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Elephants and castles

Today it’s time for a wander around part of Southwark with a heavy-footed and well endowed companion.

Come lumber with me.

This is just a random stroll, with no specific directions. We’ll go where our sense of intrigue takes us. There’s a great mix of architecture, old and new, for us to admire, especially on this well lit (for now) autumn day.

Elephant & Castle, London, November 2019

Let’s talk about the name of this area before we explore. The name of Elephant & Castle seems to refer back to a coaching inn of the same name. There is a written reference to this inn as far back as March 1765. And Shakespeare mentions the Elephant in Twelfth Night, when Antonio recommends some overnight accommodation: “In the south suburbs, at the Elephant, is best to lodge.” The castle part of the name is thought to be the howdah, the carriage borne by an elephant or camel.

There are also theories that the Elephant & Castle name came from an English misinterpretation of a Spanish name – “La Infanta de Castilla” – a term used for a series of Spanish princesses, including Eleanor of Castile. Though this is doubtful when dates and actual names are considered.

Enough of the history and etymology though, let’s enjoy the area, with its tall, modern buildings and the glimmer of metal in the sun.

For something more traditional, there is some attractive brickwork and a stagger of arched windows at the side of the mainline station. It’s also worth a look at the bright colours of the small businesses under the arches here, most of which are run by the local Latin American community.

And don’t miss the underground station – one of them is located in a traditional building, with a modern, green side to it.

Perhaps better known to the area, is the 1960s shopping centre, where the model elephant and its castle stand. The centre was designed by Boissevain & Osmond for the Willets Group and opened in March 1965. It carries the fame of being the first covered shopping mall in Europe.

Both the elephant and the shopping centre have lost their sheen over the years and the plan is to replace the centre with housing, modern retail facilities and a new campus for London College of Communication. Demolition was officially approved by London mayor Sadiq Khan in 1918, but there are no signs of its removal yet.

Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, London, November 2019

From here it is just a short walk to the Imperial War Museum and the charming Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park. Or you can hop on a train to Blackfriars and enjoy the Thames and the South Bank. For now, I’ll leave you with a bit of greenery from the park.

Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, London, November 2019



Copyright Debbie Smyth, 11 November 2019

Posted as part of Jo’s Monday Walks

9 replies »

  1. Love the ‘stagger of windows’, Debs! Superb turn of phrase. 🙂 🙂 I don’t think I’ve done more than pass by in the distance, on a bus, but the name has always intrigued. Nice to see the reality. There is so much competition in London with modern architecture. Hopefully when it happens they’ll make a good job… Thanks for walking with me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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