Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
For the many thousands who pass through the Elephant and Castle every day, the model of the Elephant and Castle outside the shopping centre is a familiar sight, a symbol of the more decorative architecture of a previous age before the brutal rebuilding of the area in the 1960s.
The area takes its name from a coaching inn and later public house that stood south of where the Faraday Memorial electrical sub-station is today. The first written reference to the Elephant and Castle was in 1765 and the pub was rebuilt in 1816, again in 1898, and finally pulled down in 1959 to make way for the new road system. There are various theories as to why the pub was so called, some say an early owner was a member of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers whose emblem is the Elephant and Castle, and some say it was chosen simply as a heraldic symbol. And there is the story that it is a corruption of the words “La Infanta de Castilla”, a Spanish princess who is said to have stayed in the area. This last may have its origins more in South Londoners’ love of a play on words and a good yarn rather than historical accuracy!
The area was badly bombed during the war and underwent major reconstruction that began in the late 1950s which incorporated a new road layout to accommodate increased traffic from six major roads. The pub stood between Newington Butts and what was then the beginning of the Walworth Road and with the pub demolished and the Northern line station which was next to it moved to the east, these two roads were merged into one to make a wide dual carriageway which retained the name Newington Butts. The London County Council were keen to retain the Elephant and Castle pub and a new pub with this name was built east of the roundabout on Newington Causeway.
The model of the Elephant and Castle outside the shopping centre is made of bronze and once stood high on top of the pub above the intersection St George’s Road, London Road and Newington Causeway. When the pub was demolished it was removed and stored, and reappeared within the newly built shopping centre, the first covered mall to be built in Europe. It was later moved outside again to its present location and painted with perhaps Southwark Council showing their whimsical side when they chose to paint the elephant pink.
For further reading, Elephant & Castle: A History (2013) by Stephen Humphrey is recommended.