Elephant and Castle is a vibrant neighbourhood just south of the River Thames in central London
Elephant and Castle is a vibrant neighbourhood just south of the River Thames in central London. A key transport node, a familiar landmark and home to thousands of people, it is also an area in transition; a major regeneration programme is underway, with over £3bn of public and private money being invested in the area.
This website explains what’s happening and why. It covers what’s been achieved so far and what’s still to come.
Elephant and Castle has a long and fascinating history, with a rich culture that has been strengthened by successive new arrivals to the neighbourhood. And, with two local universities, a flourishing arts scene and a strong Latin American influence, the area is imbued with a particularly youthful, energetic and creative spirit.
The area’s origins lie in its location at the intersection of several major routes into the historic core of London and, to this day, it remains one of the city’s most important transport hubs, making it one of the most accessible places in London.
It has two underground stations, a mainline rail station, 28 bus routes, excellent road connections and one of London’s first Cycle Superhighways, linking the Elephant to King’s Cross.
The area was once famed as the ‘Piccadilly of the South’ – a central hub of entertainment, which regularly drew in thousands of Londoners. Though less palpable today, it nonetheless maintains that spirit.
At this time of change, with a major regeneration programme well underway, the Elephant is building on this energy, making the most of its central London location. There are plans for new theatres and cinemas, places to eat and shop, or just to sit. Elephant and Castle will become a revitalised town centre, a destination for visitors, as well as a great neighbourhood in which to live, work and learn.
A brief history
The place we now call Elephant and Castle started life as two prosperous villages
The place we now call Elephant and Castle started life as two prosperous villages, Walworth and Newington, set among market gardens, fields and open marshland.
During the eighteenth century, as new bridges were built over the Thames, the area was transformed into a fashionable Georgian commuter suburb and by the Victorian period, industry and transport had led to a population increase. By the end of the century, the area was home to a diverse mix of people, living in everything from large detached Georgian homes to modest almshouses and traditional terraces.
It was between the 1890s and the 1940s that Elephant and Castle really came to life, giving it its nickname, the ‘Piccadilly of the South’. Residents had top quality entertainment on their doorstep: the Elephant and Castle Theatre, the Trocadero and the 4,000-seater South London Palace of Varieties all played host to the stars of the day, including Dan Leno and Marie Lloyd. Other entertainment and leisure facilities included dance palaces, ‘penny gaff’ theatres and the Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall.
Commerce boomed, with grand new department stores like Rabbit’s Shoes, Hurlock’s and William Tarn & Co. Religion and welfare were originally centred on the ancient church of St Mary in Newington. Nearby, a huge Baptist church – the Metropolitan Tabernacle (which still exists today) was built for CH Spurgeon, ‘the prince of preachers’, while the Lock Hospital was located near Lock Fields, the site of the present-day Elephant Park development. Housing included the Drapers’ Almshouses in Cross Street, terraces of townhouses in New Kent Road and elegant mansions, some of which still exist in Marlborough Place.
During the War, bombing destroyed much of the area
Best of all, Elephant and Castle was easy to get to. 1829 had seen the arrival of the horse bus followed by the first overland rail link in 1862. In 1890, London Underground’s Northern Line reached the area and, soon after came electric trams in 1903, motorbuses in 1904 and the Baker Street and Waterloo (now Bakerloo) Line in 1906.
Although Elephant and Castle thrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it also faced many problems. Slum developments grew up to house the expanding population and many residents faced increasingly poor living conditions.
During the Second World War, bombing destroyed much of the area and, subsequently, 50 acres were identified for redevelopment. High density, slab-block estates and a large gyratory road system replaced terraced streets and bombsites. The dance hall at the roundabout’s centre was replaced with an electricity substation named the Michael Faraday Memorial, in honour of the local scientist who pioneered research into electricity.
In the early 1960s, the Elephant and Castle shopping centre was built, the first of its kind in Europe. This has been one of the defining aspects of the district ever since, and it is one of the main elements of the current regeneration programme.