For good or for bad, the Elephant & Castle shopping centre is no more.
The faded but still-loved landmark closed forever in the summer of 2020 and demolition began early in 2021. As of October 2021, the site is almost entirely cleared. Only the odd basement wall remains from the shopping centre, while the high-rise Hannibal House has joined its namesake as something that was, but is no more.
We made several visits over the summer, to see the old nelly come down.
Preparatory works are well under way for demolition. The site had been entirely surrounded by hoardings for some time, and now the first rows of scaffolding have begun to creep up the side of Hannibal House.
Just one month on and this similar view (from Google Street View) shows how the frontage of the shopping centre has been well and truly sundered. The old Coronet theatre and nightclub, which closed in 2018, can just be seen as a steel shell to the extreme left. The Charlie Chaplin pub is a goner.
Round the corner, in another image from Street View, we can see that much of the centre's innards have also gone to mall heaven. Meanwhile, Hannibal House is entirely covered in white-sheet-of-death and demolition works have begun.
By July almost all of the shopping centre is reduced to rubble. Demolition crews still work on the remaining sections. Water sprays are everywhere, minimising the amount of dust escaping into the air. At this stage, Hannibal House still stands, though its days are very much numbered. With the removal of cladding and windows, it's possible to see inside the lower floor plates. Meanwhile, from platform 1 of the adjacent train station, views have opened up of the Metropolitan Tabernacle not seen for almost 60 years.
Not everything of the old shopping centre has vanished forever. The totemic pink elephant, so long a miniature landmark of the area, has been salvaged and given a new perch. It can now be found on the other side of the railway tracks in the newly minted Castle Square (and not in the Museum of London, as we predicted).
By October, even the mighty Hannibal House has vanished. Clear views through to the tube station and former roundabout are now possible from the train station. The only structures left standing are those close to the rail tracks. Otherwise, the entire complex, including a 16-storey tower block, has been entirely erased.
Rise of the new Elephant; memories of the old
The site won't remain empty for long. Developers Delancey have big plans for a new 'town centre', which will include 979 new homes (116 at social rent and a further 214 at reduced rents, the rest at market rates). The new area will also include 175,000 sq ft of leisure facilities, shops, cafes and restaurants.
As with every big development, there will be winners and losers. Those who will miss the place the most will be the displaced traders and their customers, some of whose thoughts we captured in an earlier article.
A shiny new Elephant will now rise from the rubble. But many Londoners will remember that charismatic old shopping centre for decades to come. An elephant never forgets.