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.
THE GROWTH OF ELEPHANT & CASTLE
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.
Elephant & Castle, like much of London, suffered extensive war damage during the Second World War.
Many of the new buildings and developments that went up in the 1960s were of poor quality and quickly deteriorated, giving the area a run-down appearance. The huge scale of many of the structures, such as the shopping centre, the Heygate Estate and the northern roundabout, made it hard for the area to adapt and grow in the way that other parts of London were able to.
Features that were innovative in the 1960s, like subways and raised walkways, have instead created a closed and poorly connected environment.
Transport links are still excellent, but traffic now completely dominates the area, with volumes as large as the M1 motorway was designed to handle. The highway separates pedestrians from the central shopping area, and the northern roundabout made connections baffling – so even Elephant & Castle’s traditional role as a transport hub has been undermined.
In 2002, Southwark Council took the decision that the only way to improve Elephant & Castle was to remove the physical barriers blighting the area, and bring a fresh approach to the design and layout.
BACKGROUND TO THE REGENERATION PROGRAMME
In 2002, the Greater London Authority published the London Plan, setting out a vision for the development of the capital. As well as establishing a framework for more jobs and homes, the 2002 plan identified key areas for growth across London, including Elephant & Castle.
The London Plan provided a clear context within which Southwark Council could work, and the Council went on to draw up its own Southwark Plan. Following this, in 2004 Southwark Council published a development framework for Elephant & Castle, which was then adopted as a supplementary planning guidance (SPG) for the area.
The SPG included a comprehensive regeneration ‘master plan’, describing where, how and what regeneration might take place. The SPG includes details of the council’s aspirations for jobs, housing, community safety, transport, education, shopping, health and more.
In July 2007, Southwark Council selected Lendlease as its preferred master development partner for the regeneration of Elephant & Castle and a Regeneration Agreement between the two was signed in July 2010.
The regeneration then took a major step forward in 2012 when Lendlease submitted three planning applications for its three sites and, in January 2013, received outline planning permission for the Elephant Park Masterplan.
Lendlease started construction in May 2013, with the project set for completion by 2025.
To find out more about the wider plan for the Elephant & Castle Opportunity Area please visit this website.