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‘Forty years and then it just goes away like that’: Fire wrecks long-standing watch repair business

Off licence also badly damaged in Back Hill blaze

18 July, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

Devastated: George Cassar and wife Pauline

TWO independent businesses with decades of history were devastated in a fire that sent smoke over London on Monday.

A huge response of 80 firefighters and 12 fire engines from across the capital tackled the blaze for four hours in Clerkenwell on Monday morning. Nobody was injured but a watch repairs business that had just celebrated 40 years in Back Hill and an off-licence were badly damaged.

Fire crews at the scene on Monday (@LondonFire)

George Cassar, the co-owner of WTC Watch Repairs, arrived shortly after the fire began.

The 70-year-old said: “I sat and looked on at the fire. I cannot describe [how it feels]. I could not sleep. Forty years and then it just goes away like that.”

His 76-year-old business partner Graham Embers, a staff member and cleaner had left the building when the alarm sounded. Pauline, George’s wife, said the business – set up in 1979 – was a lifeline when he was paralysed after falling down a flight of stairs three years ago and he began his recovery.

Mrs Cassar, 68, said: “That got him living again. Coming back here he realised it was a heartbeat, that business. He went from strength to strength and now this has happened. No one died, we have that, but do you know what? Something did that you can’t put a name on.”

The community has rallied around them, with neighbours offering support. John Lloyd, who runs The Little Yellow Watch Shop in Clerkenwell Road and has known George for 56 years, said: “The community will be brilliant. I think they will recuperate. They have got the willpower.”

The Salvation Army support firefighters who put out the blaze  [@DanyCotton]

Kensons News and Wine has been run by Haresh and Jyotika Shah since 2002. Mr Shah said he saw smoke coming out at the back of the shop at about 6am and tried to stop it, but the smoke and heat was too much.

They were watching on Tuesday as workers began to assess the damage behind the boarded-up shop.

Haresh and Jyotika Shah have run their newsagent and off licence for 17 years

“I’m not feeling great, but people have told me to be strong, but I do not know how I can be strong,” he said.

The Salvation Army were at the scene offering refreshments to emergency services on Monday.

Fire brigade commissioner Dany Cotton visited crews and thanked all staff involved in stopping the fire spreading further.

Fire crews from Soho, Shoreditch, Dowgate, Whitechapel, Lambeth, Euston and Paddington fire stations were at the scene.

They were called at 6.10am and the fire was under control shortly before 10am. The fire brigade said that the blaze started in the rear store cupboard and the cause of the fire is believed to be electrical.

Station manager Paul Eastland, who was at the scene, said: “There was a lot of visible smoke coming from the fire so residents and local businesses were advised to keep their windows shut.”

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