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Elephant and Castle

Elephant and Castle
Elephant and Castle is located in Greater London
Elephant and Castle
Elephant and Castle
 Elephant and Castle shown within Greater London
OS grid reference
London borough Southwark
Ceremonial county Greater London
Region London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district SE1, SE11, SE17
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
London Assembly Lambeth and Southwark
List of places

The Elephant and Castle is a major road junction in Central London, England, in the London Borough of Southwark. Though the name of the surrounding area is properly Newington, the proximity of the London underground station has led to the area being more commonly called "Elephant and Castle". The name is derived from a local coaching inn.

"The Elephant", as locally abbreviated, consists of major traffic junctions connected by a short road called Elephant and Castle, part of the A3. Between these junctions, on the eastern side, is the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, with the Hannibal House office block above. To the north of this, bounded by Newington Causeway and New Kent Road is the large Metro Central Heights residential block. The 43-storey Strata residential block lies just south of the shopping centre on Walworth Road.

Traffic runs to and from the south-east of City of London via London Road and Newington Causeway at the northern junction. Newington Butts and Walworth Road adjoin the southern junction. The whole junction forms part of the London Inner Ring Road and part of the boundary of the London congestion charge zone.

The Elephant has two linked London Underground stations, on the Northern and Bakerloo lines, and a National Rail station served by Southeastern (Kentish Town to Sevenoaks via Catford) and Thameslink Railway (Thameslink suburban loop to Sutton and Wimbledon, and other Thameslink services to Kent).

Local buildings include Skipton House part of the Department of Health; Perronet House, an award-winning residential block owned by Southwark Council; a large part of the London South Bank University campus; the London College of Communication; the Ministry of Sound nightclub; and the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The Cuming Museum is nearby on Walworth Road.


  • Name 1
    • La Infanta de Castilla 1.1
  • History 2
    • Medieval and early modern 2.1
    • Rise to metropolitan prominence (1750-1900) 2.2
    • Twentieth century 2.3
      • Peak years: 1900-1939 2.3.1
      • World War II 2.3.2
      • Post-war rebuilding (1945-2000) 2.3.3
    • 21st century: regeneration 2.4
      • Transport 2.4.1
      • Housing and gentrification 2.4.2
  • Famous residents 3
  • Appearances in popular culture 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The "elephant and castle" from the 14th century choir stalls at Chester Cathedral

The name "Elephant and Castle" is derived from a coaching inn. The earliest surviving record of this name relating to the area is in the Court Leet Book of the Manor of Walworth, which met at "Elephant and Castle, Newington" on 21 March 1765.[1] Previously the site was occupied by a blacksmith and cutler – the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers features an elephant with a castle (possibly meant to be a howdah) on its back, which in turn was used because of the use of elephant ivory in handles.[1]

Shakespeare mentions the Elephant Lodgings in "Twelfth Night". In Act 3 Scene 3 Antonio says "In the south suburbs, at the Elephant, is best to lodge."[2] Although the play is set in Illyria in the Balkans, Shakespeare often used local London references. The theatres were all in Southwark, so it may be this is an advertisement for a local hostelry. "The Elephant" is a common present-day nickname for the Elephant and Castle.[3]

'Newington' is one of the most common place names in England (see Newington Green and Stoke Newington in north London), and from 1750 the area became more important and the informal name, from the pub at this junction, was adopted. Compare 'Angel' at Islington, or Bricklayers Arms, a short distance along New Kent Road.

The inn site was rebuilt in 1816 and again in 1898, and the present Elephant & Castle pub, at the junction of New Kent Road and Newington Causeway, was part of the 1960s comprehensive redevelopment.

La Infanta de Castilla

An incorrect folk etymology states that "Elephant and Castle" is a corruption of "La Infanta de Castilla". A reference to a series of Spanish princesses such as Eleanor of Castile and María, the daughter of Philip III of Spain. However, Eleanor of Castile was not an infanta (the term only appeared in English about 1600). María has a strong British connection because she was once controversially engaged to Charles I, but she had no connection with Castile. "Infanta de Castilla" therefore seems to be a conflation of two Iberian royals separated by 300 years.[4][1]


Medieval and early modern

Elephant and Castle statue.

