Fire swept through the world famous Royal Marsden Hospital yesterday, wrecking parts of the historic building.

Dozens of patients were evacuated to escape the flames, which tore across sections of the roof of the world-class specialist cancer hospital in Fulham Road, central London.

Some patients had to be tended to in nearby streets. Some were given refuge in a local church.

Police closed off all roads leading to the hospital building and many people gathered at the perimeter. In Dovehouse Street, several patients were laid in an ambulance area on mattresses, being attended to by nurses who were covering them with extra blankets.

An ambulance pulled up to take one man away from the scene who medical staff had been attending to.

Other patients were seen being led to safety wrapped in blankets, and in wheelchairs.

Scores of firefighters were sent to battle the blaze, the smoke from which was visible for several miles across the London skyline.

The emergency services were called to the hospital at 1.20pm.

London Ambulance Service (LAS) said there were no reports of any casualties.

An LAS spokesman said: "We were called at 1.25pm to reports of a fire at the Royal Marsden Hospital. We have sent 10 ambulances, five officers, our hazardous area response team and a fast response car to the scene. Our crews are currently remaining on standby but there are no reports of any casualties at this stage."

A London Fire Brigade spokesman said: "We're currently evacuating patients. We don't have numbers at the moment."

Pablo Pico, who works at Peter Harrington Booksellers in Fulham Road, said during the height of the blaze: "There is a lot of smoke and we can see a lot of ashes flying over.

"There are ambulances coming down the street still and helicopters overhead."

The manager of Finch's bar, near the hospital on Fulham Road, said: "There's an extremely large volume of emergency vehicles coming down at the moment. It's not good at all."

The Royal Marsden was the first hospital in the world dedicated to the study and treatment of cancer.