The oldest surviving house in the area is the 'Stone House' on Lewisham Way (opposite Lewisham College) built in 1773 by the architect George Gibson the Younger. Most of the area remained agricultural until the mid nineteenth century, the most notable building of the time being the 'Brockley Jack',(since rebuilt) a large Victorian public house which today houses the Brockley Jack Theatre. Brockley Hall (demolished 1931) stood nearby and this area formed the original small hamlet of Brockley. The name Crofton Park was invented by the railway company for its new station and has no historical significance. Brockley market gardens were famous for their enormous Victoria rhubarb which were fertilised by 'night soil' from London. There were orchards too and some ancient fruit trees survive in local gardens. Until the late 19th century a small river flowed northward from Crofton Park and east of Malpas Rd to join the River Thames via Deptford Creek. It is now covered over.
Industrial development arrived in 1809 in the form of the Croydon Canal running fron Croydon to Bermondsey. This was later filled in and replaced by the London & Croydon railway which runs through the original canal cutting between Brockley (opened in 1871) and New Cross Gate stations. The west side of the cutting now forms a woodland nature reserve managed by the London Wildlife Trust. Some of the oldest houses in Brockley are the tiny cottages and shops which form a small terrace on Coulgate street, just east of Brockley station. These are believed to date from 1833 and were probably originally associated with the canal. From 1872 Until 1917 Brockley Lane railway station provided access to the Greenwich Park branch line and the remains of the old station entrance are still visible at Brockley Cross.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Tyrwhitt- Drake family developed the north side of Brockley with grand villas, large terraces and semi-detached houses. Development started south of Lewisham Way in the late 1840's with the modest cottages at 2-22 Upper Brockley Rd and spread south and east towards Hilly Fields. In 1900 Chalsey Rd was the last road to be completed within the current conservation area. However open farmland remained south of Brockley Grove and west of the railway line into the early 1930s.
Many grand houses in Brockley were occupied by the owners and managers of factories in neighbouring industrial areas such as Deptford and Bermondsey. At 63 Breakespears Rd, lived Edwin Watts, owner of 'ER Watts and Son', a mathematical instrument making company in Camberwell Rd. Charles Booth's Map of London Poverty (1900) describes the residents of Wickham Rd and Breakspears Rd as "well-to-do" or "wealthy". (The actress Lillie Langtry was one notable resident during this period). The terraced streets west of Brockley Rd were more mixed: "comfortable and poor". The Artist/Poet David Jones; whose father was a printer, grew up in Howson Rd. The writer Henry Williamson whose father was a bank clerk was born in nearby Braxfield Rd.
Brockley contains several fine churches: St Mary Magdalen's RC Church, Howson Road (Completed in 1901), St Peter's, Wickham Rd (Completed 1870) St Andrews, Brockley Rd (1882) originally a Presbyterian Church, which contains the modern stained glass New Cross Fire memorial window (2002) and St Hilda's, Crofton Park 1908. The latter was designed by J E Newberry in the Arts and Crafts movement style and still contains its original interior.
After World War I Brockley began to lose its exclusivity as the wealthy moved away often to the outer suburbs. The typical inter-war houses on Upper Brockley Gardens and on Harefield Rd are clearly more modest than their Victorian neighbours.
The Rivoli Ballroom (originally a cinema) dates from 1913 but was remodeled as a dance hall in 1951. It has a unique and outstanding interior, which has featured in many films, videos and fashion shoots (see Guardian Magazine 10 Nov 07). In 2007 The White Stripes rock band played a secret gig here. The building has recently been listed (2007) and is now protected from demolition.
The area suffered significant V-2 rocket and other bomb damage in World War II and the post-war blocks of council flats at the south end of Wickham Rd and at the west end of Adelaide Ave are evidence of this. During the Second World War an anti-aircraft gun implacement was located on Hilly Fields.
After the Second World War, many of the big houses were sub-divided for multiple occupation. In the 1950s and 1960s these houses provided accommodation for the recently arrived African-Caribbean population, many of whom found employment in nearby Deptford. In 1948, five passengers bound for England from Jamaica on the ship Empire Windrush gave Wickham Road as their intended destination on arrival in London.(Anim-Addo 1995)
Formerly part of the county of Kent, Brockley become a part of the County of London in 1889. In 1965 Greater London was created and the former area of the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford, including Brockley, was absorbed into the newly formed London Borough of Lewisham.
