An electrical fault is thought to have been the cause of the fire which badly damaged a historic church in Timsbury yesterday (Sunday).

The blaze at St Andrew's affected around half the roof of the church, though firefighters salvaged many of the historic artefacts inside and protected a stained glass window.

Investigators from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service found the cause of the fire to be accidental, with the most likely origin an electrical fault in the vestry. The fire is not being treated suspicious.

Fire crews returned to the 12t century church today to continue damping down hotspots and reinspect the roof and structure.

Swift action by scores of firefighters saved  save some of the church’s treasures, including an irreplaceable 1613 chained Bible.

But the tower and historic wooden vestry were destroyed and the bells are missing amid the rubble. It was too dangerous for the firefighters to go inside.

A 13th century wooden chest was badly damaged and the limestone font, with graffiti from 1681, was severely damaged, possibly beyond repair.

The beautiful West Window, in memory of Bill Watkinson, a much-loved churchwarden and regular member of the church for over 60 years, was also destroyed.

Around half of the roof at the west end has been gutted, although the east end is relatively unscathed including a 13th century screen.

Churchwarden Catherine Baker  said: “I can’t really believe it. I was called by a neighbour who saw smoke and I could hear the crackling. I feel absolute horror.

“The most shocking thing was seeing the flames. As far as I know we have never had a fire.

“If the fire brigade had not got here the roof would have been completely destroyed. They have been wonderful, as have all the neighbours who raised the alarm.”

First on the scene was her husband Bill and daughter Isabel, who said: “We saw things falling off the roof. There was not a lot we could do.”

Churchgoer Peter Pritchett-Brown, of Hillview Road, Michelmersh, said: “It is very sad and awful to see something that has stood here for so long.”

The little church was due to hold a service yesterday at 11am for its 20 regular worshippers but instead parishioners gathered for prayers in a nearby house with Rev Canon Steve Pittis.

The alarm was raised at about 7.30am and crews with six pumps took an hour to quell the flames. Crews stayed for several hours to prevent the fire flaring up again.

Fire borough commander Dan Tasker said: “The damage is quite extensive.

“The fire started at one end and spread into the roof. Unfortunately around half has been destroyed.

“It was a well-developed fire when the first crews arrived. But the crews worked incredibly hard to stop it spreading.”