The History of Brockley Cross

One of the things we underestimated when we started this blog was how great the appetite would be for local history - and how much knowledge would rest with our readers.

Following the recent article about the Knights Templar comes this article, contributed by Moira Tait, based on her own research. It tells the history of Brockley Cross in a time when locals may have suffered from Scrofula, but they were unafflicted by the double roundabout. It also explains why the tiny scrap of Common we have left is worth preserving.


The History of Brockley Cross by Moira Tait


If you read any local history about Brockley Cross, you’ll find no reference to it until the 19th century with the coming of the canal and the trains. While Brockley Green as a settlement (situated further south in the modern Brockley Rise area) does appear earlier, and the Manor of Brockley was in existence since the 12th century with the Premonstratensian Abbey founded near present St Peter’s church in c1187, the area of Brockley Cross is an unnamed meeting place of three roads. But if you look a little more closely at early maps, they suggest a more interesting history.

Most of the earliest maps of this area show three roads: The first road ran from the Cross area to Butt Lane (now Tanners Hill) and onto Deptford. (We know a settlement at Deptford was in existence in pre-Conquest times as it was called Mereton meaning ‘town in the marsh’.) The second road ran from Coulgate Street, along Brockley Road, onto Brockley Green near the site of the modern Brockley Jack pub. The third road ran from the Cross area south of Plow Garlick Hill (Telegraph Hill) onto Nonehead (Nunhead) and Goose Green. These are most likely Medieval routes because of the presence of the abbey near St Peter’s Church and Medieval settlements at Sydenham and Dulwich.

One of the earliest large-scale maps dates from 1741 and shows the junction of these three roads as a large diamond-shaped area. There are some buildings immediately to the east of this junction (on the site of Breakspears Road just north of the railway) which are named on later maps as Manor Farm. This farm supported the old manor house which may have been on the site of Breakspears Mews. Interestingly, the 1800 Milne map indicates field boundaries adjacent to Manor farm that show a reeve type pattern that probably goes back as far as the Neolithic period 5,000 years ago.



The junction at Brockley Cross has a number of features, namely a well and a few disparate buildings, typical of commons all over England and which were used to graze animals by anyone who lived locally to the common. The common was usually owned by the lord of the manor.

Brickworks on Plow Garlick Hill (Telegraph Hill) are first indicated on the Cole map of 1756 suggesting that the land had been sold and the new owners were no longer interested in farming. By 1775, the road to Nunhead and Goose Green appears to have truncated, only going as far as about Aspinall Road.

On the 1777 Andrews map, this road is extended north to New Cross Gate on present day line of Aspinall Road, crossing the railway to Waller Road.

By 1800 the road ceases to exist. Perhaps, the new owners of Plow Garlick Hill did not want anyone walking over their land or it may have had something to do with the military telegraph communication system established a few years earlier (hence the name Telegraph Hill). The common at Brockley Cross, however, appears not to have a name until 1800, when it is called Deptford Common. But Deptford Common used to be north of Hilly Fields. As this area was the first to be built upon, perhaps the name was re-allocated to the common at Brockley Cross.

Further changes in land ownership occurred in order to bring about the creation of the Croydon Canal and which destroyed the common in 1809. Its route followed Shardeloes Road, across the end of what is now Brockley Cross, along the western edge of Coulgate Street and then joined the line of what is now the railway. Even though it is hard to imagine a canal here, there are still traces to be seen. The retaining wall in the southern part of Shardeloes Road (site of the Brockley poem) reveals the cutting that gave a level section between two flights of locks of which were at least six locks between Brockley Cross and New Cross to be negotiated. A lock-keeper’s cottage named the Old Lock House was situated on the east side of the canal (Shardeloes Road) opposite Millmark Grove on the site of four modern garages. This cottage survived until the early 1940’s. The land on which it stood is a strange triangular shape and I believe is so because it was built on the common; its northern boundary is the edge of the common and the land adjacent was owned by someone else. The lock cottage land stretched into later Malpas Road and is marked by the four modern houses of 247-243A Malpas Road. When Malpas Road was built in the 1890’s a gap was left in the Victorian terrace for three houses - the builders were clearly expecting the cottage to disappear shortly! The later infill of the four houses rather than three explains the numbering of the fourth house as 243A.



