Dulwich Architects - James William Brooker, FRIBA (1853-1904)
by Ian McInnes

James W Brooker’s best known work in the Dulwich area was the 1896 reconstruction of the Half Moon Public House at Herne Hill (now listed Grade II*). Locally he was also the architect for the adjacent shopping parades and the alternate Dutch/Tudor gabled houses at Nos. 1-7 and 13-23 Burbage Road.

He was articled to Henry Jarvis in 1867 and was promoted to assistant in 1870. He took classes at the Architectural Association and the Royal Academy during 1870 and 1871 and set up on his own in 1873 at the age of 20. He became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (ARIBA) in 1887 after passing the qualifying exam, and a year after he had been awarded his District Surveyor’s Certificate.  In the C19 there was no such thing as Local Council Building Control, construction standards in inner London Boroughs were supervised by District Surveyors who were private individuals who were paid a fee.

His office was at 13 Railway Approach, London Bridge and he lived in East Dulwich. His practice was primarily known for public houses which, in addition to the ‘Half Moon’, included the ‘Yorkshire Grey’ public house at the corner of Theobalds Road and Grays Inn  Road (also listed), the ‘Coach & Horse’s in Clerkenwell, the ‘Pride of Devonshire’ in Balham High-road, the ‘Spanish Arms’ in Lower Marsh, and the ‘Hop Pole’ in Hammersmith.

Other projects in his relatively short career were at 40-42 Great Eastern Street near Liverpool Street Station, a showroom and office block for the cabinet ironmongers Edward Wells & Co (now listed) and several buildings in Finsbury Pavement for the Finsbury Estates Company (1883-84). He also built business premises in Denmark Street, London Bridge and Shoreditch, and designed the Penge Tabernacle. His residential work covered houses in Grove Vale (he also built the Imperial Hall there), East Dulwich, Brockley Rise, Dock Street East, Clapham, Tolworth and as far out as Sevenoaks.

The National Inventory of Pub Interiors describes The  Half Moon as “A tremendously exuberant piece of pub architecture with some marvellous fittings to match . . . . . . .the biggest reasons for making a trip here is the ‘snug bar’, tucked away at the back on the left. This has no fewer than six lovely back-painted mirrors depicting a variety of birds in watery surroundings. Two small labels helpfully inform us that they are the work of ‘W. Gibbs & Sons glass decorators’ of Blackfriars. In this room there is also a screen to the servery – but what a shame the snob screens have been removed from it. Two other screens have etched, cut and coloured glass with pretty lozenges depicting barley, hops and foliage. Four hefty iron columns with Corinthian-style capitals run down the ground floor making sure the upper floors stay where they are.”