How Cupola House rose from the ashes

Ten years ago a devastating blaze ripped through Cupola House – one of Bury St Edmunds’ most historic buildings.

The 17th century, Grade I listed building – then a Strada restaurant – went up in flames on June 16, 2012, to the shock of the town.

Cupola House


Seamans Building were on the scene that night, brought in by structural engineers to assist firefighters bravely battling the flames.

But as the smoke finally cleared, thoughts immediately switched to how to rebuild Cupola House from the ashes.

Here, Ben Whatling, Production Director at Seamans, takes a look at Seamans’ role in restoring the historic landmark to its former glory.

The night of the fire

Seamans were called in by structural engineers Richard Jackson Ltd the very night of the fire.

Because much of the building had been destroyed, we attended to ensure the structure’s stability as firefighters tackled the fire.

At one point the facade of the building looked at risk, the heat of the fire causing it to expand.

Seamans’ engineers cut a small strip from the front elevation to reduce the pressure, allowing it to be saved.

After the flames were extinguished and the site checked for hotspots, next came the fire investigation.

Seamans were on hand to secure the building and help save vital evidence needed to piece together what had happened.

The clear up

This was a particularly challenging site to work on.

With much of the rear of the building collapsed we had to work slowly, carefully removing debris piece by piece.

Cupola House

To achieve this, Seamans constructed temporary scaffolding and, using a skip suspended from a crane, began clearing the rubble.

As the site was slowly cleared, there were a few surprises buried beneath the building.

While excavating, our team discovering a medieval well and additional rooms under the floor.

While the clear-up continued, working alongside St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Purcell Architects, plans were drawn up to how to restore the much-loved building.

Rising from the ashes

To future-proof the building and reduce the chance of another fire, it was decided a steel frame should be used to reinforce the building’s structure.

However, the team were keen to retain the building’s unique and eccentric lines.

This meant engineers were faced with out-of-plumb angles and wonky floors and walls.

Various local craftsmen and women were brought in to construct the detailed interior.

This included Church and Gooderham Ltd, based in Earl Soham, who constructed the oak staircases, and master woodcrafter Rob Lewis, in Haughley, who created the building’s beautiful, ornate carvings.

However, the day the whole town had been waiting for was when the rebuilt cupola, constructed in Seamans’ carpentry workshop in Thurston, was finally lifted onto the building.

It was a great sight to see and at that point, felt like the project was coming to an end.

Building work was completed in August 2016.

A team effort

This project is a shining example of what can be achieved when councils, companies and individuals come together for a common good.

It was a pleasure working on such an important project, and we were delighted by how it turned out.

This restoration needed the best quality craftmanship, sourced locally – just like how it would have been built back in 1693 – and that’s exactly what happened.

In 2017 Seamans Building won two LABC Building Excellence Awards for our work on the project while in March 2018 we won Heritage Project of the Year at the NFB Awards.

Suffolk News – Ten years on from devastating Bury St Edmunds blaze article.