Elephant and Castle: an Area of Gigantic Proportions
Take advantage of the exciting area on the cusp of dramatic upheaval.
Elephant and Castle is a generally much overlooked part of central London. It currently rests uneasily in the midst of a fiery and just debate about the ethics of gentrification. At the moment it is undergoing a rapid change due to an increasing number of redevelopments fast overthrowing the social convention it has accumulated since the 1960s. Certainly, it was not an area without its issues: the social housing built there during that time was first looked to with hopeful eyes of a new style of inner-city living, though gained a reputation for poverty and crime as time went on. However, it naturally flows that as the prices increase in other areas of the capital, creative types flow into more affordable areas, and those artists are then followed by the class of the gentry. We are now at the last section of that cycle. The social housing has recently been demolished, forcefully relocating its 3,000 inhabitants: a mere drop in the ocean that is seeing large communities pushed further and further afield out of sight. I feel the need to mention that I lived in a warehouse there before the demolition, in a small, eccentric commune of writers, photographers and artists. What was striking was the vibrancy of the area: the intermingling of different cultures, and the possibilities that arose from working in an area on the cusp of upheaval. Exhibitions and parties were constant, drawing in all manner of exciting individuals from every creative field imaginable. Luckily, this is still very much the case at the moment and looks set to continue for the next 10 years or so whilst the finalities of gentrification take place. The area has become a hotbed of students due to a handful of universities extending their campuses to Elephant and Castle: namely, the London Southbank University and the London College of Communication. The area has a host of interesting things to do and is worth a full day of exploration, though truly comes alive at night (especially during the summer). Now is the time to experience what Elephant and Castle has to offer, as this in-between zone tends to accumulate young artistic entrepreneurs: allowing the individual to have a sensation of cultural diversity, whilst also gaining an insight into what the future of gentrification holds. A host of pop-up exhibitions and launches take place there regularly, though unfortunately due to their transient nature it is impossible to provide a calendar of upcoming events or list by name the small groups of people who are at the helm of this stimulating social scene. Regardless, its permanent fixtures (for the moment) are a hotbed of entertainment.
Shopping is best described as ‘bags of fun’ in Elephant. This is because due to the cheap nature of local stores and stalls, you will end up with literal bags upon bags of items at the end of the trip. Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre houses small stores that have a cacophony of odd imports and local foods. East Street Market is open most days of the week and is great for African and Caribbean fruit and vegetables, material and household goods. In general, the area is particularly good for cheap fabrics for those of a more creative temperament. There are quite a few Asian supermarkets that stock bounties of items and are easy to get pleasantly lost in. Pound Shops are plentiful, meaning that it’s a perfect location to buy fun gifts in their bundles (and very reasonably priced glue).
Nightlife in Elephant and Castle has been dominated by the presence of the Ministry of Sound since 1991. The location of their original club is still partying on and keeping it real, making it a sure-fire item on any party-goers bucket list. Around the corner is Corsica studios, a multi-room venue with a stripped back aesthetic which makes it an ideal location for their ever-changing line up of small club nights and live gigs. For the young at heart a trip to the London Palace Superbowl is a brilliant way to spend an evening with a few friends and a few beers. For the sharks amongst you, Riley American Pool & Snooker club is the place to be.
Food in Elephant and Castle is the reserve of small restaurants, with the exception of The Artworks Elephant. To be fair, it’s more of a multi-disciplinary mish-mash of restaurants, studio spaces and shops, but is an exciting new mish-mash of styles and cultures. In terms of pubs, The Grand Union is a good mixture of gastro-pub and local pint-puller. Notable restaurants consist of Dragon Castle, a hearty and authentic Cantonese establishment that does wonderful dim sum from 12pm-4 30pm every day, and The Lobster Pot: an elegant French seafood restaurant which is ideal for couples.
There is no shortage of culture in Elephant and Castle. The Cinema Museum houses a unique collection of artefacts, memorabilia and equipment that preserves the history and spirit from the 1890s to the present day. Fittingly enough, it is located in the Old Workhouse which is where Charlie Chaplin spent a lot of his time as a child. The Coronet Theatre has been transformed into a well-known live music venue. The Metropolitan Tabernacle is a beautiful turn-of-the-century homage to Neo-Classical architecture which remains an active Reformed Baptist Church that stands a centrepiece to the area.