A Small Boy in Brockley: memories of living in Sprules Road

British Rail, Scammel Scarab truck

By David Lefever

I lived in 67 Sprules Road from when I was born in 1943 until 1954 when my parents moved to Biggin Hill. My Mother and Father bought the house before the war; unusual for a working class couple from Peckham. I have been looking through my Fathers old letters and I believe it would have cost them around £500. My Aunt Daisy and Uncle Fred Wilson lived in the upper part of the house. When my parents moved, they bought it and continued to live there until the late 1960’s. They then followed my Father to Norfolk.


You entered 67 through a wooden gate. Next to the pavement was a low golden-private hedge to your left and three small, pleached lime trees. At sometime during the war, the iron fence between 67 and 69 had been taken away to be melted down for the “war effort”. A few feet and you were in the front porch. If it was a hot summers day, there would be a long canvas curtain, to keep the sun out, hanging in the porch. The front door, with its stained glass panels, would be wide open. 

My memories of the part of Brockley that comes within the Conservation area are very limited. I do remember that my Father had a lock-up Garage for his car (an Austin 8, JGP 69) somewhere along an un-made back-passage that served the rear of some houses; looking at the map, I think it was in one of the ‘Mews’ between Geoffrey and Ashby Roads. I also find that parts of Brockley, that I considered to be outside of Brockley, are part of the conservation area. Hilly Fields, were to me a long way away, and I have very few memories of going there. I know I did, I know who I went with, but cannot remember anything about it with any clarity.

For me, most of what is now the Conservation area were just the streets where I would walk with my Mum when we set of on a shopping trip along Upper Brockley Road and Tanners Hill to Deptford High Street. When I was older, about nine or ten I suppose, my Saturday Morning job used to be to go down Deptford High Street to get horsemeat for my Mothers Dog. There used to be an old Glue factory there; in the summer, you could smell it a good way off. I can also remember Deptford High Street for the rather odd-looking three-wheel Lorries that belonged to the Railways. I cannot remember ever seeing them elsewhere. I also discovered on these trips that if you ran with one foot in the gutter and one on the pavement – there were not many cars in the streets – you could go twice as fast; or so it seemed then to a small boy back then.

My Brockley was centred on the southern end of Sprules Road. For much of my young life, the boundaries of Brockley to the South and East, were formed by the two railway lines that crossed near the row of shops at the junction of Endwell Road, and Mantel Road and a little farther off to the North and West were Vesta and Pepys Roads. We always called it ‘Peppies Road’ It was many years before I discovered the alternative, and apparently celebrated, Samuel ‘Peeps’.

My friends were Joan’y Fields, who lived over the road – next to the bombsite where the College now is – Janet Watson (next door in 65); John Stevens in 69 and Ken and Anne Slatter, who’s parents owned the bakery in Endwell Road. I remember we used to creep into the sheds at the back to lick the last scrapings of icing sugar out of the big tubs, and generally make a nuisance of ourselves. My favourite playgrounds were the bombsites in Sprules and Endwell Road.

I often think that part of the problem with youngsters of today, is the fact that there are no such adventure play areas like the ones we had. There was a bombsite on, seemingly, every street. We learnt to build camps, make fires, chase butterflies and climb trees without getting in anyone’s way.

My parents used to tell me that when they first moved to Brockley, cows used to graze on the land behind the railway arch. As a small boy, I can still remember cows being tied up in the big byre in the corner of Endwell Road, next to the railway bridge. There were often long trains going slowly across the bridge with trucks full of unhappily lowing cattle. I assume they were on their last roundup! I also remember the Lorries that used to get stuck under the bridge; that was always a matter of some interest to small boys. After the war, Mum was always telling me of an old lady who used to sell “fruit and veg” from a hand cart in what I think was Foxwell street. I had been very ill and nearly died as a baby, but even in the worst of war time rationing the old lady still found an orange or an apple for me.

Another favourite playground was the bombsite between the railway line and the old Laundry on the corner of the bridge and Shardloes Road. For some reason that always seemed more frightening.

I went to a school in the St Hilda’s Church rooms, situated behind the Church in Courtrai Road near Honor Oak. The land immediately behind the Church rooms was our playground, and behind that lay the inevitable bomb site on Buckthorn Road. I seem to remember that the bombsite went as far as Bartrum Road. Presumably, Jerry was after the railway line.

I used to catch the tram to and from school, but if it was dry, I would often walk home, and spend the tram fair on some sweets. My usual route home would take me along Buckthorn Road, over the bridge at Eddystone Rd to Brockley Way, then down either Turnham or St. Norbert’s Roads, to Mantle Road and home. This was the longest – in time – route, because nestled between the three roads was a large playground with slides, swings, roundabouts and rocking horses. These, however, paled into insignificance when compared with the two swing boats. One had a long wooden seat with handles and footboards. The seat was connected to the two parallel sets of overhead tubes that carried the whole thing by two pairs of steel rods. This one, was quite gentle and was best if there were not too many older children.

The real master however was a larger swing boat with the connecting rods meeting in a triangle at the top supporting cross member. Like the swing boats you see on fair grounds. This one was It! It was rumoured to be able to swing through 360 degrees, though I never saw it do so. The best way to get this one going – and did it go – was for two larger boys to stand on the ground, one at each end of the seat board – the end seats were steel bucket seats – with all the other children sat in the middle sitting on the board and hanging on to the handles. As the boat swung back and forward the end boys would, as the boat came towards them, grab hold of the seat. They would then be lifted up into the air, their weight would bring the seat back down, and as they touched the ground, they would give the seat a good downward push. This meant that at each swing, the whole swing boat would get an extra input of energy and in that way the swing boat and all the kids hanging on and screaming for dear life would, after a short while, swing higher and higher, until it was almost vertical. The bigger the boys, and the more effort they put in, the further it would go. Off course, every now and then one of the end boys would fall off and there were a few broken bones. The playground wardens, or the police, or some other killjoy would be after us and we would all be banned for a while. That did not stop us for long, and we would soon be back again.

As I got older, I would venture further afield, going on the tram or on my bike to Horniman’s Museum, one of my favourite trips. It had a strong fascination for me. I often went on my bike to my father’s workplace; The British Lion Laundry, in Peckham Grove, and we would ride home together.

My Mum loved shopping in Rye Lane. In fact, like nearly all Mums and wives, she loved shopping anywhere, or so it seemed. We would get a tram from Brockley Cross, and when the shopping was over, and if I had been good, I would get some sweets from “Woollies”. On a nice day, we would get a ride to the top of Peckham Rye and walk back home along Linden Grove, past Nunhead Cemetery – where my Grandparents were buried – and along St’ Asaph Road to Aspinal Rd. over the railway bridge and then home.