THE owner of one of the UK’s most well-known fish and chip restaurants which was gutted following a fire is hoping to reopen before Christmas.

Whitby’s Magpie Café, overlooking the harbour on Pier Road, has been closed ever since the blaze earlier this year.

The fire broke out on Sunday, April 30 and was brought under control, but took hold again the following day when the flames engulfed the roof.

Owner Ian Robson said the flames were confined to the roof space and upper floor of the four storey building, but smoke and water damage meant most of the fabric of the 250-year-old building had to be removed. The blaze was believed to have started in a false chimney, but the exact cause is still unknown.

The damage resulted in the interior of the building being removed and painstakingly put back.

Mr Robson said: “We’ve basically stripped the building. There are still 20 people in the building right now working on it.

"Most wasn’t fire damage but water damage. It ruined all the plaster and woodwork, which would have gone mouldy where it was closed up. The plaster had to be replaced and all the electrics had to go too. It’s been a massive job.

"Luckily the takeaway wasn’t too badly damaged on the ground floor and we could reopen that after a few weeks. But apart from that, the whole building has been stripped out and we’ve started afresh.”

When the first fire hit, Mr Robson and other staff members had worked through the night and into the next day to get the business ready to reopen, and were in the building when the second fire took hold.

“We were thinking the restaurant would be closed for three or four weeks so were in the building organising everything when unfortunately it went up again," he said.

"Someone came running in and told us the roof was on fire. We got out, but it took the fire engine a long time to get through the town because it was so busy with the bank holiday.”

After originally aiming to reopen this autumn, the owners and contractors are now looking at reopening by December 1.

Mr Robson, who took over the business in 1979 and now runs it with his family, said he was hoping to get back most of his original staff.

He said: “We’ll have an open night for some of our regular customers and people who have worked on this – it might have to be two nights – then we’ll be straight back into business.

“It’s a much stronger building now and should stand for another 250 years.”