The Canal was a financial failure and was closed in 1836 with the land sold to the new railway companies. It took three years for the London to Croydon Railway to open but there was no station at Brockley until forty years later in anticipation of the completion of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway route (to Victoria). This route opened its station Brockley Lane the following year (only to close during WWI as an economic measure). These two railways together with the canal finally obliterated all remaining evidence of the common. So the area of Brockley Cross, rather than being a simple junction of three roads, could have been a place where people grazed sheep, sold their goods at a marketplace and met for fairs. It may never have been deemed significant enough for mapmakers to name it, but in the lives of the people of Deptford, Brockley Green and Nunhead, the common at Brockley Cross was certainly known and used by them.


Thanks, of course, to Moira for her excellent work.

36 comments:

patrick1971 said...

Really interesting stuff, thanks for publishing that, and to the person who did the original research.

Is "Brockley Green" in that map the place where Sevenoaks Road meets Brockley Rise, just near the Brockley Jack pub?

Tom said...

I was looking round at this stuff just last week and posted lots of links to 19th Century maps online. See here.

I wondered how Brockley Cross originated because the 1833 map here has barely any detail of it.

However, this map from the 1860s gives a much better idea, of both Brockley Cross and Brockley Green.

Tressilliana said...

Fascinating, thanks for this!

spincat said...

Patrick, I think that Sevenoaks Rd only came into existence in the 1930s when Brockley Hall land was sold and houses built on it. There was a footpath (I think part of the old Brockley footpath) where Sevenoaks Rd is now - I have seen a photo of it. Not sure which road that is but will compare with other maps and get back. Certainly it is on that rough area.

spincat said...

In fact further to my posting above, I think one of the roads is what is now Brockley Grove and now leads to Ladywell Road where ther eis that bridge over the Ravensbourne

Tressilliana said...

Ivy Road/Lane and the Brockley Footpath are, I believe, amongst the oldest thoroughfares locally. The Brockley Footpath doesn't really exist any more in Brockley - it used to run off Brockley Road where the garden centre was a decade or more ago, very near the Brockley Jack - there's a new little estate there now and the footpath/alley was closed as part of that development. It emerged in Buckthorne Road, went over the footbridge to the cemetery and beyond, up the side of Nunhead Cemetery emerging in Linden Grove. You can still see that end marked on maps as Brockley Footpath.

Lewisham Heritage said...

You might be interested to know that Lewisham Local History and Archives have published some of their photos and maps on the web. The ones for Brockley can be seen at http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/lewishamheritage/BrockleyAHistoryInPictures

veggiegirl said...

I've walked on the footpath from Linden Grove, running along the side of Nunhead cemetery - had no idea it was so old, interesting to learn a little of what lies beneath our feet.

Tamsin said...

And go that way on 17th May - the Nunhead Cemetary Open day from 11 to 5 (or is it 10 to 4...)

Headhunter said...

Love those old photos of Brockley. I've come across a few on the web in various places. I always think Hilly Fields looks empty without all the big trees which obviously either weren't planted or were small saplings back then.

Headhunter said...

I should head down to Nunhead Cemetery, I used to volunteer at Highgate Cemetery as a guide, taking tourists round the western side of the cemetery, pointing out the important sites. It really is an amazing place.

Nunhead, along with Highgate, Kensal Green, Abney Park Cemeteries and several others (there were 7 situated all round the edge of London/outside London as it was then) was opened by a private company back in the mid 1800s.

They were known as the "Magnificent 7" at the time and were quite expensive places to be buried. The land was owned by a private company with shareholders/board of directors who were in it for the money, so it cost top dollar to be buried there. Highgate and Kensal Green particularly host some of the gliterati of the Victorian era but the London Cemetery Company's headquarters were at Nunhead.

Not very local, but I recommend a trip to any of the "Magnificent 7", I've been to Highgate, Kensal Green, Abney Park and Brompton so far.

A little Ghoulishly, Brompton and Kensal Green do tours of their catacombs sometimes. In Victorian times it was considered better not to bury the dead, but to preserve the bodies as best possible and place the coffins on shelves in open vaults. Relations of the dead would then come to the cemetery to be "at one" with the departed.

At Brompton and Kensal Green you can see the enormous, elaborate coffins used to house departed members of the wealthy classes at the time, presumably with bodies still inside.

