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.

The Old Heygate Estate

My aunt sent me a few paperback books she found in a thrift shop a few months ago. They were part of a project by the London College of Communication’s photojournalism students to track the re-development of Elephant & Castle over the next decade. She sent me the first two photo books called Home and Community. Many of the documentary style photos in these books focus on the famous Heygate Estate and the people who once inhabited this massive building that is about to be demolished.

The Heygate, which once held 1,200 families, is nearly fully empty now, the residents forced out, some who had lived their entire lives in that building. It’s reputation for crime, poverty and dilapidation has been sited as a main reason for the regeneration. After looking at the LCC books, I wanted to go explore myself. It was nearly empty and easy to find my way into the building, but most of the corridors were fully sealed off already.

Here’s a few shots from inside, and some of the view looking out from the top:
Heygate Staircase

Empty Flats


Heygate Tenants Association

The Fast Train

No More Post

Living Here

End of the Hall


Abandoned Halls

Looking Down

Council Estate

Garage Graffiti

The Outside World

Crack of Light


Heygate's London Eye


Heygate Pipes

For more on the Heygate, check out these links: