Council confirmed they would be looking to provide some temporary accommodation for Castle Park Bowling Club and for the cafe. However, access to the park is restricted due to the narrow war memorial gateway at the entrance. “Our aim is to work with the bowling club to ensure that they are able to start their season in a few weeks. We are looking at how we can get a temporary building into the park. The entrance from Ullswater Road is very narrow but I am confident we will find a solution.” Added Councillor Nicolson.
The Police are treating the fire as arson and an investigation into the incident is underway.
A Cumbria Fire & Rescue Service spokesman said: “Upon arrival it was found that the Pavilion in the park was well alight and a request was made to increase appliances to five.
“Appliances from Shap, Carlisle, Penrith and Appleby along with Station Manager Adams were mobilised.
“Firefighters extinguished the fire using 1 ground monitor, a water bowser, light portable pump and 4 jets. The last appliance returned to home station at 23:05 hours.”
Large crowds gathered nearby to watch the drama unfold.
Police crime scene investigators were picking through the wreckage the next morning.
Police have made four arrests to date. Two males, aged 14 and 15 from Penrith, were arrested on suspicion of arson but have since been released without any further action. A 13-year-old male and a 13-year-old female from Penrith have also been arrested on suspicion of arson and are currently on police bail until 30 April 2012 while enquiries continue.
Anyone with any information is asked to call Penrith police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.