Ever wondered how Elephant & Castle got its unusual name?

Elephant & Castle’s history is a story to be told. Let us examine the true origins of the area and answer the age old question: how did Elephant & Castle get its name?

Arts and culture
  • 24 Aug 2022
Learn how Elephant & Castle got its name.

London is home to 272 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 has been suggested there was some form of tavern even earlier than this, 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. However, the late historian Stephen Humphrey, who wrote the definitive history of Elephant & Castle, has argued that this reference more likely relates to an establishment called the “Elephant on Bankside”, as Bankside at that time is an area that Shakespeare would have known well.

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.

Elephant & Castle today

Today, Elephant & Castle is home to a diverse community with hundreds of retail opportunities, an outdoor natural play area, and enough restaurants to feed an elephant!

Read our blog to stay up to date on how Elephant Park develops in the future.