Known previously as Newington (Newington Butts and Newington Causeway are two of the principal roads of the area), in the medieval period it was part of rural Surrey, in the manor of Walworth. This is listed in the Domesday Book as belonging to the Archbishop of Canterbury; the income from its rents and tithes supplied the monks at Christ Church Canterbury with their clothing, and a 'church' is mentioned.[5] The parish was called St Mary, Newington, which church occupied the southwest side of today's southern roundabout, near the Tabernacle, and was first recorded by name in 1222.[5]

In May 1557, William Morant, Stephen Gratwick and a man named King, known as the Marian Persecutions.[6]

St Mary's Church was rebuilt in 1720 and completely replaced in 1790, to a design of Francis Hurlbatt. Within another hundred years this too was to be demolished, with its replacement on Kennington Park Road ready in 1876.[7] It was destroyed by bombing in 1940 during the Second World War.[7] The remains of the tower and an arch were incorporated into its replacement of 1958. The open space is still known as St Mary's Churchyard, and the narrow pedestrian walk at its south end is Churchyard Row.

There is record of a 'hospital' before the Reformation. In 1601 the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers erected St Peter's Hospital, i.e. almshouses, on the site of the present London College of Communication. This expanded and survived until 1850, when it was removed to Wandsworth. The Drapers' livery company created Walters' Almshouses on a site now at the southern junction island in 1640, giving the tower block opposite the name Draper House. The almshouses were relocated to Brandon Street in the 1960s as part of the major redevelopment.

Rise to metropolitan prominence (1750-1900)

Street layout in 1888

The area became increasingly important after the building of [9]

The railway arrived here in 1863 and the first deep-level tube line, now part of the Northern line's City Branch, in 1890. The Bakerloo line terminus was created in 1906. Both the middle-class and working-class populations increased, the first settling on the major roads, the latter on the streets behind these. However, the area declined socially at the Walworth side.

In the 19th century the nationally famed Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon built the Metropolitan Tabernacle here.[10] The building, designed by William Wilmer Pocock,[10] was finished in 1861 and dedicated on 18 March. It was bombed in the blitz but the portico and basement survived and in 1957 the Tabernacle was rebuilt to a new but much smaller design accommodating surviving original features.

During the late 19th century there was a cemetery in the vicinity, but it was built over during London's rapid expansion. A few gravestones remain in St. Mary's Churchyard.

Twentieth century

Peak years: 1900-1939

The area became the location for a thriving shopping area, known as "the Piccadilly (Circus) of South London",[11] with its own department store (William Tarn and Co) and many smaller outlets. Also featured were a shoe factory, a branch of Burton and a renowned hatter.

In 1930, the Trocadero, a monumental neo-gothic picture house seating over 3000 and fitted with the largest Denis Norden, who had worked there in his youth).[12] This was replaced in 1966 by a smaller cinema (the Odeon, known for a time after closure as an Odeon in 1982 as the Coronet, not to be confused with the Coronet below) which was demolished in 1988.

In 1932, another cinema opened across the street, The Coronet. It is now mostly used as a night-club and concert venue.[13] At the time it seated over 2000 people, and was an art-deco conversion of the Elephant and Castle theatre, opened in 1879 on the site of the short-lived Theatre Royal (built in 1872 and burnt down six years later). It was reconstructed in 1882 and again in 1902.

One monument to cinema still remains just off the Elephant, the Cinema Museum is a volunteer-run museum with screenings of classic cinema and a vast collection of cinema memorabilia. It is located in the old workhouse where Charlie Chaplin spent time as a child.

World War II

The Elephant was the centre of the target zone for the German air raids on London on 10 May 1941 and suffered "raging fires".[14][15]

Post-war rebuilding (1945-2000)

The shopping centre, built in the 1960s and scheduled for demolition in 2012, but by 2014 still in existence.

The major development of the 1960s consisted of post-war reconstruction to a larger metropolitan plan, much of it replacing properties destroyed by bombing in World War II. Alexander Fleming House (1959), originally a group of government office blocks and now Metro Central Heights residential complex, is a prime example of the work of the Hungarian modernist architect Ernő Goldfinger.

The shopping centre, designed by Boissevain & Osmond for the Willets Group, was opened in March 1965. It was the first covered shopping mall in Europe,[16] with 120 shops on three levels and a two-storey underground car-park. In the sales brochure (1963), Willets claimed it to be the “largest and most ambitious shopping venture ever to be embarked upon in London. In design planning and vision it represents an entirely new approach to retailing, setting standards for the sixties that will revolutionise shopping concepts throughout Britain.” When it opened, budget restrictions meant that the proportions and finishes of the building had had to be scaled down and only 29 out of a possible 120 shops were trading.

