AN HISTORIC Cockermouth building was evacuated this week when the bank below part of the building collapsed into the river, rendering it unsafe.

A pregnant woman, her husband and mother had to move out of their flat in the Court House, the owners of the Honest Lawyer and Cockermouth Antiques Market and a hairdresser had to vacate their premises.

"They could not take anything out, they had to leave immediately," said Alan Jackson, whose family owns the building next to Cocker Bridge, on Main Street.

"There is erosion and subsidence under the property. It is unsafe and Allerdale Council put out an order to say I must get people out."

Allerdale Council was finding alternative accommodation for the family. The county council ordered an urgent bridge closure notice yesterday to allow "urgent debris removal work" to be carried out.

A tree was stuck under the bridge.

Mr Jackson was with a structural engineer at the property yesterday morning.

"The flood damage has weakened the structure," he said.

"One of the external walls at the back could collapse so it's right to get everyone out, humans are worth much more than bricks and mortar."

Earlier this week locals noticed that part of the bank below what used to be the police car park had collapsed, following the recent high rivers.

Toy Shop owner Jonty Chippendale said: "The river has run with unusual velocity, full and fast and carrying lots of boulders and trees. It has been squirting though the bridge and shot blasting the buildings.

"Water and stones have found a weakness, got in and unzipped the whole bank. At least two or three metres have already disappeared and it's still going back.

"The retaining wall that used to be the edge of the car park has fallen into the river and the flood wall is now the edge.

"The back corner of the Court House is completely undermined and hanging over mid air, the masonry is starting to move.

"We need emergency work done to protect the town in case there's another flood."

Darren Ward is architectural adviser with the town's civic trust.

"The flood wall is now sitting on unstable ground which is very vulnerable to water erosion. The flood defences need work," he said.

"At the Court House there are signs of structural movement internally and externally but it's incredibly difficult to do anything at this time of year. Access is extremely difficult, even if the river is low it's not easy to get in there.

"If the flood defence walls fail we are back where we were in 2009, we are not protected."

An Environment Agency spokesman said:

"We are currently inspecting our defences to see if any have been damaged as a result of the heavy rainfall and will carry out any necessary repairs as quickly as possible."

A council spokesman said: "Allerdale Borough Council, through its Building Control section, is liaising with the Environment Agency on the actions necessary to deal with this structural issue.

"Actions are being identified and structural matters will be resolved as a matter of the utmost priority."

Mr Jackson has spoken to his insurance company who will make a decision regarding what happens next.

"It's a difficult and stressful time but we will overcome it and hopefully save the building," he said.