Two fire appliances from Rye Fire Station attended St Mary’s in Church Square late on Monday afternoon August 4 after Rector Canon David Frost (pictured above) noticed the smell of burning when he went to the church.
After he opened the locked vestry door he was met by a wall of smoke, but no apparent fire. Canon Frost first called the police and then the fire brigade. The church had previous problems with vandals, and plans to instal closed circuit TV cameras for more security.
The fire brigade, led by Fire Officer Andy Polly, arrived very speedily. The long vestry table was dragged out into the nave. At one side a pile of grey ash was all that remained of a basket and a ball of string seen there earlier. But diaries piled at one end of the table seemed unharmed, and the fire, which melted the table’s oil cloth cover, seemed very localised.
The table had been standing in front of a vestry window with leaded lights and obscured glass, unlikely to have acted as a magnifying glass for the sun’s rays – sometimes a cause of fires.
Verger Clive Pollard had left early for a hospital appointment, locking the vestry door so there was no access for vandals. “It was just a miracle that I happened to come into the church” said the rector “and smelt burning from the vestry. In fact it was feeding time for Sylvester, the church cat.”
Despite a careful hour long examination, the cause of the fire still remained a mystery when the emergency vehicles left at 7.15 pm. No damage appears to have been made to the building, but it is too early to assess the extent of the financial loss. The effects of smoke damage to the vestry and its contents, including office equipment and clerical vestments hanging in the cupboard, could be substantial; and smoke escaped into the church when the vestry door was opened. Further examination by a police forensic team was arranged for the following day.