My father can tell you stories of when Croydon burned in the Blitz: as a Boy Scout he was a fire-watcher on the top of the tall tower at Mayday Hospital. He was in the army by the time of the V-rocket attacks: Croydon took more doodlebug hits than any other borough.
We've taken some hits last night, and the smell of smoke was still pervasive in the sunlit streets at 09:00 this morning - because two of the fires were still burning.
Reeves Corner, the venerable furniture store now famous beyond South London, was an entire block of ramshackle Victorian buildings filled with cheap sofas - a clever target for the arsonist, very clever ...
The fire in Broad Green that is still being fought (photo - sorry abt the quality) is possibly more significant. Croydon is an unbelievably 'diverse' place, probably because the Home Office immigration centre is here to which all incomers must report. You can see fake passports traded openly on the streets of Thornton Heath (or Fort 'Neaf as we call it). However, no one ethnic group really dominates anywhere, which makes the whole of north Croydon a complex web of inter-ethnic stand-offs.
One of the strengths of the place is that most of the property is in private hands, the Council having long since eschewed public ownership of social housing (I may have had something to do with that ...). Private landlords, however dodgy (and let's face it ...) do at least have a very real stake in their investments; and the Asian landlords who own a large proportion of the terraced houses are quite well organised.
Which brings us to the fires in Broad Green (the pic shows only one of several, the Telegraph has more), which is one of the few areas with a very clear ethnic character: it is Tamil. For years they have been mounting nightly vigilante patrols, and they don't mind telling you which racial group they have taken up their cudgels against: the group that makes intoxicated nocturnal forays out of the mean pubs and clubs of adjacent West Croydon. These particular blazes may turn out to be more than just a by-product of random looting: just a guess.
Croydon attracts all manner of derision, but we sort of felt - hoped - we had the dynamics of this difficult place more or less in a rough-and-ready balance. We'll find out how right - or wrong - we were.
pix © Nick Drew 2011