The widow of one of the country’s leading collectors of rare books is suing two contractors for more than £5 million after a blaze wrecked their stately home in Oxfordshire.
Lady Wardington has filed the claim at the Technology and Construction Court in central London following the fire in April 2004.
Flames tore through 400-year-old Wardington Manor, near Banbury, destroying the roof and much of the interior, just weeks after M&L Heating Services carried out boiler maintenance and JP Charles finished chimney repair work.
The two Banbury-based companies are being sued for the entire value of the repairs - more than 1,200 times their combined original final bills of £260 and £3,800 respectively.
The claim says the pair were negligent and that they botched repair and maintenance jobs which led directly to the fire.
Lady Wardington’s husband, the 2nd Lord Wardington, who died in 2005, had a collection of 700 volumes containing 60,000 maps that were only saved from the fire when villagers formed a human chain to pass them to safety.
The collection, which contained one of only two privately owned copies of the world’s first printed atlas, was later sold at an auction organised by Sotheby’s to pay for the repair work to the manor.
It is alleged the fire started after hot gases or flammable materials from the manor’s boiler escaped through holes in its chimney and ignited -timbers in the roof.
M&L faces accusations that it caused temperatures in the boiler to soar by fitting the wrong nozzles and failing to remove soot from inside the boilers and the chimney; that it did not measure gas temperatures properly; and that it did not warn Lord Wardington that the boilers were not operating properly.
And JP Charles is accused of ignoring or making worse the two holes in the chimney from which hot gases escaped; installing a concrete-coated grille which did not allow hot gases to escape; not lining the chimney to prevent soot building up; and failing to notify Building Control of its works as required by law.
JP Charles was unavailable for comment but an M&L spokesman said: “The allegations made are denied and the claim is being defended.”
Rebuilding work is still ongoing, three-and-a-half years after the fire. It is expected to be completed in the next six months.