'Oldest hotel in England' badly damaged in Exeter fire

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Fire has badly damaged the "oldest hotel in England" which has stood for 300 years and survived a pounding by German bombers during the Blitz in 1942.

The blaze began on Friday morning in an art gallery in the centre of Exeter before spreading to the nearby Royal Clarence Hotel.

Firefighters are still tackling the flames but Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said "steady progress" was being made.

There are no reported injuries but the front of the hotel was badly damaged.

The fire service said: "Fire crews are still at the scene working hard to get the fire under control.

"Residents are asked to consider their travel arrangements around the city centre as road closures may still be in place."

Around 120 firefighters from across Devon were at Cathedral Yard on Friday, where the blaze affected a block of buildings.

It is not known how or where the fire started.

The Royal Clarence Hotel has stood on the same spot for 300 years and is reported to be the oldest hotel in England.

It escaped the Blitz of 1942 and was within the precincts of Roman Exeter, according to University of Exeter historian Dr Todd Gray.

He said it was a "heart-breaking" loss for the city, adding: "We have so little left and hopefully the fire will be contained and not spread further."

The 18th-century coaching inn, which is now called the Abode Hotel, is part of the Andrew Brownsword group.

A hotel spokeswoman said on Friday: "Following the morning's fire, all our guests and staff were evacuated and all are safe and accounted for."

Devon and Cornwall Police urged people to consider their travel plans as "disruption" in the city centre continues.

"It is hoped to open High Street to pedestrians and public transport as soon as possible, but this is dependent on the fire service safely completing its activities at the scene of the fire on Cathedral Green," a force spokesman said on Friday.

"It is likely that Cathedral Green will remain cordoned off and not accessible to the public for some time."