Elephant and Castle, Stick It up Your Arsehole!

A Life of Crime vs. The Free Market Supplemental

‘The Elephant and Castle shopping centre, once a symbol of hope and regeneration could be on its last legs…’ started a BBC article published while I was in the throes of finishing the A Life of Crime… series.

If hearing a similar statement when living nearby—permanently 1984 to 86 and then again 1988 to 99—I would’ve partied hard like it was the latter year.


Elephant and Castle, stick it up your arsehole! Ade Edmondson in Mr Jolly Lives Next Door.


Located next to a huge roundabout (traffic gyratory) system that felt more like a wacky races speedway when driving/riding round, it had a reputation as the shopping centre at the bowels of Hell in no small part thanks to the fact (to quote the above linked BBC article):

‘Many pedestrians could only reach it through murky subterranean walkways.’

True, it could be reached by other routes; it was still the same Elephant and Castle shopping centre, though. Maybe I’d been spoiled spending the initial part of my childhood on London’s border with Croydon, growing-up knowing its massive Whitgift Centre and the array of other shopping immediately adjacent; such as Croydon’s High St with the likes of Allders and the Surrey Street market featured in A Life of Crime…


A Slight Detour to Croydon’s Glorious Whitgift Centre back in The Day

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Sometime in 1986 on a Sunday night, a mate and I left The Star pub in Broad Green at closing (10:30 pm back then) on our motorbikes, having decided it would a good laugh to take a ride round the twists, turns and two levels of the Whitgift Centre. It was.

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Back then there was nothing in place to stop us just roaring right on in bar the couple of young, yet horribly out of shape, security guards who we had a great time avoiding, until deciding to stop, jump off our bikes and start pushing them–engines still going–running fast as we could.

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It gave the guards a chance of catching up. When they did, we claimed we’d been pushing the bikes like that the whole time, and despite it they’d only just caught us. They couldn’t prove different – no CTV. Nonetheless, we were still asked to leave.

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It’s been a long time since seeing the place, but even the last time metal concertina gates that could be closed at night had been put up on the way we rode in. Today the Whitgift Centre is undercover, has tasteless flooring and likewise awful stormtrooper-esque white facades.


In being small, the Elephant was always going to struggle to grab the attention of big stores; and even if it did, the space issue meant it couldn’t accommodate a choice of them.

Furthermore, the nearest ‘adjacent’ shopping to the Elephant is a fifteen/twenty-minute walk away—some of it under a wide, dark and dingy railway bridge—to where shops start on the Walworth Road and run for about a half a mile; the entrance to East Street market situated around halfway into that.

As if recognising its own folly, the shopping centre had squeezed a small outdoor market into a shadowy sunless recess respectively below and adjacent to the above mentioned gyratory and rat-runs.


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This screenshot from the quoted BBC article shows the iconic Elephant and Castle statue from the viewpoint of its market’s location; just to the left is the crazy roundabout system making the pedestrian underpasses necessary.


It was the only market T and me wouldn’t have touched with a bargepole, neither would I use the place for shopping despite only living just down the road. Ironic, then, that I spent a couple of weeks there in the early Nineties having decided to ‘sell’ poppies for The Royal British Legion at Stamford Bridge, home ground of Chelsea.


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Stamford Bridge as it was when I used to go regularly. Even though going numerous times during and after the redevelopment of each stand, this is how it still looks in my mind’s eye.

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Chelsea has been affiliated with war veterans since its conception – its first nickname being ‘The Pensioners’. Chelsea Pensioners, notable for their distinctive scarlet uniforms, are residents of the nearby Royal Hospital Chelsea retirement home, and are ever present at Chelsea’s home games (given the ‘Coors’ advertising on the hoarding. I can be pretty sure that whatever match this was taken at–between 94 and 97–I was there).


Contacting the local Legion branch, I was told it didn’t quite work like that; instead of getting to pick where you fancied collecting money for them, they gave you a specific place to go. At least I’d offered; at least, I should’ve left it at that; instead, I replied, “Okay then, what have you got?”

The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre


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The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre: only built due to World War II bombing, and for some reason considered ‘revolutionary’ at the time; which was clearly circa this photo given the complete lack of traffic (not to mention the types of buses) on the road.


It was a challenge I accepted and never got any thanks for, btw. Though given how many people visited the miserable place for the duration of the two weeks I was there, and the even smaller percentage of them who got a poppy from me, they could hardly be blamed for assuming I’d only been there for half hour tops before deciding that, actually, collecting money for good causes wasn’t for me and fucking off home.

That said, the whole point was local branch/local area and every local knew the shopping centre as dead on its feet.

Not a lot happened in those two weeks. It might have been excruciating if hadn’t been for the only female security guard taking a shine so coming over for a chat any time she could, and a mate with nothing better to do than ride his motorbike aimlessly around all day dropping in to stand there with me.

The highlight came when the mate happened to be there and a lone plod strolled over for a friendly chinwag, during which he asked, “Hello-hello-hello, where’s the local Legion located these days?”

“I’ve never known it anywhere else than in Gaza Street, off Curzon by Kennington tube,” I replied. “So I’m surprised you might think it somewhere else. Then again, you are plod walking round a place like the Elephant alone; are you new to the area, perhaps – the lads at the station having a joke at the new bloke’s expense by sending him here on his tod?”

He laughed and went on his laughing policeman way . . . I’m pretty sure without making a donation for a poppy, but anyway:

All the aimlessness in my mate’s life had led to numerous brushes with the wrong side of the law. He reckoned the seemingly frivolous rozzer would’ve taken me as a fraudster and nicked me for sure if I hadn’t been not only so certain about the Legion’s location, but more so so cheeky in giving it.


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The Elephant and Castle statue pre-bombing when it resided on the inn that gave the area its modern day name; a place said to be Shakespeare’s inspiration for the ‘Elephant Lodgings’ in Twelfth Night.


A Life of Crime vs. the Free Market:

Thanks for reading 🙂

N. P. Ryan

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