Police are investigating what caused a devastating fire at a Grade I-listed stately home.
Emergency services rushed to the scene of Parnham House in Beaminster in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Fire chiefs said 20 crews battled the blaze, which caused a significant amount of damage, and praised the tireless efforts of firefighters who worked through the night to try to save the property.
The fire service remained on scene across the weekend, continuing to dampen down the property.
It is not believed that anyone was injured in the fire.
Detectives are now urging any witnesses and anyone with information to come forward after it was confirmed the cause of the fire is being treated as suspicious.
A spokesman for Dorset Police said the force was called by Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service at 4.10am on Saturday, to reports of an extensive fire at Parnham House.
Officers attended to assist the fire service while they tackled the extensive blaze.
No one is believed to have been inside at the time of the fire, but police said they will carry out a full search when it is safe to do so.
The property is likely to be cordoned off for some time to allow investigators to examine the scene.
Detective Inspector Andrea Power, of Weymouth CID, said: “An investigation is currently underway to establish the cause and the circumstances around the blaze.
“We are treating the fire as suspicious and I would appeal to anyone who may have witnessed any suspicious activity in the area around the early hours of this morning to please contact police.”
Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service confirmed that 20 crews were on site trying to save the Grade I listed building.
Images were tweeted by area managers Craig Baker and Ian Jeary.
Mr Baker tweeted on Saturday morning: “At the scene of a major fire in Beaminster, West Dorset. 20 pumps, ALP, Water Carrier.”
Mr Jeary commended the work of firefighters in Beaminster who worked tirelessly throughout the night.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Dorset Police at dorset.police.uk, via email email@example.com or by calling 101, quoting incident number 15:69.
Alternatively contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or via crimestopers-uk.org
At the scene of a major fire in Beaminster, West Dorset. 20 pumps, ALP, Water Carrier pic.twitter.com/OUm6Fk0wf1— Craig Baker (@DWFRSCraigBaker) April 15, 2017
The fire at a stately home dating back to the 16th Century is a ‘huge loss’ to the area and has caused shock in the community.
Residents and shop employees in Beaminster have spoken out about what happened.
David Harris, aged 64, has lived in Beaminster all his life.
He said: “This is a dreadful, dreadful shock. It is such an iconic and beautiful building and it is a huge loss to the people of Beaminster.
“No one seems to know much information but I understand firefighters have been working to control the blaze all night.
“I hope no one was injured and the building can be saved.”
Employees at Cilla & Camilla said they knew little about what had happened.
One employee, who wanted to remain anonymous said: “I don’t know too much about what’s happened
“I walk my dog past Parnham House every day so I spotted the fire engines there this morning.
“It’s a horrible shock and I hope no one was injured.”
Members of St Mary’s Church said the fire was the “talk of the town”.
Mary Shore and her husband Richard retired to Beaminster ten years ago.
Mrs Shore, aged 71, said: “We love the town and Parnham House is part of what we love here.
“We are all in complete shock about the fire and how serious it was.
“Fire engines have been driving back and forth through the village all morning.
“It is all anyone is talking about today. My thoughts go out to the owners and family.”
Mr Shore, aged 70, said: “I just can’t believe it, I am in total shock - as is the whole of the town I am sure.”
Beaminster resident Fiona Whittle was walking her dog on Saturday morning when she noticed the smoke.
She said: “I always take my dog for a walk around that area and up along the footpaths.
“The whole area was horrendously smoky and the smell was pretty unbearable.
“I knew there must have been a fire but it wasn’t until I got back into the town that I heard where it was. I am completely devastated. It was such a stunning and iconic building. I don’t know if any of it can be salvaged, but I hope so.”
HISTORY OF THE HOUSE
Parnham House dates back to the 16th century and is considered to be one of Dorset’s oldest and most important stately homes.
It is understood the house has been privately owned and was occupied following renovations in 2009.
The site of Parnham House was acquired by Richard de Strode during the reign of Henry VI, on his marriage with Elizabeth Gerard.
Then, following the marriage of Robert Strode with Elizabeth Hody in 1522, an existing house on the site was rebuilt.
The Strode family remained in occupation until 1764 when the male line failed.
The estate then passed to Sir John Oglander of Nunwell, Isle of Wight, but the new owners did not reside at Parnham.
In the early 19th century, Sir William Oglander returned to Parnham, commissioning John Nash to renovate and improve the house in 1810.
In 1896 the last member of the Oglander family died, and Parnham was sold to Vincent Robinson who housed his art collection in the house.
The estate was purchased in 1911 by Dr Hans Sauer, who undertook extensive work on the interior of the house, and laid out new formal gardens inspired by those of Montacute, Somerset.
Dr Sauer remained at Parnham only until 1914, when the property was sold to Mr Rhodes-Moorhouse for his son, William, who was killed during the First World War.
William Rhodes-Moorhouse, was the first airman to be awarded the Victoria Cross and few stories that lie behind Britain’s most prestigious gallantry medal can have been more moving.
For not only had Rhodes-Moorhouse written a ‘first and final letter’ to his recently born son, but he had also written a late postscript to it in which he predicted his death on the day of his final flight - a perilous mission from which he knew he was highly unlikely to return.
His son, also called William, was a Battle of Britain pilot and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. After claiming 12 combat victories, his Hurricane was shot down in a dogfight over Kent on September 6, 1940.
The body of the young officer, who died aged 25, was recovered and his ashes were later interred beside his father at the family’s Parnham estate.
Following the First World War, Parnham was used as a country club, and was then sold in 1930 to Edward Bullivant who returned it to domestic use.
During the Second World War it was requisitioned for use by the US Army.
In 1955/6, when Bullivant’s son moved to Anderson Manor, Dorset, the estate was divided, and the house converted into a nursing home.
From 1973 Parnham stood empty for three years until it was purchased in 1976 by the furniture designer John Makepeace, who converted the stables and coach house to workshops and ran his School for Craftsmen in Wood in the house.
The house was again sold in 2001 and the site reverted to single, private ownership.