Photos: The Open-Air Street Artists of Ashby Mews, Brockley


SmileCrabfingerDon't bother. It's all been nicked!The girl and the dappled lightThe ship and the dappled lightAshby Mews
Goofy doorThe eye on the fenceLee 'Scratch' PerryAt last, Etta MaeFor MimiPoop doesn't pick up its self

The Open-Air Street Artists of Ashby Mews, Brockley, a set on Flickr.

Before Brockley, in south east London, was mugged by the selfish and arrogant forces of gentrification, with the arrival of the upgraded East London Line, it had been a haven for Bohemians for many decades — with artists, writers and musicians all taking advantage of its leafiness and its affordability.

At the heart of Brockley are broad, tree-lined Victorian streets, mostly built in the 1880s and 1890s, when the former fields of Brockley were opened up to developers with the arrival of the railway. These roads form a conservation area, first designated as such by Lewisham Council in 1973, in recognition of the area’s “special architectural and historic interest,” which was extended in 1991, 1993 and 2005.

Between the leafy streets are the mews — one of which is the focus of this photo set, after it was adopted by enterprising artists. As Lewisham Council’s conservation area document explains:

The mews in Brockley conservation area are the unmade service roads running behind houses. Early maps show that mews development, such as coach housing, was never as extensive as in other parts of London. The people living in Brockley were more likely to use the new train network to travel and to hire coaches and horses when needed rather than keep their own. In any case, not long after the area had become established, the motor car became available to those with means.

The Council also notes, “Today the mews are leafy lanes containing many mature trees, single-storey garaging and workshops with views to the rears of properties and long verdant gardens,” and notes problems with any proposed developments: “Many constraints make development in the mews undesirable: there is usually no lighting or road surfacing, the mews cannot usually be serviced by modern refuse vehicles and to provide these to enable residential development would alter the calm, leafy and open character of the mews.”

The various mews in Brockley tend to divide opinion. Certainly, they are used by fly-tippers, whose mess is in no one’s interests. However, they also contain workshops — some containing craftspeople, and others containing car mechanics, which some people — myself included — celebrate, while others want the whole of Brockley cleansed of any kind of manual workers, as can be seen in the  whispering campaigns against the various businesses in the area that involve any kind of grittiness and dirt — Brockley’s two MOT centres, for example, one of which (the one near the station) will soon be razed by developers, who will pack the site with overpriced and no doubt hideous apartments, the timber merchants at Brockley Cross, the two used car dealers, and the car wash on the corner of Wickham Road.

Fortunately, one of these mews — Ashby Mews — is currently providing an open-air venue for some enterprising artists, whose efforts snub the snooty, gallery-based world of fine art, and even stand as a kind of pirate, DiY alternative to Brockley’s main artist-based annual event, the Brockley Open Studios, in which local artists — mainly, but not exclusively those fortunate enough to have moved to Brockley before greed became the only arbiter of meaning in London — open up their homes to visitors on the last weekend in June.

On walls and on the hoarding put up to fence off a particular site that had become notorious for fly-tipping, these artists have created an excellent open-air gallery that I regularly visit to enjoy large-scale art in an outdoor setting — one mixing Victorian planning with the celebrated calmness and leafiness of Brockley’s mews — and to see if there have been any updates. Like much street art, it is not necessarily regarded as permanent, and during my visits two particular works have been painted over. These photos were mostly taken on September 7, 2012, after the journey through Soho, Bankside and Borough that I recorded here, here, here and here, with additional photos taken on October 27, 2012. In addition, I’m pleased to note, it is the 50th photo set posted as part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike.

I hope you enjoy this open-air gallery, and if you have any information about the artists, then please let me know, as another profound difference between the Ashby Mews open gallery and the fine art business world is that the mews artists barely, if at all, advertise who they are, which is a refreshing alternative to traditional egomania.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

20 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Radmila Nastic wrote:

    Nice memories. I used to stay in Brockley on a couple of occasions. Had a friend, but he died.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m glad you have nice memories of Brockley, Radmila, as it’s a lovely place – even if the flint-hearted Yuppies are arriving in ever greater numbers – but I’m sorry to hear that your friend died.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilburt wrote:

    ah…I spy some Mimi Soan work 😉 I love Brockley Open studios….x

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Ruth,
    Good to hear from you. I thought you’d pick up on these photos. I like Brockley Open Studios too, but there’s something even more subversively special about Art in the Mews (just made that up), with its – what is it, exactly? – its outdoorness, its lack of ownership. It’s quite radical.