Much of north Brockley was designated a Conservation Area in 1974 and in the same year the Brockley Society was formed with the aim of preserving and protecting the character of the area. Brockley is today one of the best preserved and most coherent Victorian suburbs in Inner London and contains examples of almost every style of mid to late C19th domestic architecture from vast Gothic Revival piles to modest workmen's cottages. It is this contrast which makes the area unique.
By the late 1990s SE London's 'best kept secret' was being 'discovered' by many young professionals moving from north or west London in search of more spacious accommodation and a greener, quieter environment. 'Boho' Cafes such as 'Moonbow Jakes' and 'Toads Mouth Too' have been followed by a cluster of delicatessens, a whole food shop, a farmers market and 'The Sunflower Centre' offering 'complementary health and lifestyle'.
The extension of the East London Line, to be renamed London Overground (scheduled for completion in 2010), will connect Brockley with the tube network and is encouraging some new residential development around Brockley station in the north of the area.
In 2002 the Brockley Cross Action Group was set up with the aim of influencing the regeneration of the Brockley Cross area and has been instrumental in the restoration of Brockley Common and the greening of several derelict sites around Brockley.
Meanwhile, to the south of the area, around Crofton Park train station, a number of new shops and bars suggest this district is also enjoying something of resurgence in fortunes.
Although mainly residential in character, there are several large green spaces in the area, amongst them Blythe Hill, Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries (opened in 1858 and now a nature reserve) and Hilly Fields. The latter was saved from development by the Commons Preservation Society and local groups in the 1880s and 1890s (including Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the National Trust). In 1896, after being bought with the proceeds of private donations and funding from the London County Council, the fields were transformed from old brickpits and ditches into a park. The park became a regular meeting place for the Suffragette movement between 1907 and 1914.
The old West Kent Grammar School (later renamed Brockley County Grammar School), now Prendergast School, a Grade II listed building, is situated at the top of the hill. The School hall contains the 'Brockley murals'. Dating from 1932-35 by Charles Mahoney, Evelyn Dunbar and other students of the Royal College of Art, they are considered some of the best examples in the country of the Neo-Romantic style and illustrate many local scenes.
Close by, a stone circle was erected in 2000 as a millennium project by a group of local artists, which won a Civic Trust Award in 2004. The Hilly Fields Midsummer Fayre has been running for over 30 years and is a much celebrated annual community event. At 160ft above sea level, Hilly Fields has wide views from Shooters Hill to Crystal Palace and the North Downs in Kent.
Adjacent to the train track between Brockley and New Cross Gate Train Stations lies the Brockley Nature Reserve. It provides a natural haven for many flora and fauna.
The Lewisham Art House housed in a grand Edwardian building (which was formerly Deptford Library) on Lewisham Way, provides art classes, studio and exhibition space. The library building is a Carnegie Library made possible by the philanthropy of the indrustialist Andrew Carnegie. It opened in 1914 and is designed by Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas. The Brockley Jack Theatre has recently been refurbished and has a high reputation for performances of new plays and is the home of the Brockley Jack Film Club. Each summer local artists host a thriving Brockley Open Studios weekend. Since 2004 Brockley has also hosted the Brockley Max performing arts festival involving many local musicians and singers.
Tea Leaf Arts is a new community art gallery housed in the renovated Tea Factory building in Brockley Cross, and is scheduled to open in September 2008.
The musician Nick Nicely’s 1982 cult psychedelic track “Hilly Fields” was inspired by the park of the same name. Drum and bass artist Remarc made a record called "Sound Murderer (Loafin' in Brockley)" on Juno Records in the mid-1990s. Another drum and bass artist, Chris Inperspective has a track called "Brockley Central".
Two early novels by Henry Williamson (who lived on Eastern Road) describe the area in the early 1900s.
In 2003 the BBC1 documetary Worlds Apart showed two Brockley families living within yards of each other; one in a council flat the other in a large house.