London

A small guide to Brockley, Lewisham

by Paul Stafford  |  Published May 14, 2017

As one of London’s burgeoning neighbourhoods, Brockley is in that sweet spot of being cool without being too popular. The area is witnessing the gentrification of some of its rougher edges without depriving local businesses in the process.

The view of Canary Wharf from Blythe Hill Fields (Photo: Paul Stafford)

The view of Canary Wharf from Blythe Hill Fields (Photo: Paul Stafford)

It may not look it on first glance, but Brockley is typically London. The diversity lining Brockley Road is a celebration of what the city does best: Bringing together contrasting cultures. Although favoured by young professionals, there are people from all walks of life living in the area.

Peckham or Shoreditch it may not be, but Brockley’s individualism has become especially visible over the last few years, through the appearance of street art and new businesses. Brockley Road is certainly in the early phases of a positive, unostentatious transformation.

Although Brockley Station (connecting to Shoreditch via the Overground Line) fronts the densest cluster of bars and restaurants, Crofton Park Station (on the Thameslink line) is the centre of another glut that is well worth visiting. With Brockley Road at its spine, the two train stations roughly bookend the area that contains most of the action.

Brockley Station (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Brockley Station (Photo: Paul Stafford)

There’s a creative culture in Brockley that has been progressively asserting itself in recent years. The Brockley Jack has frequently been voted as one of London’s best fringe theatres. Local housing estates contribute their own flavour, with contributions to London’s grime scene being most notable.

The Rivoli Ballroom, opposite Crofton Park Station, is not only one of the most pristine 1950s art deco dance halls in Britain, but also a magnet for Hollywood filmmakers, eager to use the space as a movie set. Smaller, more intimate gigs have taken place there in the past, from the likes of The White Stripes, Noel Gallagher and Florence + the Machine. Every June, Brockley Max Festival celebrates local talent with live music, theatre and art.

Wall Culture

Excellent Bob Marley mural near Brockley Station (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Excellent Bob Marley mural near Brockley Station (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Brockley’s soul is worn on its sleeve. Some of London’s best graffiti art can be found emblazoned over the walls and shutters of numerous buildings. Artists like Kirstin Wood and Dale Grimshaw have left their indelible creative mark.

Some murals are small and tucked down residential streets. Others are unmissable, such as Grimshaw’s Bob Marley mural; one of the first things people see when leaving Brockley Station. Meanwhile, Mimi Soan’s beautiful woman and swan mural decorates the side of Crofton Park’s Co-op.

The walls of many a street corner are a blaze of colour, adding to both Brockley’s identity as well as its creative history. Murals are not a new development in the area. Back in the 1930s the artist Evelyn Dunbar painted a series of beautiful murals with rural themes, which still remain in Prendergast College. It may be tricky to gain access to view these murals, but the rest make for a fun wander around the area.

Straight Outta Crofton (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Straight Outta Crofton (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Brockley’s Three Peaks

Prendergast College is the centrepiece of Hilly Fields. Along with the tops of One Tree Hill and Blythe Hill Fields nearby, you can get some of the best views of London. The three peaks form a sort of triangle that encapsulates Brockley Road. On a clear day, Blythe Hill Fields offers the widest view, stretching from Canary Wharf to the City of London, as lime green parakeets squawk and swoop overhead. A walking map of the area can be picked up for free from the library near Crofton Park Station.

This glorious suburbia has lent the area a peaceful and welcoming family atmosphere, with wide leafy streets and not much noise, once you get off the main road. Yet somehow rent prices in the area have remained relatively low for a Zone2-3 region of London. Goldsmiths University students often stick around well beyond their courses, and as nearby Peckham’s rising popularity pushes up prices and pushes out creatives, many have relocated to the Brockley area.

Blythe Hill Fields (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Blythe Hill Fields (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Hotels in Brockley

There are still no hotels on Brockley Road, but a few good guest houses exist in the vicinity of Brockley Station. With the redevelopment of Lewisham and continued rise in popularity of Peckham – both close by – there could well be more that pop up in the future.

The Victorian-era St. James’s Guest House (48 Breakspears Road) is a lovely building with wisteria cascading around the front door. There is a very homey atmosphere to this family-run guest house and the prices, which are reasonable by London standards, include a continental breakfast.

Pepys Road B&B (113 Pepys Road) is another cosy Victorian home with steps up to the front door. The property is on a hill, affording some great views of central London, especially in the evening. The rooms are named after flowers, and the house is scented with them throughout. Additionally there are some lovely touches to Pepys, such as bay windows, plush bed linen and comfortable beds in the en-suite rooms.

Bars and Pubs

For the beer lover London Beer Dispensary (389 Brockley Road) offers not only some of the best prices for craft beer, but also a good selection served right from the kegs, which are lined up around the rustic and open-plan bar space. Head towards the back for extra seating or try to bag one of the comfy leather armchairs. There’s a good selection of burgers on the food menu and you can order beer to take away as well.

