AN ICONIC former Grade II listed Conservative Club is to be partly demolished after it was ravaged by fire.

Firefighters were called to Accrington Conservative Club in Cannon Street at around 4am yesterday.


Nearby residents were evacuated and businesses forced to remain closed as more than 50 firefighters spent 10 hours tackling the blaze which is being treated as suspicious.

The cordon, which included the closure of Paradise Street, Cannon Street and Eagle Street, was kept in place last night and today with residents unable to return home.

The fire was eventually brought under control by 2pm, but crews said the destruction of internal walls and floors left parts of the 125-year-old building unstable and in ‘a state of imminent collapse’.

Structural engineers sent by Hyndburn Council served the owner, Iftakharul Bhatti, of Nelson-based Woodgreen Developments, with a notice, detailing their plans to demolish parts of the building.

An investigation by police and fire service has now been launched.

A spokesman from Lancashire Fire Service said: “Firefighters prevented the fire from spreading to neighbouring properties, but the building itself has been very badly damaged and parts of it are in a state of imminent collapse.

“We received a call at 4am and were mobilised to the fire which was well developed when we arrived.

“More engines were rapidly deployed and about 50 firefighters battled the fire continuously.

“We had to evacuate two houses nearby due to the unstable structure.

“All the floors inside had been burnt and collapsed and we had to make the building safe before we could tackle it.

“It was too dangerous to go inside.

“The front of the building is extremely unstable.

“We are treating the fire as suspicious because the building was not in use and the services such as gas and electric were isolated. However, no accelerants have yet been found.

“We are working with the police and local authorities to investigate. No-one was injured.”

Residents watching the fire unfolding yesterday said they were saddened to see the iconic building destroyed.

Alice Cross, 79, was evacuated from her home in Eagle Street with her husband Francis.

She said: “We got a knock from the police at 4.15am and were evacuated.

Tesco was very good to us and let us stay until we are sorted some alternative accommodation.

“I’ve not had a wash and I feel horrible but there is not a lot we can do.

“It’s a beautiful building, it used to have a ballroom with a brilliant sprung floor.”

Francis said: “The firefighters have been heroes facing those flames.”

Frank Atkinson, 68, from Accrington, said: “It’s an absolute tragedy. It’s such an iconic building, you cannot replace this.

“I do hope they will keep the sign that says Conservative Club.”

Martin Heyes, 57, who works for Woodcocks Haworth and Nuttall solicitors on Cannon Street, said: “It was an accident waiting to happen.

“It’s not the first time it’s happened, we all remember the Queen’s visit.”

Frank Lowe, 88, a former regular at the club, said: “It was really famous in its day.

“I spent many nights there, it was the place to be on a Saturday night, it was what people lived for around here.

“Eddie McGarry and his band were the group that were always there.”

Last night police urged anyone with information to contact them.

DI Julie Cross said: “At this stage we do not know whether it was started deliberately and so we are asking anyone who may have been in the area before the fire to get in touch with any information that could assist us with our enquiries.

“Anyone with information should call 101.”

Hyndburn Council leader, Cllr Miles Parkinson, said: “Building control staff have served a ‘Section 78’ notice on the building owner.

“It will require partial demolition to make it safe and we’re working with the building owner and emergency services to resolve this.”

The historic building, which opened in 1891, was once the largest ‘Con Club’ in the UK attracting crowds of up to a 1,000 from across the North West with its sprung-floor ballroom.

Falling membership forced it to close in the 1990s. It was then turned into a nightclub called Churchills but this too shut after customer Gavin Tattersall, from Padiham, died outside during a fight.

Since then it has had multiple renovation plans rejected by the council and only avoided the ballroom being demolished after a campaign to save it was successful.

In 2006 it was put up for auction with a guide price of £450,000.When Mr Bhatti purchased the club he said the building was in such a state that demolition was the only option.

He drew up a £13million development plan, which would have left little more than the ornate frontage of the building left standing.

His initial plans to create a complex with restaurant, a large ground-floor function room, shops, offices, a gym and a roof-top cafe were ditched in favour of high-quality office space.

Speaking in 2010, Mr Bhatti, said: “We were considering refurbishment rather than demolition but it is far too badly damaged.

“There has been a lot of negotiating between ourselves and the council on exactly the right way to develop the building and we have nearly come to an agreement.”

In 2012 firefighters had to tackle another blaze at the club, an hour before the Queen was due to pass close to the building on her way into the town as part of her Diamond Jubilee tour.