Elephant & Castle shopping centre in its dying days

Early last month Southwark Council approved demolition of one of London’s most (in)famous shopping centres. After years of battles, Elephant and Castle shopping centre’s end was given the green light.

Shortly afterwards I traveled to the centre for the first time in a few years to see the site before the wrecking ball comes, which is likely next year.

Broken lights above escalator

It’s some ways it was pretty refreshing to see a centre that hasn’t modernised, such as Bexleyheath’s Broadway which ripped out its characterful ’80s interior around five years ago. Not that it’s a great space – low ceilings and little natural light see to that.

The area was once known as the Piccadilly of south London and housed a 3,000 seater cinema after 1930. World War II saw the end of much of that pre-war splendor.

Interior of Trocadero cinema

The current centre opened in March 1965 to an innovative design for its time. In many ways it set the template for a model that would envelope the country.

Europe’s first covered centre housed120 shops on three floors above two levels of parking and a direct connection to Elephant and Castle station.

Three floors become two as the centre struggled to fill all stores.

Post war love of raised walkways is well in evidence outside as street level access is absent.

Dual carriageways surrounded the building upon opening. They still do despite a major road project in recent years which removed the roundabout and subways.

In recent years the building has always seemed on the verge of closure. Well, more like twenty years. It was painted blue instead of pink a few years ago which lasted about a month before fading and peeling.

Roast pork roast duck please

Many shops still trade. One of the biggest controversies with wholesale redevelopment is what happens to these businesses.

There’s the usual chains and more than a few independent shops. A Polish restaurant was a fixture and south American food is of course in plentiful supply especially in the area below street level.

Many similar centres would see these sub-surface levels baron and empty, though stalls thrive here.

But it’s not just at sub-street level.

All around the site there are signs of change.  Replacement blocks on the controversial redevelopment site of Heygate estate are rising.

In place of the former roundabout is a recent public space which looks pretty sorry. Raised planters seem dotted about at random and already appear faded and neglected.

Half the trees looked just about dead in the dry weather.

What’s next?

In place of the centre will be 979 new homes in towers with many new shops at street level. Of the new homes, 35% of these will be “affordable” with 116 at social rented levels – a tad over 10%.

Public transport benefits through a new Northern Line entrance, escalators and ticket hall.

Existing entrance

Demolition is now scheduled for 2019 after the years-long battle for the site came down in favour of comprehensive redevelopment. If you fancy a but of relatively unchanged 1960s architecture (and some good south American food to boot) get down there soon. Soon it’ll be a popular, but more generic, slice of London.

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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

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