Royal Clarence

Rachel Schaufeld
Shoppers, workers, homeless folks
Walk past the dull obstacle
‘Made safe’ with boards
Guarded with wire
Fronting Cathedral Green.
‘Five years and nothing done’

‘It’s on fire! The Royal Clarence!’
Maggie, Jeanney and I
Watch the worsening disaster
On TV in the Langstone Cliff Hotel
On October 28, 2016.
Before our party nibbles with the girls.
We then go down for dinner and disco
At the South West Wine Federation Annual Weekend
Dot has spookified our table
Maggie wears a spider fascinator
I wear my witches hat
Maggie spotted the news first
Which seems about typical
For us three.

The fire started in the Castle Fine Art Gallery
It spread to the 53 bedroom Grade II listed hotel
More rapidly because of voids, empty areas of roof
At 5.10 the alarm was raised and all guests evacuated
Over 100 firefighters worked on the blaze
95 different fire engines attended
Pumping water from the Exe
4 aerial platform ladders were used
After 3 days the fire was put out.

No one was killed
Though 2 firefighters received minor injuries
But the land was scarred
And jobs were lost
The story that rose from the ground in 1769
Became soggy rubble.
After a wall collapsed
The firefighters has to get out
They could only watch it burn out
From outside.

Not firefighter or hotel staff
Or conference delegate or even wealthy guest
But I worked there too!
On market research hall tests.
‘Excuse me I’m carrying out a survey’
Our team lured passing shoppers
Into the big ground floor hall
With true promises of coffee
In the Royal Clarence.
They viewed ads replayed on computers
And we asked them which was the better ad
Or something.
When it didn’t drive you nuts
It was an alright job.

Five years on
Big plans have come and gone.
South West Lifestyle Brands
Who acquired the site from
Andrew Brownswords Hotels in 2020
Said that even pre-pandemic
Their plans for a 74 bed hotel
Were ‘unviable.’
However they have met with Exeter City Council
‘Talks have taken place.’

Five years on
Jeanney died last year.
Maggie was isolated during lockdown
And moved nearer to her daughter
In Oxfordshire.
I still see the girls from Wine Club
Perhaps next year
I’ll go to the Annual October Weekend

Writing – the well ran dry
Right now I lead a happy life
With music, close friends and U3A.
At Circle Dance I learned in the break
That Todd Gray, local historian
And the only expert on the Royal Clarence
Will give a talk at the open general meeting
On the fourth Tuesday of the month
And I’m sure he’s good – but

I want the lot!
The voice of the first bricklayers
And before that the architect and draughtsperson
And before that Exeter City Council
Voting that it would be good for Exeter.
And the waiters and housekeepers and reception staff
And kitchen porters and night managers
And some of the guests
And the fire officers and electricians
Who did the annual safety checks
And could not possibly anticipate the blaze
The staff at the Mercure Southgate
Who accommodated a lot of flustered individuals
At around 5.30 am
The firefighters
The camera crew who arrived first
The local journalists from whom I have lifted my facts.

And the split-second glance of the rabbit in 1769
When the spade broke her warren before
She bolted to burrow and rebuild
And the ’awareness’ of the air on 28.10.2016
Of how the heat above the flame made changes.

(Want the earth now, don’t I)

Rachel is an amateur writer with 40+ years experience of writing and performance



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