Thursday, 11 August 2005

I *heart* the Elephant and Castle

Slightly Lost advised me to do it as a surprisingly good way of attracting the crowds to one's blog. Unashamedly, here is therefore my version of the "the area where I live" post. I am not really holding my breath but I hope that those of you who make it will enjoy the post and find it interesting.

The view from my window, London - October 2003.

If I mention to someone that I live near Elephant and Castle, they usually wrinkle their nose and mumble something about a pink shopping centre. The area, after being the victim of the Blitz, had to suffer under the assaults of the developers and still hasn't recovered. Metro Central Heights and the facade of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church, which survived the flames twice, are possibly the only two buildings of interest there. The southern part of the Elephant, composed of ugly and unwelcoming estates, together with the infamous shopping center has been mercifully earmarked for regeneration by the council.

Going a few hundred meters north of the round-about, towards Waterloo Station, you will find some fine (although not always in good repair) Georgian terraces forming a conservation area around the lonely St George's Circus and its no less lonesome obelisk.

Although what is now the City of London was for a very long time the main settlement, the southern bank of the Thames seem to have been inhabited, however sparcely, since prehistory. Due to the lower position of the ground level (14m lower than the northern bank), the area was regularly flooded if not altogether part of the then wider bed of the River. The explains the lack of prehistorical remains found in the area.

During the Roman period, however the area finds itself above the average high water of the Thames, leaving space for more permanent, if still sparce, settlements. Its attraction is re-enforced by the convergence of two major roads (from Dover and from Chichester) both bound for London Bridge; then, and for many centuries, the only bridge to cross the River. Many Roman vestiges have been found close by (especially in Borough).

The river levels rose again in the medieval period and the open area known as Southwark Fields would have been periodically flooded. As a result, much of the area was considered unsuitable for permanent settlement and remained undeveloped until the late 18th century. The marshy area, used for pasture, changed name from Southwark Fields to St George's Fields. Habitations were however concentrated around the bridge. The Doomsday Book of 1086 describes a dozen houses, a dock, a trading shore, a herring fishery and a Minster. There was a further settlement called Newington, south of the Fields. Slowly the population increased and the Fields diminished in proportion and started to be used for the disposal of rubbish and sewage while the army used them for manoeuvering. Southwark became a disreputable place, hosting the brothels and other dives rejected by the City's bourgeoisie.

During the Civil War of 1642-9, a fort was built near what would later become the Circus and the defenses of London were extended to this area. After the Great Fire, the Fields became the refuge of the poor people who had lost their accomodations. In the 1760's Blackfriars Bridge was build, necessitating the creation of new roads to access it. St George's Circus was laid in 1770. The area slowly developed during the 19th century together with the Circus. Most of its buildings (with the exception of the Duke of Clarence pub, today slowly mouldering to oblivion) were destroyed during World War II, probably because of the strong industrial character of the area at the time. Although within easy reach of Central London, the area is still suffering from its position in the industrious "sarf ovda rivva" and the unhappy urbanistic choices made after the war.

Compared to what Brockley can boast, we don't have celebrities here, except perhaps Kevin Spacey who can't be living very far (wasn't he recently walking his dog at 4 am in a nearby park?) and (if he can be called a celebrity, that is) Peter Tatchell. That doesn't take much from the area though.

I agree that E&C is not the nicest area in London; however I can't think of any better one to live in (considering my present financial situation, anyway). There are so many buses coming and going from there, that I have given up using the tube months ago. Their is simply no need for it. I can walk home from the West End in about 40 min, crossing the River on the Hungerford/ Golden Jubilee Footbridge and gorging on the view. I have a tiny little room on the third floor of one of the afore-mentioned Georgian terraces with a view on one the Bakerloo Line garages where the trains come to bed late at night with heavy, weary sighs. Although I can not quite see Big Ben (it is hidden by another spire), I can hear it when the wind is right. How much more "in London" can you be?

With thanks to MoLAS.

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  1. Anywhere with a Pink shopping center I would approve of, in this case i'll make an exception. Another famous resident you missed was noted black activist and also embarassingly a childrens TV presenter, Floella Benjamin, How many people from the UK just went, (Oh I remember her?).

    Think I'll stick to my hidden part of London.

    Slightly xxx


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