Jam Circus (330-332 Brockley Road). There’s a pub quiz on Wednesday nights and regular live music often at the weekends. It can get pretty lively too of a weekend thanks to the open plan front, which can open into a dancefloor. There is a more secluded rear of the premises. A good selection of drinks, especially beers, is on offer as well as a menu for the peckish.

Rivoli Ballroom (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Rivoli Ballroom (Photo: Paul Stafford)

It would be considered sacrilege to omit the Rivoli Ballroom (350 Brockley Road) from any local guide. Red velvet walls and warm, chandelier lighting add dashes of retro class to this old-style ballroom. There are events with live music most Saturdays, whenever Hollywood hasn’t hired the space to film something there, such is its singular acclaim.

Newly opened Brickfields (293 Brockley Road) is one of the area’s classier places, with an emphasis placed on cocktails, fine wine and quality beers. If it looks busy from the outside, there is more seating at the back. Although not as big as the other places on this list, there is often a good atmosphere later in the evenings.

The Brockley Jack (408-410 Brockley Road) is housed in one of the area’s oldest buildings. So old in fact that there used to be stables, as horses would have been the main mode of transport. Those stables have since been converted into the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, which hosts a good range of theatre and scratch nights. The good food makes for a great dinner and theatre night under one roof.

Restaurants and Cafes
The cueB gallery at Brockley Mess (Photo: Brockley Mess)

The cueB gallery at Brockley Mess (Photo: Brockley Mess)

The Brockley Mess (325 Brockley Road) has its very own mural in the back, and doubles up as an art gallery, besides its regular function as a café. Art is not all they do differently at the Mess, they also have Mexican breakfast burritos, half a menu dedicated to vegetarian options and loose leaf teas brewed in the pot, which are not as common as they should be still. The cueB Gallery makes the Mess one of Brockley’s most valuable players in the local culture scene.

Independent bar and restaurant The Orchard (5 Harefield Road) is a great space close to Brockley Station. Seasonal menus draw ingredients from local and sustainable sources wherever possible. If you just feel like having a drink, the laid back bar area is the place to try an inventive signature cocktail: Brockley Tea Party fuses elderflower, prosecco and earl grey tea. For something less bourgeois, try The Orchard, a gin, vodka, apple, cucumber and elderflower concoction that is a perfect antidote to a humid summer day.

The Orchard source most of their food locally (Photo: The Orchard)

The Orchard source most of their food locally (Photo: The Orchard)

The garlic butter fries alone are worth the trip to Longhorn American-Italian Diner (364 Brockley Road). As the name would suggest, there are great burgers and sticky ribs here, but enough meatless options on the menu, like the homemade melanzane alla parmigiana, to make it appealing to vegetarians too.

Browns of Brockley (5 Coulgate Street) is right across from Brockley train station. The coffee here is genuinely excellent and the service is always friendly. There are plenty of good food options available too, including homemade cookies, sourdough sandwiches and bagels. There is space to sit in, although it can get quite popular of a weekend.

Considered to be one of London’s best fish & chips joints, Brockley’s Rock (317 Brockley Road) is right in between Brockley and Crofton Park. While their classic cod and chips is delicious, they have some classier options on the menu, including salmon and grilled sea bass. But one of the best things about Brockley’s Rock is the sustainably-sourced fish and carefully separated gluten free options.

Masala Wala (Photo: Masala Wala)

Masala Wala (Photo: Masala Wala)

Masala Wala (5 Brockley Cross) is incredibly popular in Brockley. This mother-daughter team aim to coax out the culinary art of Pakistani cuisine. They are very successful in that aim. Their curries are dairy and gluten-free, and there is a limited menu, making choice easier. Meat and vegetarian options are finely balanced. You can bring you own alcohol to drink in for a small corkage fee per person.

Shopping

Brockley Brewery (31 Harcourt Road) is less a shop and more a tap room where you can buy beer to take away. The brewery opens its doors to the public two days a week, on Friday evenings and Saturday all day, and with a new licence to open for even longer hours, this is a great place to try some new brews and take some home, fresh from the barrel.

A flight of beers at Brockley Brewery (Photo: Paul Stafford)

A flight of beers at Brockley Brewery (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Jones of Brockley (354 Brockley Road) is one of those places that food aficionados frequent and everybody else nips into occasionally when they want to add something different or exquisite to their cooking. A good range of top quality foods and beers, sourced from local breweries, are complemented by honeys and teas that make for great gifts as well. Owner of this goods store, Michael, has a great knowledge of everything he stocks. It’s worth asking him for a recommendation.

Jones of Brockley (Photo: Michael Jones)

Jones of Brockley (Photo: Michael Jones)

Close to Brockley Station, Magi Gifts (193 Brockley Road) has an excellent range of gift ideas, including house and homeware, jewellery, bath products and novelty cards. They stock seasonal gifts depending on the time of year, and it’s a good place to drop in if you’re looking to treat yourself to a little something for the home too.

Magi Gifts is an excellent independent shop (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Magi Gifts is an excellent independent shop (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Argon Graffito (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Argon Graffito (Photo: Paul Stafford)

SE4 is the area code for Brockley (Photo: Paul Stafford)

SE4 is the area code for Brockley (Photo: Paul Stafford)

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