Above: View of the large pub now called the Brockley Barge.
Standing at 184 Brockley Road, in Brockley, SE4, is a large pub with an unusual rounded ‘end’ because it is situated between a fork formed by Brockley Road meeting Foxberry Road. Until the 1990s the pub was called the Breakspears Arms. It was then closed due to getting a bad reputation for violence and drugs. On the opposite side of Brockley Road is a long road called Breakspears Road.
Above: The line of the Croydon Canal plotted onto Google maps.
Since those times the large pub was obtained by the Wetherspoon chain who opened it in October 2000 under the name of the Brockley Barge. The company must have done their homework and either found out or been told that a canal ran within a few hundred feet of the site of the building. Foxberry Road could well have been formed due to the canal since its line is parallel to the route of the old canal. The choice of name, therefore, is really good because it helps those who go into to pub think about the history of the area.
South London had very few canals. The first was the Grand Surrey Canal which ran from what later became known as the Surrey Commercial Docks. This canal opened to the Old Kent Road in 1807, to Camberwell in 1810, and to Peckham in 1826.
Running south from a T-junction on the Grand Surrey Canal was the Croydon Canal which ended at the site of what is now West Croydon Station. It was authorised by Parliament in 1801 and opened in 1809. The Croydon Canal was not a success, mainly because it was too short – only just over nine miles long. The other problem was that the land from New Cross (where it started) via Brockley and Forest Hill was a very steep incline requiring 26 locks to be built within a distance of only three or four miles. It caused those who carried timber on the barges a lot of hard work, opening and closing all those canal gates.
Above: Print showing the canal near Brockley with its locks being cut through the countryside to build the Croydon Canal. The view looks towards the City of London with St Paul’s Cathedral just visible on the horizon.
On reaching Forest Hill, the land was almost flat and only two more lock had to be negotiated at Croydon Common to reach the end at West Croydon. The canal hardly made any money and it closed in 1836, the land being sold to the London and Croydon Railway who opened a line from London Bridge Station running via New Cross Gate Station, Brockley Station, Honor Oak Park Station and Forest Hill Station then further south via Sydenham, Penge, Anerley and Norwood Junction to the terminus at West Croydon.
The Brockley Barge is about two minutes walk from Brockley Station and so its name is now a constant reminder of the two decades when the area had the Croydon Canal running through it. Around Brockley there is no other remaining evidence for the canal — no lock-keeper’s cottages, no other buildings that once stood beside it, not even a wooden post or marker of any description !
In a world of developers knocking down so much of our past — in the name of so-called ‘progress’ — it is rather good to be able to report that a pub has changed its name. The name is a made-up modern name — to act as a reminder that the cutting-edge bulk transport system of the early 19th century actually passed through ‘beautiful downtown’ Brockley.