Short version: Seeing the Elephant in Sarf London. One of our South London “specials.” Specialist guided. Yes, this one’s curated – come out of the teeming mind, that overflowing storehouse of local knowledge – by our south London specialist, Isobel.
Long version: Let’s run the film backwards. The £1.5 billion 21st century regeneration programme. The clumsy 1950s redevelopment. The devastation visited upon Elephant & Castle by the Luftwaffe. Before all that – including before the junction’s being overwhelmed by motor traffic – this being a locality where people came to socialise, shop and be entertained. The French observer observing on the eve of World War I ” South London’s central edifice is a public house – the Elephant & Castle.” The railway’s pitching up. The Metropolitan Tabernacle pitching up (the portico survives). The local-boy- made-good story – Michael Faraday and his pioneering work on electricity. The tavern becoming a coaching halt and giving its name to the junction. The smithy being converted, about 1760, to a tavern. In 1641 John Flaxman setting up a blacksmith’s forge on an island site here to take advantage of the passing horse-drawn traffic. Outside chance that Shakespeare alluded to it in Twelfth Night (Antonio and Sebastian’s decision to lodge “in the south suburbs, at the Elephant”). So, yes, Elephant & Castle’s a palimpsest. And since, as the Forensic Scientists say, “every contact leaves a trace,” it’s fun to work back through this textbook example of the game London plays better than any other city in the world: the Regeneration Game. And into the bargain get to know a quintessential south London neighbourhood.
WALKING THE ELEPHANT – THE PRACTICALS
The Walking the Elephant – The Regeneration Game walk takes place at 14:30 am on Sunday, March 15.
Meet Isobel just outside the Southbank University exit of Elephant & CastleTube.
LONDON WALKS BAGATELLE
Isobel sometimes starts this walk by saying “the station you’ve just arrived at ‘midwived’ the first baby born on the Tube. It was 1924. Her name was Marie Cordery (though several newspapers got carried away and ran tales crediting her with names that began with the initials T.U.B.E.).” Glee. What fun it is to know stuff like that.