  5. damo says...

    i liked the piece about gentrification in bermondsey,the spread of gentrification it like a toxic virus spreading through the blood stream like some kind of corperate ebola,and all the creeps and assholes that come with gentrification from estate agents to yummy mummys …PUKE….ive just been to bishops park in fulham were i grew up it was a totaly different place then now its been completely bankers ,corperate drones it made me howl with tears and laughter this morning watching al i can describe them as is these …bone idle,lazy,kept neurotic pampered women with there spoiled retched brats in the made me shudder i didnt see one single black person or for that matter any other ethnic or poor white on the streets … just these strange grotesqe shrill humanoids you coud her the shrieking to each other ok yah,yah yah mummys said yah yah blah blah….strideing down the pavements REPULSIVE,this is what happens when gentrification takes over an entire area belive it or not fulham used to be a very diverse working class area its just a dead zone inhabitted by repulsive yuppies and corperate serpants,lol,lol

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Funny you should mention Fulham, Damo. I haven’t made it to Bishop’s Park yet, although I will. In fact, I’ve only made one visit to Fulham so far, as part of my photographic project, which was last week, when I cycled from Charing Cross to West Kensington, and then down North End Road to Fulham Broadway. What shocked and surprised me was the absolute divide between North End Road, which had NO signs of gentrification at all – not even a single coffee shop – but instead had numerous pawn shops (two next to each other at one point), as well as numerous pound shops, betting shops, and, of course, the very lively street market, and Fulham Broadway, where, of course, the money immediately became evident. The rich are only able to bark about their sense of superiority and their sense of entitlement as long as the poor people remain so cowed. If those facing the brunt of the Tories’ austerity onslaught were to get organised, it might be another story …!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennah Solace wrote:

    Speechless 🙂 Loved ’em

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Wow! Thanks, Jennah. Hard to imagine you speechless …!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, when I posted the photo, “Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry,” I wrote:

    This is probably my favourite image out of the photos I put up yesterday of street art in Brockley, in south east London, because it pays tribute to, and captures something of the genius of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the Jamaican music producer whose sonic experimentation and ability to capture profound spiritual depth is unparalleled.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s one of my very, very favourite Lee Perry productions, “Solid Foundation” from “Heart of the Congos”:

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Davy-Barnes wrote:

    Super Ape rules !

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Yeah! And what about “Chase the Devil”? (version on “Super Ape” as “Croaking Lizard”). Killer tune!

    Lucifer son of the morning, I’m gonna chase you out of earth!
    I’m gonna put on a iron shirt, and chase Satan out of earth
    I’m gonna put on a iron shirt, and chase the devil out of earth
    I’m gonna send him to outer space, to find another race
    I’m gonna send him to outer space, to find another race

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Davy-Barnes wrote:

    Lee perry (sam carty) -bird in hand+original indian version from 1950

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Great! Thanks, Malcolm. I hadn’t heard the Indian original before. Wow!

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Davy-Barnes wrote:

    Yes, for years I didn’t know who sang this at the Black Ark or in what language, I had some fantasy it was ancient Aramaic !

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    I thought it was Lee Perry speaking in tongues!

  17. JPM says...

    Andy, I enjoyed reading your article very much and share many of your opinions on the over-gentrification of Brockley. However I’m afraid we part company when you ignore the property developer leaning heavily on ‘artist’ as a title.

    Ashby Mews is now certainly part of Brockley’s gentrification – and you will see these ‘live work’ spaces mostly sold on as new housing – for all but the wealthy.

    I have no problems with getting the Haves and Have Nots balance right, but I do think this land grab in the mews is quite shocking.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi JP,
    Thanks for getting in touch. So are you saying that you think the artists are being paid by developers to make Ashby Mews cool? That may well be the case, I suppose, but you’re right – I hadn’t thought of it. You also mention ‘live work’ spaces being sold as new houses “for all but the wealthy” – do you mean “for no one but the wealthy,” as Brockley’s gentrification continues at such a pace now that it reminds me of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole story at the height of Thatcher’s property bubble in the late 80s, when the only place Adrian Mole could afford to live in in Islington was a dog kennel.

  19. John Morgan says...

    Dear Andy, it’s been 7 years since I visited your great article.

    I didn’t notice your reply, until now. Yes, I meant for no one but the wealthy. That’s what Ashby Mews has now become – a gated development for the wealthy. The workers and poor artists you write on exorcised from this area.

    But watch this space, many are working to remove the gates, and ensure this vital heritage asset is not lost.

    Keep up the good work – JP

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, JP. Great to hear back from you – however belatedly. Here’s hoping for an end to the gated development!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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