Brockley Mews: Black Holes and Revelations

We keep meaning to write up our experiences at the Brockley Assembly, which will have you all on the edge of your seats. However, one particular issue was raised during the meeting, which deserves special attention.

We were part of a group which discussed how to improve the physical fabric of Brockley. One person raised the issue of the various mews in the area.

Whenever we do take a detour down one of them, we're always struck by how other-worldly they are - hidden little parallel universes of workshops, back gardens, fill-in housing and smouldering piles of embers. Despite being privately owned, they feel lawless and anarchic, which is all very thrilling for mews-tourists like us, but less fun for those who live there.

Residents of many of the area's mews have been faced with a long-running struggle to protect their streets from fly-tipping, illegal fires and other forms of anti-social behaviour. In some cases, they've tried putting gates up to reduce rubbish being dumped, but the gates are often left propped open by resident businesses, which are also believed to be the source of many of the fires.

When residents have turned to the Council for help, they've been told that as the mews are private land, there is relatively little that can be done - that the best course of action is for local residents to form local action groups, record incidences of anti-social behaviour and address their concerns directly to the owners of the offending businesses.

But the gentleman on our table gave a very convincing account of why the neighbourly approach doesn't work. Essentially, the problem is that some of the businesses don't see that they have a responsbility to maintain the mews. Industrial areas and residential areas generally operate to different standards and for the business owners, the mews are a place of work, not homes. Residents who complain are dismissed as cranky locals - it needs official intervention.

It cannot be right that the Council should turn a blind-eye to illegal refuse fires simply because the mews are private - businesses still have to conform to environmental standards and the issue is more accute precisely because of the mixed character of the mews.

The group's conclusion, recommended at the Assembly to Councillors Johnson and Walton was that the Council should write to all businesses operating in Brockley's mews to remind them of their responsibilities and warn them that they have received repeated complaints from multiple residents. From now on, there will be a zero-tolerance approach to enforcement of environmental regulations. Businesses that cannot respect or adhere to the rules risk having their license to operate withdrawn.

We hope that this is one recommendation that is treated seriously by Council officers.


Anonymous said...

Brockley Road: Supermassive Black Hole?

Hugh said...

'Despite being privately owned, they feel lawless and anarchic'

Well put, Nick. All such places remind me of childhood, being of a generation that grew up before Railtrack had fenced off every spare square foot that no one had laid an obvious claim to.

Anonymous said...

Forgive my ignorance, but what is a mew?

Hugh said...

It's kittens, blud. All about the kittens.

Bea said...

Interesting read. I hadn’t realised that such a conflict existed.

I guess the type of mew you mean is like the one between Upper Brockley Road and Manor Avenue – a bit like entering the danger zone. I went to an exhibition there for Open Studio a couple of summers ago and thought I had ventured into some kind of Armageddon type disaster movie.

Harefield Mews gives a very different impression. It’s totally cobbled, with street lighting - thanks to BXAG – and yet has real mix of residential and business without any curb side vegetation. The other mews are a lot greener.

Another mew that is different is the one that runs between Harefield Road and Wickham Gardens. It’s like walking down a country lane it’s so overgrown in summer.

The mews are a real gem - like a hidden second layer to Brockley.

Bea said...

Courtesty of Wiki:

"Mews is a chiefly British term formerly describing a row of stables, usually with carriage houses below and living quarters above, built around a paved yard or court, or along a street, behind large London houses of the 17th and 18th centuries. The word may also refer to the lane, alley or back street onto which such stables open. It is sometimes applied to rows or groups of garages or, more broadly, to a narrow passage or a confined place. Today most mews stables have been converted into dwellings, some greatly modernized and considered highly desirable residences."

And about the kittens of course!

Headhunter said...

I know what you mean about the mews between UBR and Manor Ave (Asby Mews), it is a bit apocalytic. There are a few artists along there, went to see a guy along there during Open Studios a couple of years ago - a wood sculptor. His stuff was pretty impressive.

Wickham Mews is lined with old garages now mainly derelict. The one at the back of our neighbour's was squatted a few years ago. Some guy used it to live and shoot up in, there were needles everywhere. Then one day he managed to set fire to it and he hasn't been seen since. We have all decided to fill the derelict garage with garden rubbish now and board it up to prevent that happening again. The land is owned by a property developer who bought it many moons ago and every now and then pops up with an application to build a house there. So far all these applications have been refused thank goodness, the plot of land is tiny - any property built there would be miniscule. Apparently the council have told our neighbours that they will back some kind of compulsory purchase order on the land if they want to buy it from the developer and add it to their garden.

Above all, I hope the council maintain their current stance in not allowing construction along the mews.

Headhunter said...

I read somewhere that the mews at the back of the houses of the conservation area were always intended to be cobbled and have stables and accommodation for stable lads above, like in areas of west London. However at the time Brockley was being built up, the railways were going through massive expansion, so even the wealthy classes had less need for horses and traps to be maintained, as the rail commuter was born, so stables and mews buildings in Brockley were never built.

Cllr Dean Walton said...

