AN INVESTIGATION has been launched after the historic boathouse at Warwick Castle was destroyed by a burning cannonball.
Sparks from the cannonball fired from the castle’s trebuchet – a huge medieval siege breaking catapult – ignited the thatched roof of the Victorian boathouse shortly before 6pm on Friday (April 10).
Visitors, many with young children enjoying an Easter break day out, were evacuated as 30 firefighters tackled the blaze.
The boathouse sits on an island in the Avon, and was not open to the public at the time, and no visitors or staff were injured.
Witness Heather Taylor, visiting with her six-year-old son Ethan, said: “The trebuchet launched the flaming cannonball but as it flew almost over the boathouse sparks could clearly be seen coming off it and the high winds must have sent them onto the roof of the boathouse.
“There was a lot of panic and people were scrambling up the bank because they had no idea if the fire would spread.
“The place was packed with lots of young children and families. We were all evacuated and it was quite scary.
“It was shocking how fast the fire took hold.
“The cannonball actually appeared to land behind the boathouse but it was obviously too close.”
The trebuchet was built in 2005 and is one of the castle’s main attractions. It stands 60ft high, weighs 22 tonnes and has been fired some 6,500 times.
Castle bosses have launched an investigation into the cause of the blaze, and the trebuchet is still operating but only firing dry shots.
A castle spokesman said: “We did experience a fire in our boathouse which was safely extinguished within a short time.
“The island where the boathouse is located was not open to the public at the time and no-one was ever at any risk; nor did it affect any other part of the castle.
“We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service for their prompt assistance.
“Despite speculation we have not yet ascertained the cause of the fire. A full investigation is underway.”
The boathouse, which was undergoing restoration, dates back to 1896.
The 5th Earl, Frances Greville, had it built to house an electric boat which he powered by batteries charged from the electricity generated by the castle’s mill.