The place we now call the Elephant & Castle started life as two prosperous villages, Walworth and Newington, set among market gardens, fields and open marshland. Between the 1890s and the 1940s, Elephant & Castle really began to come to life. The area was home to a diverse mix of people, living in everything from modest almshouses to traditional terraces. Known as the “Piccadilly of South London”, residents had top quality entertainment on their doorstep: the Elephant & Castle Theatre, the Trocadero and the 4,000-seater South London Palace of Varieties, played host to the stars of the day, including Dan Leno and Marie Lloyd. There were also dance palaces, “penny gaff” theatres, the Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall, and The Coronet, which opened as the Theatre Royal in 1872.


Commerce boomed, with grand new department stores like Rabbit’s Shoes and Hurlock’s. Nearby, a huge Baptist church – the Metropolitan Tabernacle – was built for CH Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers”, while the Lock Hospital for Lepers was located near Lock Fields, the site of the Heygate Estate. Housing included the Drapers’ Almshouses in Cross Street, terraces of townhouses in New Kent Road and elegant mansions, some of which still exist in Marlborough Place. Best of all, the Elephant & Castle was easy to get to. 1829 had seen the arrival of the horse bus, along with the first overland rail link in 1862. In 1890, London Underground’s Northern Line reached the area and was quickly followed by electric trams in 1903, motorbuses in 1904 and the Baker Street and Waterloo (now Bakerloo) line in 1906. To find out more about the history of Elephant and Castle, there are places in the area you can visit. Check out Southwark Heritage Centre and Walworth Library.