Elephant and Castle Mall Pt. III

Flourescent Elephants
Flourescent Elephants

Since the Pink Elephant Shopping centre continues to be the number one hit on this blog (who knew?) I should provide a link to my other blog ‘live from the heygate’. I started this blog when I lived on the Heygate Estate from October, 2007 until April the following year. In part I wanted to record the experience of living on the estate and the Elephant in what I thought might be it’s last moments before being demolished. Since then, I have followed developments both from while living in adjacent neighborhoods, and now from New York. I try and keep up with the regeneration, how the tenants are faring, and any artistic projects taking place in or around the estate – with anything to do with the Elephant generally.

Posts specifically about the shopping centre:

Elephant Saved (one month ago)

The Mall (from March, 2008)

and Deja Vu All Over Again (today)

I also have many posts about the regeneration, the heygate estate, the Elephant and Castle area in general.

Include from Time Out: a fine post about the Elephant and Castle mall in 2006.

Also, for a bit of recent history: A great post from Micheal Collins from 2001 (The Likes of Us), about growing up on the Heygate Estate and the Elephant and Castle: “The Elephant’s Graveyard”

Escalators to Bingo Palace
Escalators to Bingo Palace

I’m interested in marginal areas in transition, and the Elephant is about as marginal and in transition as it gets. I have also lived in the Elephant, on a mostly transient basis, since 1987, when I first came back to the UK as an adult after growing up in Canada. I lived in a squat across the New Kent Road in one of the inter-war brick estates. Squatting was very common back then – the law supported it, and there were many empty flats across London. I’ve heard it’s making a comeback now, but I doubt it will ever reach the popularity it had in the 80’s, when basically any newcomer to London with any sense lived  in a squat.

The regeneration scheme, the largest construction project in all of Europe, is designed to completely remake the entire area, including the estate, the mall, and the roundabout, encompassing several city blocks, is falling further and further behind schedule. No deal has been signed with preferred bidder Lend Lease. In the latest statement, Councillor Nick Stanton of Southwark Council says he is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that a deal will be reached with preferred bidder Lend-Lease by the end of 2009, but no deal his been reached.

People remain on the estate – including exactly one lease-holder living on the Kingshill Estate, a building which once held 800 or 900 people. One person in an empty building, the flats covered in thick iron slabs to keep out squatters.


  1. I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  2. Hi,
    I’ve just stumbled across your blog-found it really interesting. I’m an architecture student doing a project about the squatting and contested space within E+C with all this new redevelopment at the moment. Do you think this redevelopment is it going to be a complete gentrification, with no regard to the movement of people/social change?

    • Dear Charlotte,

      Thanks for your message – in my opinion the redevelopment will lead to complete gentrification. You only have to look at the kind of development that has already taken place – the Strada tower and so on.There is nothing here for poor people. However, to be fair, I’m no longer in London, I can’t see what’s happening in the Elephant first hand.

      I’m curious about your project – what is going on squatting-wise in the E and C? Has it come back?

      I also have a blog about living on the Heygate Estate: http://livefromtheheygate.blogspot.com



      • Hi Tim

        Yes I agree with the complete domination of gentrification, even on the council website it says that it will become the new ‘west end south of the river!’ These apartments in the Strada tower are going for ridiculous amounts of money with no consideration for those that already live there.
        Squatting is creeping back, especially with the recession and half of these construction sites are at a standstill. As I understand it, the Heygate Estate has been partially emptied for the redevelopment-which isn’t moving very swiftly so an ideal place for squatting again.

        The project is rather conceptual at the moment, but its revolves around the spatial conflict between squatters and private and public spaces. I read that you squatted a while ago, how do you think the integration between squatters and residents works? Was there a lot of conflict or an acknowledgement to new people?


  3. Dear Charlotte,

    sorry for the delay in getting back. Been a bit under the weather . . .

    Yes, I did squat in London, from 87 to 92, off and on. Integration between squatters and residents? It’s a big question. It really depended on the area, the time, the residents – and the squatters.

    Most squatters that I met and interacted with, were conscious of their surroundings and tried to keep conflict to a minimum. Sometimes it couldn’t be helped – some tenants hated squatters, no matter how they acted. There was still some residual political element to squatting when I got into it, so the political people would sometimes be quite active in community affairs, getting estates cleaned up, taking care of their property and so on.

    For example, when I lived in Westbourne Park in 1989, the area was under siege by Lady Dame Porter and the Conservative Council, who wanted to privatize the entire neighborhood, including two asbestos-laden tower blocks, for more or less personal gain. The area resembled a war zone, with bombed out flats, and said empty tower blocks half-gutted and more or less abandoned. There, what few tennants remained, actually welcomed squatters (especially if you weren’t junkies), since we were a natural ally against the council.

    In other areas you were a nuisance to be tolerated. Sometimes, squatters could be totally oblivious. I knew one couple, crusties with perfect BBC accents, who filled their bathtub with drained lager cans and used syringes, and blared hardcore day and night. They’d lived in a place where their toilet had actually drained into the green behind the estate. Believe it or not, they had a hard time understanding why the tenants hated them and eventually had them thrown out.

    But they were definitely a minority. Most of the squatters I knew, myself included, were opportunists – rents, then as now, were high in London, there were huge numbers of empty flats all across the city – in some ways you’d be crazy not to. Also, most of us were either from somewhere else in the white Commonwealth, or other parts of the UK. It was in our best interests to get along with the community as well as we could.

    I kind of caught the tail end of that era. I think a lot more happened in the earlier part of the decade. What’s happening now, I really don’t know. When I left London last year, I heard it was still quite extensive in certain area – but way out, in Zone 4 and 5. that might have changed. We were lucky enough to catch an era when you could still squat in Bloomsbury and Camden, and the Elephant was far, far away.

    Hope this helps. Keep me abreast of your project, it sounds interesting.


    • Hi Tim,

      Sorry it’s been so long replying to you. I’ve actually finished my project about the Elephant and Castle and it moved from squatting in the Elephant towards fighting against the regeneration for the local people and how to change the area for them rather than by the council. As a result I actually decided on writing about the regeneration for my disseration! I shall be an expert in all things Elephant-wise by the end of this year!

      I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about your time in the Heygate. Whether there was any sense of community whilst you were there, the general vibe of the area, whether it was seen socially as it is now. Anything you can think of in terms of how it was perceived would be great.

      Would you also mind me quoting you in my dissertation? Thanks


  4. Hey Tim,

    I’m french and i did squat in London from 88 to 90, I lived as well in Westbourne Park in 1989 and i knew a Tim, nice, brown curly hair. He was living with Dann at the third floor (flower on the door), in the one of the tower block (21 or 23 floors)…It’ll be a great surprise if it was you!
    If not, I’m looking for the name of these two towers, still standing ? As well as the name of the architect which built them, if you could tell me, it will be nice. Thx.

    • Hi CC – I’m not that Tim. I lived up Walterton Road. The towers were called the Elgin Estate and they were demolished in the mid-90’s to make way for the low-rise estate that sits there now. I didn’t know anyone who lived there – one of the towers was totally empty, the other was half-gutted by fire. I wonder if you were part of that group of Europeans who lived around the corner? Fun times . . . London’s changed so much now. I’ll shoot you an email. Best, Tim

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