Apr 27 2012 by Yonnie McInnes, Ayrshire Post (main ed)
FIRE ravaged Souter Johnnie’s Inn will be restored to its former glory.
The news comes a week after the Kirkoswald building where Robert Burns once attended school was gutted by flames.
A clearly devastated Bill Costley, chairman of Ayrshire based Costley & Costley hotel group, told the Post this week: “I couldn't believe it when I got the call from a member of staff at Souter’s that there was smoke coming from the thatch and that the fire brigade had been called.
“I was in our Prestwick shop at the time and immediately left for Kirkoswald.
“My first concern was that nobody was hurt, or heaven forbid, died in the fire.
“Once the problem was discovered evacuation of customers was quickly, and efficiently carried out by staff for which I’m very grateful.
“We’re all still shell shocked as the precautions that we had taken to stop this ever happening had been considerable.”
It’s believed that the fire started in chimney and a forensic report should confirm this at a later date.
Mr Costley said: “Right from the start, when we decided to have a thatched roof, we had taken every precaution to ensure fire wouldn’t be a problem.
“The chimney was specially designed for us as one unit and had a lining of five inches of concrete.
“It was two metres higher than any other chimney so that if anything came out of the top of it that wouldn’t be an issue.
“The thatch was also double sprayed with a special fire retardant that ensured it would only smoulder even when subjected to prolonged heat exposure.
“Not only that there was a special double membrane between the thatch and the wood in the roof.
“It was when that membrane was pierced that the fire got through to the wood which was then set alight and that’s what caused the roof to collapse with the main damage being on the first floor.”
Pictures of the burnt out building do show that much of thatch is still intact.
And Mr Costley pointed out that the kitchen, the nearby Artisan Patisserie and al fresco are untouched.
He added: “Our intention is to rebuild Souter Johnnie’s Inn and make it an even better place for Kirkoswald to be proud of, however, that could take up to a year to complete as there is a lot to sort out initially.
“We will be re-opening what used to be Peggy’s Tearoom, adjacent to Souter Johnnie’s, within the next two to three weeks.
“We had recently transformed the tea room into a gift shop but, over the last few days, we have already had a kitchen re-installed in the premises.
“Staff at Souter Johnnie’s have been temporarily redeployed within the group and we immediately opened the coffee room at the Brig O’Doon House Hotel in Alloway.”
But he admitted: “It’s been a nightmare that has only been relieved by the kindness of so many people who have told us how sorry they are this has happened.
“We have had literally hundreds of shocked emails and phone calls and people have stopped me in the street.
“This has been a humbling experience especially as many of these calls have come from people who are business competitors who have all been distressed for us.
“I was also amazed to get a kind and supportive letter from South Ayrshire Council’s chief executive David Anderson who said they would do all they could to help us in these difficult circumstances.
“Both the council and thelicensing board have been most helpful in assisting us to quickly re-open Peggy’s and we are able to sell bottled beers and wine until we can apply for a full license at the licensing board’s meeting in June.
“Our intention is to open from 9am to 10pm at Peggy’s which will be a tea room during the day and a restaurant in the evening.
“As to Souter Johnnie’s we are all working flat out to get to the stage of getting into the building, which we have been told is structurally sound, as soon as we can to get the interior washed down, and the building re-roofed as quickly as possible.”