Ballater fire a tragic loss to village’s Victorian heritage

SFRS save Victoria's train
SFRS save Victoria's train

A replica of the Royal railway carriage used by Queen Victoria when she visited Balmoral Castle has been saved by firefighters following a serious fire at the Station Restaurant in Ballater in the early hours of this morning (May 12).

The carriage was situated within the museum at the rear of the restaurant in the town’s Station Square.

Crews worked tirelessly through the night to battle the fire which destroyed the wood constructed restaurant, but they were able to save part of the museum which housed the carriage.

The loss of one of Royal Deeside’s best known attractions, Ballater Railway Station following this morning’s fire represents a true tragedy and loss to the area’s cultural heritage.

Cllr Peter Argyle said: “This is a disaster for the businesses and for the community of Ballater. I was shocked to hear the news and to see the devastation the fire has caused. I have already been in discussion with the council’s Chief Executive and whilst it is too early yet to assess the full implications or decide on a way forward, i know that the council and the community can work together to overcome this terrible loss.”

Ballater is the village that puts the “Royal” into Royal Deeside. It achieved lasting fame as the nearest settlement to, and railhead for, Balmoral Castle, which lies eight miles along the River Dee to the west.

Fire at the Old Station in Ballater this morning

Fire at the Old Station in Ballater this morning

The railway first came to Ballater in 1866, when the Deeside Railway built its station there.

Whether this fed the tourist boom, or simply took advantage of the draw created by Queen Victoria when she purchased Balmoral in 1852, is debatable.

What is certain is the regular use made of the new railway by the area’s occasional royal residents and their guests and visitors. Much of the royalty of nineteenth century Europe passed through Ballater railway station at one time or another, including the Czar of Russia in 1896.

This ever more prestigious traffic doubtless led to the rebuilding of the station to a rather grander scale in 1886. The railway service to Ballater was among many that were cut in 1966.

The old station in Ballater

The old station in Ballater

Ballater developed slowly at first and when Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, Ballater was still a little village, ‘far from the madding crowd’. But after she and Prince Albert had bought nearby Balmoral Castle and the subsequent arrival of the railway in 1861, Ballater expanded rapidly. In 1840 Ballater had 271 residents: by 1871 the number had risen to 694, with 154 inhabited houses. When Queen Victoria died in 1901 it was a prosperous centre with a population of 1256, attracting visitors from all over Britain and even further afield.

Ballater railway station was closed in 1966 but until today remained in use as a visitor centre with an exhibition recording the village’s royal connection.

Many buildings date from the Victorian era and the centre of the village is a conservation area.

Following the fire today (May 12) comments have poured in from around the country and indeed the world, expressing grief at the loss of the iconic station and tourist centre.

Fire at the Old Station in Ballater this morning

Fire at the Old Station in Ballater this morning

Sandra Dornan said: “Oh no that is so sad, such a huge part of my home town.”

Katrina Beange said: “Very sad news glad no one was hurt.”

Julie Mitchell-Mehta said: “Terrible news. Thinking about anyone affected.”

Cecilia Taylor said: “Sad news such a beautiful building such a loss for Ballater”

Alex Simmers said: “Glad no one hurt - hope they are planning now - how to rebuild it ! Needs positive thinking.

Deanne Hedger said: “Sad news! Had many a childhood visit to this place!”

John Farringdon said: “So sad this morning, feeling for everyone concerned after Ballater was my home for over 9 years until recently.”

Joan Boardman said: “So much history lost. My Mum worked there for years in the 50’s/60’s when it was the Old Station Restaurant , Very sad.”

Fiona Crawford said: “So sad such a historic building. My heart goes out to everyone who’s business has been effected especially Fiona and Nigel Franks can’t quite believe this could have happened to them twice.”

Jane Harris said: “So sad, a great loss for the village I used to call home. Hope all the lads and lasses from the local fire crews who were in attendance are safe and well.”

Two appliances initially attended the call at 1.56am, one from Ballater and one from Balmoral and were followed shortly afterwards by appliances from Aboyne, Altens and the height vehicle from Central in Aberdeen.The welfare unit from Huntly, incident support vehicle from Peterhead and a water carrier from Turriff.

Firefighters in breathing apparatus used two main jets and a hose reel jet to tackle the blaze and after aggressively attacking the fire managed to bring it under control by 5.20am.

Crews remains at the scene today using small gear and a hose reel to dampen the area down and are checking for any remaining hot spots using thermal imaging cameras.

Group Manager John Morgan was at the scene and he commented: “The crews worked exceptionally hard in arduous, dangerous conditions and managed to save the carriage.

“When firefighters arrived they were faced with a well-developed fire which was affecting the building a roof space. Our main aim was to stop the fire spreading to adjacent properties which we were able to do.

“Although the restaurant has largely been destroyed we were able to save a good bit of the museum.”

Inquiries into the cause of the fire are ongoing.

Local Senior Officer for Aberdeenshire and Moray, David Rout, said: “We are acutely aware of the cultural and historic importance this iconic building has, not only for the local community but wider audience of the many visitors to the area.

“Our local crews are an integral part of the community and responded without delay to what was an already well developed fire and fought extremely hard in a very challenging environment to extinguish the fire.

“Their local knowledge allowed for a clearly identified plan to put in place firefighting and salvage tactics and I’m pleased to say they managed to save the Royal Carriage and other parts of the museum.”

He added: “Crews will remain at the scene for a good part of today and are available to assist the Ballater community as part of wide business recovery.

“May I take this opportunity to thank firefighting teams, our partners in Police Scotland, Scottish Ambulance Service as well as the public and local businesses for their cooperation during this time.”