No matter that the artists' colony on Eel Pie Island is surrounded by water, nor that its best-known resident, Trevor Baylis, inventor of the clockwork radio, makes portable swimming pools. At 3am last Sunday, while Baylis was giving a fireworks party, real fire broke out - or was started - on the Thames islet, ravaging its boatyards. Fire engines were unable to cross the rickety footbridge that is the island's only link to the mainland at Twickenham.

The damage goes beyond the physical. Eel Pie Island has long been a well- spring of creativity. In the 16th century, Mistress Mayo devised its eponymous dish; in the 19th century Dickens used to go to the Eel Pie Island Hotel. In the 1950s, a generation of Beatniks came for jazz, skiffle, R&B and rock gigs. The Rolling Stones played the hotel in 1960; The Who followed.

In the last 10 years, a vibrant co-op of 25 artists and craftsmen has flourished in the Marine Centre. The fire destroyed their studios (above), their work and their livelihoods. But the community is determined to survive, and an appeal fund has been set up to get the Islanders back in business. Donations - of all sorts - to `Eel Pie Island Fire Appeal', Par Ici, 41 Church St, Twickenham, TW1 3NJ (0800 393675), will be gratefully received. Rosanna de Lisle