I remember the problems with Harefield Mews a couple of years ago - it took quite a lot of time and effort to get the lighting installed and then just as much effort to get them switched on!

Moving to the more general issue. I have asked Lewisham's Enforcement Officers to have a look at the blog article and whether it would be good idea to have a walkabout the mews with a few local residents and one of the Councillors. Much like we did with the 'trees' issue at Lewisham College car park. I'll let you know when I get a response - should be within a week or so.

Kung Fu Hustle said...

Cllr Walton - you may want to get in touch with Broc Soc - there were residents at last night's meeting very worried about Breakspears/Ashby mews. It would seem that although these mews are meant for storage only, businesses are being run from there, causing an issue with fires, noise, flytipping and damage to the protected trees. I would say that some of the resident's were quite rightly at the end of their tether. Incidently, there is something regarding Breakspears Mews and a business asking for more so-called 'storage' coming up before Lewisham Planning soon.

Cllr Dean Walton said...

@Kung Fu

Thanks for the tip. Will do.

Anonymous said...

Good luck getting the council to do anything about bonfires on commercial premises, which is illegal and subject to a £10 000 fine. if you call the relevant dept at Lewisham to report such a bonfire ( I reported one at a local garage which included cans exploding out of the fire onto the road), an EHO has to actually witness the fire burning but they only come out in office hours which end at about 4 in the afernoon-so although I saw repeated fires and had photos nothing was ever done but I did receive a letter telling me that no evidence could be found so the thick acrid choking smoke and leaping flames must have been my imagination then!! Sorry bonfires make me mad!

Cllr Dean Walton said...

Lewisham's Enforcement Officer has agreed to join some local residents and myself on a walkabout in relation to issues concerning the Mews in Brockley. I will contact Nick, the Chair of the Brockley Society and also the local residents that I am aware have been particularly affected by some of the issues in these parts of Brockley.

In addition to the level of direct enforcement action that can be taken (fines, penalties, threats of such action) I'll be looking to see if there are any other ways of tackling the problems that have not been tried yet.


Tressilliana said...

Anon - did you call the Fire Brigade? I'm only guessing but I would have thought they would have some powers to act in a case of an obvious fire hazard.

patrick1971 said...

"In addition to the level of direct enforcement action that can be taken (fines, penalties, threats of such action) I'll be looking to see if there are any other ways of tackling the problems that have not been tried yet."

If what KFH says is true, and it's illegal to run businesses from the mews, why not just shut them down? It's the whole Speedicars issue all over again. Rather than go softly softly with letters vaguely suggesting that they might like to shut down, just send some people in to confiscate the premises. If there's a breach, act on it! I don't want to get into a whole council-bashing exercise, but this sort of thing really is why people get frustrated with the council. At my place of work, if people are using rooms inappropriately, they're evicted post-haste; we don't send a letter and wait 30 days before asking them to maybe move if they feel like it.

Anonymous said...

Never understood the big fuss around bonfires. We used to love having them in our garden when we were kids. Another case of city types needing something to complain about.

Tressilliana said...


Bonfire in big garden a long way from everyone else, with no asthmatics in attendance and no washing hanging out nearby to get all smoky - fine.

Bonfire in any other circumstances - dodgy.

In a confined space with potentially dangerous stuff thrown on, completely unacceptable.

Nothing to do with being in the city or otherwise, just simple common sense and consideration for others.

Tressillian James said...

Let's not forget it was only a few years ago (2005?) that a large fire in one of the mews - including cylinders exploding - led to the evacuation of all houses in that area. I think very few of the storages are allowed to operate at busineses. The current planning app for someone to extend the number of motorcycles they can 'store' at Breakspears mews, is according to local residents, just a cover for a motorcycle repair/refurb business.

Headhunter said...

This is a bit worrying. So far Wickham Mews does not seem to suffer to from illegal businesses, but as I mentioned someone has applied to build a garage and "outbuildings" at the back of one of the buildings on Wickham Rd. I have noticed that he drives up and down the back quite a lot and has paid for a gravel surface for part of the mews. Does he intend to start some kind of business back there?

I agree re bonfires. Not a lot wrong with a bonfire to burn a bit of garden rubbish, but if it's semi-industrial waste it can't be safe, with associated fumes and potential explosions.

Anonymous said...

It's true there doesn't seem to be a problem with fires on Wickham Mews, but there certainly is a problem with scrap cars littering the lane. This is also caused by local business(es) who are operating to different standards of care to the local residents. I believe the council have been involved, and the cars disappeared entirely at one point - hooray! - but then magically reappeared several days later. 'Anarchic' is just about right.

Cllr Walton, hope you can give some feedback on your walkabout - it'd be interesting to know any outcome.

I rather like the forgotten-about feel of the mews and it'd be a shame to lose that; but being 'off the tarmac track' is no excuse for anti-social behaviour.

Headhunter said...

For a while there was a huge proliferation of old car wheels and tyres along Wickham Mews, there must have been 50 or 60 scattered along the lane between Ashby and Geoffrey Rd. It was as if a car business of some kind had just decided to dump them back there.

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Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!

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