More than £500k of damage was caused to a horsedrawn funeral carriage company in a suspected arson attack on Monday night (6 December).
T Cribb & Sons, based at Middlebrook Farm, Navestock, Essex, lost three vintage carriages and four horseboxes in the fire.
But three of the firm’s horses, stabled near to the fire, escaped unscathed.
A further 14 horses were far enough away to not have been in danger.
Nicki Cribb, great-great-granddaughter of the company’s founder said: “Only my sister Sarah’s quick thinking saved the horses’ lives.
“She and my mother live on the farm. At 9.25pm they heard a horse kicking its stable door. They looked out the windows and saw flames. My sister ran outside while my mother phoned the fire brigade.”
CCTV shows two men run up to the trailers, throw something into their cabs, then run away as flames take hold. A minute and a half later the footage shows Sarah Cribb arrive.
“She immediately let the horses out of the stable next to the trailers,” said Nicki.
“The stables didn’t actually burn down, but they would have done if my mother hadn’t called the fire brigade so quickly.
“Whoever did this could have easily opened the stable doors, but they didn’t and they had no way of knowing that my sister would. They clearly didn’t mind if the horses burnt to death.”
Four horseboxes plus an 1890 Dottridge horse-drawn hearse, two Marston horse-drawn hearses from 1910 and 1912 and velvets from 1881 were lost in the fire.
As well as being used at thousands of funerals, the carriages had been in films and on television many times, most recently in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes film and on Eastenders for Ethel’s funeral.
“We’ve lost priceless equipment,” said Nicki, “but we’re going to carry on. We’ll get replicas built, but it will never be the same.”
Essex police have confirmed that they are treating the case as arson and enquiries are ongoing.
T Cribb & Sons is offering a reward for any information leading to a conviction.
Anyone who can shed light on the case should call Essex police on 0300 333 4444.