A YEAR ago today, Bruno Herdeiro stood over the smouldering remains of Scalesceugh Hall, near Carlisle, after a devastating fire had ripped through the building the night before.

Twelve months on, the transformation of the building is remarkable, as our exclusive photos show.

The iconic Edwardian landmark was in the process of being converted into luxury retirement apartments. Painstaking restoration work had just been completed on 144 windows and the entire roof had been re-slated.

A freak fire caught hold late at night and all the hard work was destroyed, along with part of the family home owned by Bruno and wife, Dr Anita Herdeiro, who have four small children.

The Herdeiros had already built 13 villas next to the hall and they, too, were in danger of being caught up in the flames.

Today, work is being finished on the first show apartment in the hall, for launch at the end of the month, but the night of the fire will remain with Bruno forever.

So too the latest restoration effort, which has been achieved despite being hit by two of the worst storms in British history and the onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Bruno recalls: “The hall goes on fire and the first thing is, you don’t believe what you’re seeing. I very quickly turned into having to be practical and focused to make the right decisions.

“We had to make sure the fire didn’t spread to neighbouring properties and take any lives.

“The fire brigade was fantastic. They very quickly mobilised more and more teams. There were quite a few there, from different parts of the county. We couldn’t have asked any more of them.”

Nevertheless, only the external walls of the mansion remained, and these were unstable.

Bruno made the decision to save the building as soon as possible, meaning any insurance money that might have been payable was no longer available.

At the same time, the Herdeiros had to move out while their own home was repaired. They received a lot of support from local people. “It’s one of the big things about Cumbria,” says Bruno. “There is a strong sense of community. Everyone comes together.”

Rather than give up, Bruno set about an ambition to restore the building in record time for such a project, making the hall watertight within six months, with the first apartment ready in a year. Many said it was impossible, and the task was made even more difficult by two of the worst storms Britain has seen in 50 years, followed by the coronavirus outbreak which forced working restrictions and halted supplies of materials.

“I like a challenge and I like to rise to a challenge. I don’t like to make things easy!” admits Bruno. “You generally only give up when there is no escape route, where you don’t see a way out. I was never in a position where I couldn’t see a way out.

“I knew that only an exceptional effort would deliver an exceptional outcome. There was no scope to be average.

“Even though people said it was impossible, I knew that behind me was an outstanding team who had what it takes.”

The team of skilled craftspeople was hand-picked by Bruno from across Cumbria, again saving time instead of putting contracts out to tender.

“The building was listed because of its architectural merits – the detail in the sandstone, the arches and pillars, the attention to detail is majestic. Our priority was to return all those features, so if you drove past on the A6, like thousands of people do every day, a year on you would not have known that there had ever been a fire,” explains Bruno.

“The biggest challenge for us was exhaustion. We have gone right to the limit of delivering what any of us could manage.

“We have used every last penny we had, used everything earned by Anita, who has been also been doing crucial work as a GP through the pandemic, used our savings, sold some of our villas, and still had to rely on the bank for extra help.”

The result is stunning, with the hall looking majestic again on the inside, and taking shape into 15 luxury apartments, some with balconies, internally. There will also be communal rooms, including a cinema.

The apartments are officially launched on September 26 and the first people are expected to move in in the new year.