Why we blessed Reeves Corner, five years on from Croydon’s riots

By - Monday 15th August, 2016

Five years after the inferno at Reeves Corner became the iconic image of London’s riots, Father Lee Taylor and his congregation blessed the site. Here he explains why, and describes his hopes for the healing of Croydon

Photo by Croydon Minster, used with permission.

Mention the Croydon riots in some quarters and you’ll quickly be met with shushing. The official view is that it’s time to move on. That’s not always easy: there are parts of our town where the scars of that night are still visible and there are people among us who were traumatised by the events of Sunday 8th August 2011.

The riots began following the death of a man called Mark Duggan whilst being arrested by police in Tottenham in north London. Protests outside the local police station by his family met with no official statement or response. The numbers of protestors increased, and whilst their initial behaviour was, as recordings show, dignified and peaceful, trouble began twenty-four hours afterwards with acts of violence against property spreading across London and eventually to cities including Birmingham and Liverpool. Violence reached Croydon four nights later and the raging fire at Reeves furniture store became the iconic media image of the riots. A man named Gordon Thompson was later convicted of arson and served five years in prison.

The riots were a scarring event for Croydon, both for those who witnessed them directly and those who continued to be afraid in the days and weeks that followed. The sense that disorder can overtake our lives so quickly isn’t one that we like to dwell on, but 8th August 2011 demonstrated that this is the case.

Someone posted on the Minster’s Facebook page: “And the point of that was?”

So five years on, on Sunday 7th August 2016, Croydon Minster looked back at what happened. Our congregation was led in procession after the Sunday morning service to Reeves island just a couple of hundred yards away, where one of the two Reeves buildings once stood. Prayers for peace and healing were said and the land, which was a scene of violence, destruction and pain, was blessed with holy water. Trevor and Graham Reeves were present and appreciated this short act of prayer and blessing.

After the prayers, some members of the congregation recalled the horrific events that took place in Croydon five years ago. However, when we posted pictures of the blessing on the minster’s Facebook page to share what had taken place, one user responded: “And the point of that was?”.

For Christians, remembrance is an important part of our faith. Reflecting on past events, no matter how disruptive and painful, not only helps us to think more deeply about how we should live with each other in the present, but also has the potential to widen our horizons for the future.

This short act of remembering and blessing was about acknowledging the pain and devastation that the riots caused in the lives of many. It was an appropriate time and place to bring before God the pain of the world and to pray for those areas that are scarred by hatred and division. It was also a fitting place to pray for forgiveness and healing, and to pledge ourselves to the work of renewal in ourselves and in the world; to ask God to strengthen our resolve to do good and not harm, to care and not to destroy.

One of Croydon’s four ancient crosses stood at Reeves Corner

It is the Christian hope that we are on a journey towards a better place, a new world, a new kind of existence. The world of today is not the world of the future. One of the ways in which God calls us, in the here and now, to work for that future is by learning from the past; our past mistakes, regrets and failures. Through the act or process of remembrance, Christians believe that we can learn and grow to be better citizens in the world.

Centuries ago, Reeves island was the site of one of Croydon’s ‘four crosses’ which marked out the boundary of the ancient parish. This particular site near the minster was named ‘Hand Cross’. These holy inscriptions made in stone or wood probably went back as far the late thirteenth century.

So I believe that it was the most appropriate place for the minster’s congregation, led by its own processional cross, to pray for peace in our town and among the nations of the earth.

Lee Taylor

Lee Taylor

Father Lee Taylor is Associate Vicar of Croydon Minster. Bolton-born, he has lived in the south for many years and has a keen interest in the liturgy and music of the church. No stranger to inns, his mother ran two pubs in Wigan and Lee used to help out by pulling pints and chatting to the regulars. He worked at a local working men’s club in Bolton where he served behind the bar and played a few old-time songs on the organ before the bingo session.

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