The Elephant is the location of the London College of Communication, formerly the London College of Printing, an internationally renowned dedicated college, part of University of the Arts London. The present structure was constructed during the redevelopment of the area in the early 1960s.

In 1974 the [19] The estate was once a popular place to live, the flats being thought light and spacious,[20] but the estate later developed a reputation for crime, poverty and dilapidation.[21]

21st century: regeneration


The Elephant was to have been served by the Cross-River Tram,[22] which was cancelled in 2008 due to budgetary constraints.[23]

In 2010, the southern roundabout was converted to traffic light operation, with the creation of new cycle lanes and pedestrian crossings.[24] This included the removal of the pedestrian subways, described as "unpopular and imtimidating" by a local councillor. [25]

However, in 2014 the Elephant & Castle junction was still "Britain’s highest cycle casualty roundabout",[26] prompting a TfL proposal to remove the northern roundabout as part of £4bn package of road improvements targeting cycle safety.[27]

Housing and gentrification

Construction of the new leisure centre and 'One the Elephant' residential tower, in March 2014. The Strata tower, completed in 2010, is seen in the background, with Victorian terraced houses in the foreground.

In recent times the area has had a reputation for successful ethnic diversity and centrality. The area's proximity to major areas of employment, including Westminster, the West End and the City, has meant that a certain amount of gentrification has taken place[28] - this can be seen in an increase in high-quality restaurants in the area. There are many popular Colombian meeting places including "La Bodeguita" and "Distriandina". Local restaurants such as the Chinese Dragon Castle have been praised by critics, and The Lobster Pot has featured in the Harden's guide top ten.

The area is now subject to a master-planned redevelopment budgeted at £1.5 billion. A Development Framework was approved by Southwark Council in 2004. It covers 170 acres (688,000 m²) and envisages restoring the Elephant to the role of major urban hub for inner South London that it occupied before World War II[1].

A substantial amount of post-World War II social housing that is deemed to have failed will be demolished, including the Heygate Estate, replaced with developments consisting of a mix of social and private-sector housing. This portion of the site is being developed by Lend Lease [2]. There have also been moves to protect the last of the architecturally important tenement blocks nearby through the creation of a conservation area covering the Pullens buildings.

As of 2014, numerous tall residential buildings have been approved or are under construction, in addition to the 148m Strata SE1 tower completed in 2010. These include One the Elephant (124m),[29] "360 tower" (134m) [30] and Eileen House (134m).[31] Southwark Council is also building a new leisure centre due to open in 2015, to replace the previous Castle centre, which closed in 2012.[32]

Some local residents are maintaining the Southwark Notes website that takes a critical look at the regeneration. [3] The Elephant Amenity Network is a local group promoting a 'Charter for Community Inclusion and a Better Quality of Life for All' and campaigning for 'a regeneration that benefits local people'. [4]

London's growing Latin American population, which has largely resided at the Elephant since the 1980s, are also taking part in the regeneration project. Plans are being made to build new shops and homes to transform it into a "Latin American corridor".[33][34]

Famous residents

In the middle of the northern junction island is the Michael Faraday Memorial, a large stainless steel box built in honour of Michael Faraday, who was born nearby. It contains an electrical substation for the Northern line of the London Underground.

Famous former residents include Charlie Chaplin[35] and Michael Caine, who were born and grew up locally.[36] Electronic musician Aphex Twin once lived in a converted bank in the area.

Appearances in popular culture

The Elephant is featured on the cover of The High Llamas' "Beet Maize & Corn" album (2003) in a painting by Jeremy Glogan.


