Clark Gable stayed at the hotel during the war. Credit:Science & Society Picture Library/Science & Society Picture Library He followed in the footsteps of some of the world’s most notable characters, which have included Thomas Hardy, who stayed at the hotel with his second wife in 1915, and Beatrix Potter, who visited in 1892 and reportedly looked out of her window and said “what a fine view this is”.During the Second World War, when the Americans were based in Exeter before D-Day, both Clark Gable and Gary Cooper stayed at the Royal Clarence Hotel. Gary Cooper stayed at the Royal Clarence Hotel during the war.Credit:Rex Features/Rex Features Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has declared it as a major incident.The hotel had already been evacuated as a precaution before the fire spread and no one is believed to have been injured.A spokesman for the hotel, which is currently known as Abode, said: “Following the fire in the building next door all our guests and safe were evacuated and are all safe and accounted for.”We are continuing to monitor the situation and send our sympathies to our neighbours and all those affected by the fire.”Last year the prestigious hotel played host to David Cameron while he was campaigning in the city.Mr Cameron and his team were some of the first guests to stay in the hotel after it reopened following a major refurbishment last year. Firefighters tackling a blaze at Royal Clarence Hotel in ExeterCredit:PA/PA Fire on Cathedral Green in Exeter @BBCDevon @BBCSpotlight pic.twitter.com/cmBa4zu6eu— Harriet Bradshaw (@BradshawHarriet) October 28, 2016 Most notably Lord Nelson dined at the venue in 1801 and gave a speech to reporters on his views following the Battle of the Nile.A few years later, in 1820, the Duke of Kent, father of the future Queen Victoria died while visiting the area and was taken to the hotel and embalmed in preparation for transportation to his funeral which was held at Windsor.Last night celebrity chef Michael Caines MBE, who launched his first Michael Caines Restaurant at the hotel in 2000 before ending his association earlier this year, wrote on Twitter: “Gutted to see the Royal Clarence on fire. Real loss to Exeter. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. “Heart goes out to the firefighters who are doing their best to contain it.”The fire had started at the Castle Fine Art Gallery next door to the hotel at 5am on Friday.Crews initially thought they had it under control but later it has spread to other venues on the Cathedral Green – including the historic Royal Clarence.A spokesman for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said: “It started in an art gallery and the fire then spread through the roof space. The damage to the hotel has been very extensive. The roof has gone, it has spread through all four floors and the flames are in the ground floor.” Scenes from on top of Exeter Cathedral @BBCDevon @BBCSpotlight pic.twitter.com/Y0GB7Dm6Ub— Harriet Bradshaw (@BradshawHarriet) October 28, 2016 Built in 1769 in Exeter, Devon, it became the country’s first hotel after its French landlord Pierre Berlon, published an advert referring to it as a hotel rather than an inn.Over the years its esteemed guests have included Clark Gable, Beatrix Potter and Thomas Hardy among many others. Last night the fire had destroyed the roof and ripped through all four floors of the historic building which has played host to the stars. This is awful. The fire on Cathedral Green in #Exeter has now spread to The Royal Clarence Hotel. pic.twitter.com/RCAp0jh2s8— James Vickery (@jsvickery) October 28, 2016 “What is so particularly heartbreaking about this loss is that these buildings escaped the Blitz of 1942 when so much of Exeter was destroyed.”We have so little left and hopefully the fire will be contained and not spread further.”The 18th century coaching inn, which is now called the Abode Hotel, is part of the Andrew Brownsword group and has stood on the same spot for 300 years . Britain’s oldest hotel – which has hosted Lord Nelson, embalmed the Duke of Kent’s body and hosted Hollywood stars ahead of D-Day – has been significantly destroyed in a fire.More than 100 firefighters battled for hours to try to save the the 300-year-old Royal Clarence Hotel, which is famed for being the first hotel in the country 10th August 1878: Passengers boarding a coach outside the Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter. Credit:Otto Herschan/Getty Images/Otto Herschan/Getty Images Chef Michael Caines MBE questioned whether enough was being done to protect Exeter’s historic buildings after hearing of the fire at the hotel where he honed his craft. Credit:APEX/APEX Dr Todd Gray, an historian at the University of Exeter, said the hotel has always been at the heart of the city.”For 2,000 years this area has been the focus of the city’s religious and commercial life,” he said.”The Royal Clarence is in the heart of what was not just the Medieval city but within the precincts of Roman Exeter.”The ground and first floors of the hotel are medieval and the upper floors were added in the late 1700s when the building was renamed a hotel.”It has been long known as the first inn in England to rebrand itself in this way. “It was the place to be. It was where the anti slavery people met in the 1700s and 1800s, this is where they planned abolition.