A Brief History of the Brockley Jack

The Brockley Jack is so synonymous with the area of Brockley and Crofton Park, that it has its own bus stop. Catch the 122, 171, 172, or the meandering P4, heading towards Crofton Park station, and you will go through the Brockley Jack bus stop. There is good reason for this. A pub of that name has stood on that spot since 1863, though the current building, as the date at the top states, has stood there since 1893. Nevertheless there is a more intriguing history to be told here.

Before being named the Brockley Jack, the inn had be previously known as The Crooked Billet in the eighteenth century, and The Castle in the first-half of the nineteenth century. During this early period, the pub was apparently frequented by numerous dastardly highwaymen including the infamous Dick Turpin. However, it is as the Brockley Jack – reputedly named after Jack Cade, leader of the 1450 Kentish Uprising – that the pub has seen the most dramatic changes in the area.

The Brockley Jack

The previous incarnation of the Brockley Jack appears to have been much loved, not only because it had been standing for nigh on 150 years, but because it was so utterly unique in its architecture and interior:

The taproom and the whole architecture of the whole [Brockley Jack] are curious, and the sign nailed to the stump of an old elm in yard is painted on a mammoth’s bone which was dug up in the railway cutting behind the house.
— Walter Besant, London South of the Thames

The Brockley Jack, as it was then, represents Brockley and South-East London’s history as a rural part of Kent, before being engulfed by the voracious growth of London. At a time before its reconstruction in 1898, it appears to have been what was happening to Brockley, to those who knew the area.

The old farm south of the inn will soon be built over, and houses are already appearing in the lane to Honor Oak, but most of the ground is still pasture [...] To the north and north east there are still fields as far as Brockley Station, but seen from the heights the green fields towards Nunhead are rapidly disappearing under the long tentacles of streets.
— Walter Besant, London South of the Thames
The growth of suburban London is imperious in its demands. Brockley is within the Parliamentary borough of Deptford; but the little boundaries and isolations of London are rapidly disappearing in that direction, and much beside the Jack Inn will disappear ere long in front of London’s immense army of occupation.
— London Illustrated News, 1897

The decisions to rebuild the Brockley Jack appears to have been unpopular, and according to contemporary reports, custom fell away soon after. Today, The Brockley Jack reflects more recent socio-economic changes, although not necessarily for the better. Most significantly, it represents the onslaught of chain pub companies. The Brockley Jack is currently owned by Greene King Plc, along with over 3,000 other venues across the UK. Infamous for removing historic pub signs, replacing them with their own branding, buying up independent pubs & breweries, and removing locally produced beers from their lines in favour of commercial branding are just a few of their indiscretions.

Despite this gloomy backdrop, a sliver of community value still remains at the Jack. Since 1993, the old function room of the Brockley Jack has been used for theatrical productions under the name of The Brockley Jack Theatre - a far cry from the pub's pastoral history. Offering a diverse programme of productions, from innovative revivals to dynamic new writing, the theatre acts as a 'supportive space for new companies and artists to develop and perform'. Though not quite as unique as it clearly once was, the Brockley Jack still stands as a point of reference and as a landmark of South London, hopefully remaining so for years to come.


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