Brockley has always been hidden in plain sight – the most overlooked part of zone 2, with few obvious tourist attractions to draw in the curious.
Until recently, the people of Brockley had to make their own entertainment. An area traditionally characterised by low house prices, big gardens, anarchic mews and great connections to London Bridge and the West End attracted a diverse community of actors, artists and accountants. Starved of restaurants, pubs and bars, the people of Brockley produced a year-round calendar of festivals, fetes and exhibitions but tended to go to nearby Greenwich, East Dulwich, Deptford or New Cross for a night out.
That began to change when the East London Line extension was secured and in recent years a slew of great new or rejuvenated venues have appeared, including The Orchard, Aladdin’s Cave, the Brockley Mess, the Tea Leaf Arts Gallery, Browns of Brockley, the Broca and The Talbot to accompany a clutch of more established venues like Jam Circus, Long Time Café, Nu-Spice, Toads Mouth Too, Mr Lawrence, Smiles Thai Café, the Wickham Arms and the Brockley Jack pub and theatre.
However, Brockley’s best businesses are scattered about, with many on side roads, hidden from view. The Brockley Road high street is strung out over a long stretch between Brockley Cross and Crofton Park and is still very shabby in many parts, not least the bit nearest Brockley Station, although this too is beginning to get some investment.
Without an obvious town centre, Brockley’s natural focus has become the beautiful Hilly Fields, a park which it shares with neighbouring Ladywell. Saved from developers in the 19th Century by resident activists including Octavia Hill and celebrated in song by Nick Nicely, the park offers stunning panoramic views of London, a stone circle, London’s hippest bowls club and a brand new adventure playground for kids. At the foot of the hill, on the approach to Crofton Park, are the Ladywell and Brockley Cemeteries, the resting place of poets, mariners and anarchists, all set about with wildflowers and ancient trees.
Crofton Park is home to the Rivoli Ballroom, a grade II listed ballroom draped in velvet. The Rivoli epitomises Brockley’s fortunes. Until recently, a hidden treasure run by devoted owners, who almost went out of their way not to tell people when it was open, its profile has rocketed thanks to gigs by the likes of the White Stripes and it now has its own chat show, the oxymoronic Justin Lee Collins: Good Times.
The East London Line arrives in Brockley just in time for the start of the summer season, which opens with the Brockley MAX arts festival from May 28th – June 5th and continues with the Brockley Summer Fayre and Brockley Open Studios Weekend. Like Brockley, all three events combine brilliance, eccentricity and a community spirit many people refuse to believe exists within the M25.