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Throughout its history, Long Eaton has had its fair share of major fires, such as the Carter's factory fire in the 1960's, the Lipton's Tea Factory fire in the 1970's and the fire at the piano manufacturers on Meadow Lane.
To add to this list of catastrophes, the Duchess Theatre on Salisbury Street, Long Eaton, also known as the Chatsworth Centre - which was recently refurbished - went up in flames just hours after the curtain fell on the Three Counties Musical Society's final performance of 'HMS Pinafore' on Saturday 15th November 2003.
In the early hours of Sunday 16th November, the converted Bourne Chapel was left in ruins by the inferno, which began shortly before 12.40am. Leon Wade, chairman of Long Eaton and District Arts Council, rushed to the theatre when he heard news of the blaze at 1.30am Sunday morning. He said: "I thought there had been a mistake and even when I was driving to the fire I was thinking that this sort of thing doesn't happen. But then I got here I saw some fire appliances and knew that I had been wrong."Mr Wade said a huge revamp of the theatre was almost complete. "In the last three years about £200,000 has been spent on refurbishing the building." The exterior walls and the coffee shop were all that remained, although parts of the walls had to be pulled down by construction workers in an attempt to make the shell stable. People living just yards away were worried that the building may collapse on to their homes. Houses on the adjacent streets were evacuated as a precaution, as there was concern the fire could spread to the nearby buildings. Recently-installed fire walls meant the flames were confined to the main theatre building. The Long Eaton Arcade Players' were planning a production of 'It Runs in the Family' which was due to have run from Wednesday 19th until Saturday 22nd November, this of course had to be cancelled. Theatre groups who relied on the fire-gutted Duchess Theatre to showcase their talents insisted the show must go on. The Centre, described as the jewel of Long Eaton by one of its founder members June Barker, had been home to theatricals and musicians for the last 20 years. Mrs Barker, together with her late husband John, helped turn the derelict Bourne Church into a thriving theatre. The John Barker Studio luckily survived the blaze. A new theatre will hopefully rise from the ashes within two years with the help of a special fund entitled 'The Phoenix Fund'. It has been set up after theatre members began receiving donations from the public soon after the fire. Sawley Coun Bill Camm also came forward to launch his own fund with two other trustees who are helping. Leon Wade said "The actual theatre will be re-built within two years. That was the thing that brought me to tears more than anything - the overwhelming support." Theatre groups and companies began the task of finding new venues to stage their productions. There were about 20 different groups who used the theatre on a regular basis. Theatre licensee Joy Thurman spoke of the overwhelming support offered by members of the public. John Lomas of the Riverside Drama Company said "Long Eaton has lost its cinema, its stadium and apart from the leisure centre this was the last place we have got. It will be desperately missed by a lot of people - the quicker they can get it re -built, the better." To keep up to date with the progress of the new Duchess Theatre, visit: www.duchess-theatre.com or if you want more information, e-mail Paul Norris at: email@example.com