  1. ^ a b c Albert Jack (3 September 2009). The Old Dog and Duck: The Secret Meanings of Pub Names. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 95–97.  
  2. ^ William Shakespeare. "Twelfth Night". MIT. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "A History of the Elephant & Castle (Part One)". Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  4. ^ World Wide Words: Elephant and Castle
  5. ^ a b Darlington, Ida (1955). "The manor of Walworth and parish of St. Mary, Newington". Survey of London: volume 25: St George's Fields (The parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington). British History Online. pp. 81–90. Retrieved 2014-09-16. 
  6. ^ Amos Blanchard (1844). Book of Martyrs: Or, A History of the Lives, Sufferings and Triumphant Deaths of the Primitive and Protestant Martyrs, from the Introduction of Christianity, to the Latest Periods of Pagan, Popish, Protestant, and Infidel Persecutions.... N. G. Ellis. p. 272. 
  7. ^ a b Darlington, Ida (1955). "Survey of London: volume 25: St George's Fields (The parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington)". The Church of St Mary, Newington. British History Online. pp. 91–94. Retrieved 2014-09-16. 
  8. ^ "Southwark". - A History of South-east London suburbs. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  9. ^ Ida Darlington (editor). "St George's Fields - Enclosure and development". British History Online. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  10. ^ a b John Richardson (2000). The Annals of London: A Year-by-year Record of a Thousand Years of History. University of California Press. p. 285.  
  11. ^ "Heygate Estate residents fight compulsory purchase order". BBC News. 29 August 2012. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  12. ^ "History". The Trocadero Wurlitzer Trust. Retrieved 2014-09-16. 
  13. ^ Coronet | The Coronet Theatre London
  14. ^ Mortimer, Gavin. The Bombing of London on 10 May 1941. The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2005. p. 18, 251.
  15. ^ "Blitz WW2 – The Battle of London". Military History Monthly. 22 January 2011. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  16. ^ "Reinventing the high street: Elephant and Castle's transformation". The Daily Telegraph (London). 14 October 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  17. ^ Moss, Stephen (4 March 2011). "The death of a housing ideal". The Guardian (London). 
  18. ^ Collins, Michael (23 December 2001). "The Elephant's grave yard". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  19. ^ "Design for Social Sustainability : A Framework for Creating Thriving New Communities". Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  20. ^ Walker, Peter (3 September 2010). "South London's Heygate estate mourned by locals – and Hollywood". 'The Guardian'. 
  21. ^ "Heygate estate". BBC London. Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  22. ^ London Assembly Transport Committee (2008-10). "Cross River Tram". London Assembly. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  23. ^ BBC News (6 November 2008). "TfL scraps projects and cuts jobs". BBC. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  24. ^ "Elephant & Castle southern roundabout to be removed by 11 October". London SE1. 28 September 2010. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  25. ^ "Elephant and Castle's 'intimidating' subways closed". BBC News. 17 January 2011. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  26. ^ Matthew Beard, Transport Editor (26 February 2014). "£290m plan to make London roundabouts safer and less threatening to cyclists". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  27. ^ BBC News (4 March 2004). "£4bn plan to revamp London's roads announced". BBC. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  28. ^ Mapping gentrification: The great inversion | The Economist
  29. ^ One The Elephant: Lend Lease aims to cash in on Hyde Park effect [3 December 2012]
  30. ^ Boris: work starts next year on 44-storey Elephant & Castle tower [14 July 2013]
  31. ^ Eileen House: Boris Johnson approves Newington Causeway tower [19 December 2013]
  32. ^ The Castle leisure centre | The Castle leisure centre | Southwark Council
  33. ^ London SE1 website team London SE1 community website. "Lib Dems promise ‘Latin American corridor’ from Elephant to Stockwell [26 April 2010]". Retrieved 6 December 2012. 
  34. ^ London SE1 website team London SE1 community website. "Latin Americans must take full part in Elephant & Castle regeneration says London Assembly chair [21 April 2009]". Retrieved 6 December 2012. 
  35. ^ "Charlie Chaplin". The Workhouse. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  36. ^ "Michael Caine interview - for his autobiography The Elephant to Hollywood". Daily Telegraph. 4 October 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 

External links

  • Map of Elephant and Castle and surrounding districts
  • Flickr photo pool
  • Elephant and Castle regeneration masterplan
  • A Short History of the Elephant and Castle and Its Name
  • What is the origin of Elephant and Castle?
  • The Story of the Elephant and Castle name
  • The History of Elephant and Castle
  • Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre -
  • Elephant and Castle Roundabout "Making a Space a Place"
  • Time Out article about the Shopping centre, September 2006
  • Save the Elephant Shopping Centre
  • Multiplex unveils Elephant skyscraper plan - London-SE1, 5 December 2005
  • Clinton praises redevelopment of Elephant and Castle - BBC News, 19 May 2009
  • Elephant and Castle -
  • Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre on The Retail Database
  • in Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre
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