Polstead - Fire crews save historic cottage

Owners of a cottage that featured in one of Britain's most notorious murder mysteries have spoken of their gratitude to firefighters who saved it from burning down.

Maria Marten's Cottage, in Polstead, was threatened with destruction when flames from a chimney spread to the thatched roof.

The cottage was once the home of Marten, whose grisly death in 1827 became known as the Red Barn murder.

Monday's fire left part of the house badly damaged but current occupants Denis and Paule Pym say it could have been much worse.

"If it had happened during the night we could easily have been killed," said Mrs Pym.

She saw smoke through the window while preparing breakfast.

"I had just lit the fire in the kitchen, and it was roaring up so I knew there shouldn't have been that much smoke," she said.

"I had been making breakfast, and my husband had gone to feed the animals on our smallholding. When I went outside I saw smoke and flames billowing from the base of the chimney.

"It looks as if the flames got through a crack in the chimney. When I saw the thatch was on fire I really thought the whole house was going to burn down. It was very frightening.

"But the fire service were absolutely brilliant, especially the Nayland crew who were here within about five minutes.

"About a quarter of the roof has been destroyed and two bedrooms, a bathroom and the hall underneath damaged. But the rest of the house was saved and we are so grateful."

She said neighbours in Marten's Lane had been very supportive. "We were quite distressed at the time and they were wonderful.

"Now we think we have been very lucky because we could have died."

Mr and Mrs Pym have lived in the cottage for 35 years and run an organic smallholding.

They keep Suffolk sheep, geese, chickens and bees, and grow organic vegetables in their huge garden.

The couple also take in lodgers from all over the world on a scheme called Willing Workers on Organic Farms, which offers young people a safe and cheap way of travelling.

Son Dylan, who lives nearby with his wife, has a workshop behind the cottage where he makes handcrafted furniture.

"We are so thankful the fire did not spread to the workshop because that would have been a tragedy," said Mrs Pym.

For more on the Red Barn Murder, click here for St Edmundsbury Council's excellent background site.