AN investigation is underway after fire ripped through a New Forest manor house once owned by a celebrated artist.

More than 60 firefighters were called to Fryern Court near Fordingbridge, the former home of painter Augustus John, at around 3.30am on Thursday.

Crews used water from the swimming pool of the Grade II listed building to douse the flames as they engulfed the roof and first floor.

Two residents living in a rented annexe at the 16th century home were woken by a fire alarm in the early hours of yesterday morning and dialled 999. They were later treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

Fire crews worked through the night to salvage valuable furniture and belongings – covering up a grand piano with protective sheets as they went about their work.

It is believed that the owners of the property were away at the time.

The salvaged items lay on the lawn at the front of the house while friends and neighbours rallied round.

Firefighters were expected to remain on the scene, possibly overnight, to tackle any hotspots.

Augustus John lived in Fryern Court from 1927 until his death, at the age of 83, in 1961. At the height of his career, the charismatic Welshman was considered one of Britain’s leading portrait painters.

He was a well-known figure in Fordingbridge and one of his favourite town watering holes now bears his name, having formally been known as the Railway Hotel.

It is not known whether any of the artist’s work remains at Fryern Court.

On Thursday night, specialist investigators were continuing to find the cause of the fire, which started on the first floor.

Around half of the first floor and roof was damaged by a combination of smoke, fire and water.

Crews from St Marys, Eastleigh, Lyndhurst, Burley, Winchester, Ringwood and Fordingbridge were called to the scene along with fire crews from Wiltshire and Dorset.

Firefighters used breathing apparatus, jets, hose reels and aerial ladder platforms to tackle the blaze.

Officer in charge Kevin Evenett said: “On arrival, the initial crews were faced with a very difficult fire in a large older building with several different roof structures.

“The first crews on scene with their early intervention meant that this fire was quickly brought under control. As this incident was in a remote location with scarce water supply crews used a swimming pool as a water supply.

“There would no doubt have been much more damage had it not been for everyone’s hard work.”