Tamsin said...

Nunhead open up their crypt on the Open Day and it really is a grand day out - bug hunts, cemetery tours, lots of local history, fox project etc. information stands, wonderful second hand books (I got myself a copy of The Golden Bough a few years back - most appropriate) and a wood turner.

Tamsin said...

There is a little bit of the canal-side brick work (about 15 ft of walling) at the very end of the ELL platform in New Cross Gate station. Alas it will probably go with the extension works.

And the canal at one point went along what is now Shardeloes Road - the railway line diverts from it at that point - which is why there is that long wall with the poem on it.

But thank you for all that fascinating stuff.

spincat said...

I remember walking the Brockley footpath when I first came to the area: initially I noticed cut-throughs between houses (like the one once by Brockley Jack, as tressilliana mentions) - they seemed odd; then I found out about the footpath. Some are still there - I don't remember them being continuous but it was easier to see the footpath route 1990. I think it carried on at this end on what is now Sevenoaks road/Ewhurst Rd. There is a theory that it once connected the Lady Well and the Camber Well.

Headhunter said...

I went on an open day at Kensal Green Cemetery a few years ago. It was very interesting but thoroughly strange as well. They had the usual guided tours and tours of the crypts, but they also had market stalls - people selling everything from books to gingerbread men with icing "skeletons" daubed on them. They also had a group of hearses from the Victorian era through the 20th century to the modern day, the hearses would occasionally drive round the chapel there. Also there was one of those Victorian automatic music things playing which lent a bizarre atmosphere to the whole thing. Not to mention the groups of goths hanging round in full Victorian funeral regalia....

All the cemeteries are architecturally and historically very interesting though

mg said...

The goths/hearses are usually there at Nunhead too! It is indeed a grand day out and Raise the Roof (my singing group) will be performing this year as well. Perhaps we should rename ourselves Raise the Dead for the occasion.

Headhunter said...

Not to derail this discussion to much, but talking of guided tours of historic cemeteries, for a truly macabre experience there's nothing to beat the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Sicily. Not for those with a faint heart...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capuchin_catacombs_of_Palermo

andy pandy pudding & pie said...

Ok, own up - which one of you made it rain today???? I got soaked this morning, and slept through my alarm!

Headhunter said...

Not me. Got soaked on the way home on the bike last night and the roads were still wet this morning so I got wet again! Where's the scorching global warming summer's we've got used to? I suppose global warming is also supposed to cause the weather to be wetter but enough is enough

Transpontine said...

A couple of years ago I took a group of people on a long walk along the Brockley footpath, all the way from Camberwell to Ladywell - based on a thesis in an old local history article that the path linked two holy well sites. I think this is slightly dubious, but it was a good walk - this post has prompted me to write up my notes on this.

spincat said...

Hello, Transpontine

Did you find the old article in in Lewisham local history/archives? Are you going to publish or post up your own notes? Hope so!

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david said...

Can I ask you Nunhead specialists to share some info on the grounds next to Nunhead cemetery (the Hill next to it). I Have had a look on Google Earth, it is quite a surprising landscape.
Was it used for World war II military storage?
Who looks after it now? Are there guided tours of the underground premises?
David Hingamp - architect

Sevenoakser said...

Hey David, nothing so sinister! I went on one of the free tours they do of the Cemetery once a month and the guide explained that under that weirdly shaped grass is an underwater water storage depot - the biggest in Europe apparently. Built by the Victorians. The guide said that when renovation work was going on a few years ago, he begged permission to visit it and he said it was beautiful under there - like a Cathedral. Actually come to think of it, next Saturday (May 15) is cemetery;s annual open day so heaps of experts there explaining things, who could tell you more I'm sure.

Sevenoakser said...

Gaak. Meant "underground" water storage. Not underwater water storage. That would be silly.

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Q said...

These maps actually suggest that the site of the Manor House was in Manor Road (now Manor Avenue, which would make sense.) Could someone have misread the direction of weat and east, as pointing the map towards Deptford the manor is a long way from Breakspears road.

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Does anyone have any info about a company called Thos Readen & Co Ltd, Foxberry Rd ? I have an old postcard showing the staff sat outside, Could be early 1900s. Thanks!

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