London is home to 270 underground rail stations, many with unusual names.
From Angel to Burnt Oak, Chalk Farm to Seven Sisters, the monikers have been a part of London’s history since the first tube train embarked from Paddington station on 9 January, 1863.
The origins of these names date back much further, however. Elephant & Castle, or ‘The Elephant’, as it is known locally, is perhaps one of the more bizarre names on the map and Elephant & Castle’s history is as rich as any other London locale. But where does the name come from?
Elephant & Castle has been a major road junction in the capital since Roman times.
Elephant & Castle: Origin story
In 1765, a coaching inn called the Elephant and Castle established itself to offer a welcome retreat for coach traffic coming in and out of the south of London.
It is possible there was some form of tavern even earlier than this, however, because there is a reference to the ‘Elephant’ in Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night, which was written around 1601.
‘In the south suburbs, at the Elephant, is best to lodge’, wrote the playwright.
The first landlord may have chosen the name Elephant and Castle in homage to a group of medieval craftsmen who made swords and knives. Called the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, its crest, granted in 1622, shows an elephant carrying a castle.
The story goes that the elephant’s tusks symbolised the ivory handles and the high regard in which the cutlers’ implements were held, while the castle illustrated the sheer size of the elephant.
The coaching inn, which later became a pub, served this area of south London well, but was demolished in 1959 after suffering huge damage during the wars.
However, the name – and the popular drinking spot – lives on, and the Elephant & Castle pub continues to welcome customers at its current location on Newington Causeway.