Exploring Elephant and Castle

Beyond the disorienting concrete roundabout, the derelict hollow hallways of the doomed Heygate Estate and the few Colombian restaurants I’ve been to on numerous occasions (La Bodeguita and Leños & Carbón), I admit I don’t know too much about the Elephant and Castle.

I was invited on a walking tour of the area last week with blue badge guide Sophie Campbell. She lead us first to the Cuming Museum on Walworth Road, a tiny place with an odd selection of objects.

I’m not a museum person, but it did have some interesting stuff. Bear grease imported from Russia, used to smooth men’s hair in the Victorian days. Information about Southwark’s connection to the slave trade.

We stopped into London’s oldest apothecary G Baldwin & Co. Poked our noses around the glass jars with interesting labels and the very old sets of catalogue drawers.

The rain started to spit down, as it has been doing incessantly this summer, but we made our way down to Amelia Street, a fascinating little piece of history, Victorian terraces with open front doorways backing onto Pullens Yard.

This is a fabulous little cobbled alleyway, quietly inviting, lined with artist studios, most of which are still used for their original purpose.

100 years ago or so, these red-door studios included everything from industrial clog makers for the Fire Service, manufacturers of x-ray machinery, bookbinders and furniture restorers.

There was even a ceremonial swords maker to the Lord Mayor of London.

Now, in Pullens Yard, you will find ceramicists, jewellers, graphic designers, web-designers, furniture designers, film makers, photographers, writers and film-costume makers to name a few.

Many of the doors are open. Twice a year, the artists hold open studios for the public.

At the end of Pullen’s Yard, we came to the Electric Elephant cafe, where a kind woman brought us cupcakes with elephants on them.

The address for the Electric Elephant is 86a Crampton Street, Walworth, London SE17 3BF. If you mention my blog until July 31st, you’ll get a free coffee.

We chatted about the controversial plans for regeneration of Elephant and Castle, the street art of Leake Street and the very interesting history of the original building that now houses the Cinema Museum.

It used to be a workhouse where families who were poor would be sent to work.

The men separate from the women and the kids send down to a school in another area of the city. Charlie Chaplin spent some time there as a child.

At this point, we headed up to the Imperial War Museum and I skipped out on the second half of the tour to run back to work.

There is a very interesting mixture of architecture.

And buried in it, tons of stories.

Parts of it have that fun Latino vibe and a great place to pick up food from South America.

The shopping centre with its dodgy characters hanging about the traffic jammed road system really don’t do much for offering a first impression.

I have a few friends who lived there for ages and they just adore the area.

I don’t often go on tours in London, but it made me realise that although it still feels like a dodgy part of town, there’s plenty to explore and a whole lot of history in the old Elephant and Castle. It’s definitely a colourful place.

10 comments on “Exploring Elephant and Castle

  1. The first place I lived in London was Elephant & Castle, just off the Walworth road in these hidden away pretty little streets – it’s always going to have a special place in my heart

    • Not that dodgy though really is it? The occasional mental patient from the Maudsley in Camberwell and the odd stabbing… Pretty good going for London!

  2. Nice article Steph, I used to find the old areas of London so interesting when I lived there and you have made some of those little tidbits of information even more interesting. Nice photography to match

  3. Interesting post! I’ve visited E&C, but pretty much stuck just to the area around the roundabout. I appreciate the more in-depth tour, and I’m definitely going to check out that cafe!

  4. Pingback: London Street Art: Pearly Whites at the Heygate Estate | Little London Observationist

  5. Pingback: …And a Happy New Year! | Little London Observationist

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