Croydon is a town with few landmarks. Reeves, a local furniture shop, was one of them, long established enough to have given its name to an area of the town. On Monday night, a large part of it disappeared at the hands of arsonists during the riot that swept through the area.
On Tuesday morning, firefighters stood on a carpet of wet ashes, continuing to spray water into what remained of the building. The fire had stripped the store of its shape and features, leaving a ruin of exposed brickwork and masonry. A surveyor stalked the site as smoke hung in the air.
But members of the family that owns the business (the same one that opened it in 1867) turned out, smartly dressed, to deal with the disaster. In blazers and ties, Maurice and Trevor Reeves, father and son, patiently and calmly took questions in front of their premises.
Maurice, an octogenarian, asked: “What did we do wrong? We’ve been serving Croydon … It’s horrible.” But he said the business, which still has a working premises across the road, would continue. “We will survive. We survived two world wars … We will survive again.”
Other local businessmen, meanwhile, were still taking stock after the violence. A local solicitor’s office, opposite Reeves, was scorched by the flames. But, unable to approach the building, staff did not know whether they would find anything left inside.
One of the solicitors, who declined to be named, recounted how he came to assess the damage late on Monday night, only to be taunted by the children standing around the blaze at Reeves. They told him: “You should be happy. You should be thanking us. You can claim insurance.”
The rioters, he said, were posing for photographs by the fire and started taunting police officers and firefighters by taking pictures using cameras held inches from their faces. They then used their smartphones to taunt the solicitor, saying: “Give us a fiver and we’ll take your photograph!”
Local businessmen report that the rioters stole bicycles, raided local jewellery stores and rampaged through electrical shops. They also struck Argos, a catalogue retailer, as well as local supermarkets. Many shops on Church Street, where a number of shops had been hit, were closed.
One member of staff at an electrical store was cleaning up on Tuesday morning, having arrived at work at 5.30am to guard the shop. But, fatigue and shock aside, the town was functioning more or less normally. Businesses reported the usual levels of activity, even if parts of the town centre – including a long, fire-struck parade in west Croydon – were still closed off. Shops and homes had been burnt down, but life seemed to go on.
In the morning, even Maurice Reeves, while visibly upset, could not help smiling when photographers raised their cameras. When they asked him to look sadder, he delivered a theatrical frown before pretending to appeal to the gods, then broke out in a broad, teary-eyed grin.
But, as the day wore on, the town’s demeanour slipped. More police officers started to arrive, including a group from Thames Valley Police. Tension started to rise and shops started to close. By 2pm, most businesses in the shopping district in the centre were shut. One newsagent, as he closed his premises on George Street, told the FT: “It’s not worth it. If I get three or four muggers in …they can ruin me.”
Officially, no one expected trouble. Shops bore notes saying they would open as normal on Wednesday. Providing, that is, that the calm held for the rest of the day and into the night.
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