THE elephant

There’s something stirring in Southwark by Robert Preece


with a £5billion regeneration planned for the next 15 years, Elephant and Castle is quickly becoming one of the most intriguing parts of London. The transformation aims to return Elephant and Castle to the bustling south London hub that it was over half a century ago. Due to the influence of harsh postwar architectural plans, it would seem that the only part of Elephant and Castle not set in stone is the origin of its curious name.

Local historians suppose the name derives from that of a coaching inn or blacksmiths turned public house that served the area for over 200 years – yet the reason why a landlord would call his pub, The Elephant and Castle, is unknown. Perhaps it was to sound more exotic. Perhaps it was due to a connection with the Worshipful Company of Cutlers and their crest which does depict an elephant with some sort of castle or howdah on its back. The more romantic hypothesis is that the title references La Infanta de Castilla, a series of Spanish princesses or maybe Eleanor of Castile, the wife of Edward I.

Today Elephant and Castle’s neglected centre is home to a number of grey monolithic buildings, one of which is a dated shopping centre – built in 1965, and actually the first of its kind in Europe. These tall commercial and residential blocks loom over the area and surround a claustrophobic traffic circulation.


“Elephant and Castle is clearly an ideal candidate for change; but what do the plans entail?

elephant_13_09_4Still, it’s not all doom and gloom in Elephant and Castle. Scratch just beneath the surface and discover its rich history: housing 150 listed buildings, 3 conservation areas and the bustling East Street Market which has been running since 1880. This market has seen The Elephant in its pomp, once renowned for its entertainment and night life, brimming with taverns and theatres. Nowadays the market sells clothing, fruit and vegetables, cosmetics, you name it; and together with some of the minority businesses in the shopping centre, East Street gives Elephant and Castle a real sense of community – a rare find in zone 1.

With its tight community, vibrant history and central location, as well as numerous transport connections and two University campuses, Elephant and Castle is clearly an ideal candidate for change; but what do the plans entail?


The transformation will cover all areas: residential, commercial and cultural. It will see the introduction of 3,000 new homes in total, already complete is the Strata tower – one of the largest residential buildings in London and a prominent feature of its ever changing skyline.

elephant_13_09_5The Elephant’s growing community will enjoy a brand new leisure centre, extended transport through a new Northern line station, and a social centre in the form of a new market square designed to support East Street Market. There are plans for 45,000 square feet of new shops, incorporating the rebuilding of Elephant and Castle’s renowned 1960s shopping centre; the new structure will include housing and, as well as many more shops, will continue outwards into the area’s pedestrianized centre as a high street.

Further encouraging visitors into the area will be investment into its arts and music scene, the opening of many restaurants and bars, and the creation of several more green spaces – combatting the area’s concrete jungle reputation. With this huge development comes a series of complex arrangements, one of the largest and most controversial being the demolition of the notorious Heygate Estate. Still, this step is undoubtedly crucial in kick-starting a regeneration which, promising pedestrianized, tree lined streets and fresh green spaces, should see Elephant and Castle become one of London’s most desirable destinations.

Over the next fifteen years, these dramatic changes are sure to restore The Elephant to the lively social and cultural hub it once was, allowing it to regain its title as the ‘Piccadilly Circus’ of south London.


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