As Britain’s largest railway station it is not surprising that Waterloo has developed an interesting catalogue of trivia and curiosities over the years.
Here’s a selection…
Meet me under the clock…
Manufactured by Gents of Leicester and hanging high over the main concourse, Waterloo’s huge four-sided clock has been a popular meeting point for Londoners (especially those on a romantic rendezvous) since the early 1920s.
Although not mentioned directly, it is perhaps safe to assume that The Kinks had the clock in mind when writing their 1967 hit, Waterloo Sunset… which includes the lyric, “Terry meets Julie, Waterloo station every Friday night.”
Please click below to listen to this quintessential London song…
Waterloo’s clock played an important part in the much loved BBC comedy, Only Fools and Horses.
In the feature length episode, ‘Dates’ first broadcast on Christmas day 1988, it is beneath the Waterloo clock that esteemed Londoner, Del Boy first meets his future wife, Raquel (although Del was worried about the rendezvous point at first- “the last girl I met at Waterloo station got mugged on the escalator”!)
Please click below for the clip:
Waterloo News Cinema
For 36 years Waterloo Station boasted its very own cinema.
Opened in the summer of 1934, the cinema stood opposite platform 1 and was originally run by ‘Capitol and Provincial News Theatres’ who also operated a similar venue at Victoria.
As the company’s name suggests, the station based cinemas were devoted to screening news reels. Here, commuters eager to catch up on current events could pop in daily between 9am and 11pm to mull over the looped bulletins.
Cartoons were also included on the bill; these being the days when classic characters such as Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry ruled the silver screen!
By the 1960s news-reels were in demise thanks to the growth of television.
Consequently, Waterloo’s cinema was rebranded the ‘Classic Cinema Waterloo’ and switched to screening double bills of vintage Hollywood flicks.
The cinema screened its final show (an Alfred Hitchcock double bill) on 14th March 1970 and then lay empty before being sadly demolished in 1988.
However, some of the picture house’s art-deco curves can still be spotted outside the station on the junction of Approach Road and Cab Road.
Footage of the cinema, as it appeared in the 1940s, can be viewed later in this post.
During its news reel days, Waterloo’s cinema would’ve screened plenty of topical reels that were filmed within the station itself- with stories of celebrities, newly arrived from the USA via boat-train, proving especially popular.
A good example is Charlie Chaplin’s return to London via Waterloo in 1952… please click below to view:
Plenty of other celebrities have been snapped at Waterloo too as the gallery below demonstrates…
A robber reformed…
Between the 1970s and 1990s, Waterloo was the place to go if you wished to meet a somewhat shadier type of celeb…in this case, a chap called Ronald Christopher Edwards; aka Buster Edwards… one of the rogues involved in 1963’s infamous ‘Great Train Robbery‘.
Born in Lambeth in 1931, Buster grew up close to Waterloo Station.
Unfortunately, he fell into a life of crime, his crooked career famously culminating in the robbery of the Glasgow to Euston Royal Mail train in August 1963.
Following the heist, Buster fled to Mexico with his family but soon found himself homesick and strapped for cash.
He negotiated his return back to the UK but the plan didn’t work out as he’d hoped and the train robber found himself sent down for a 15 year stretch.
When Buster was granted early release in 1975 he decided to go straight- by establishing a flower stall outside Waterloo station, close to the junction of Waterloo Road and Mepham Street.
In 1988 Edwards’ story was immortalised in the film, ‘Buster’ starring Phil Collins in the lead role and Julie Walters as his long suffering wife.
The final scene of the film showing Buster as a reformed florist was shot on the Southbank, a short distance from Waterloo station (please click below to watch).
Despite the gentle nature of the film, the real life Buster Edwards was heading for tragedy as he grew older.
A severe alcoholic, he sunk into depression and, on the 28th November 1994, aged 63, Buster committed suicide by hanging himself from a girder in a garage on Greet Street, a short distance from his Waterloo flower stall.
Waterloo on Film
Waterloo station has appeared on film many times. Here are a few examples…
London Terminus (1944)
Made towards the end of WWII, this 15 minute documentary follows a young couple as they head for Waterloo’s news cinema, where they settle down to catch a film about the workings of the station.
Rush Hour (1970)
A quirky short made by British Transport films to showcase Waterloo’s chaotic nature.
Harry’s Game (1982)
In the opening scene to this dark drama, IRA hit-man Billy Downes (played by Derek Thompson) – exits Waterloo station and heads for the tube as he embarks upon his mission to assassinate a Cabinet minister…
West End Girls (1985)
Part of the music video to the Pet Shop Boys’ classic synth hit, ‘West End Girls’ was filmed in and around Waterloo station.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
In this typical Hollywood scene action, Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon), helps whistle-blowing Guardian journalist, Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) evade the CIA’s prying eyes through Waterloo’s rush hour…
Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007)
In the opening sequence to romantic comedy, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, legendary Indian actor, Amitabh Bachchan (referenced to western audiences in Slumdog Millionaire) brings the dazzle of Bollywood to Waterloo’s concourse!
The Last Days of Steam
Waterloo was one of the last major terminals to operate steam-hauled services, with the powerful coal driven engines chugging in and out of the station right up until 1967.
Footage of steam trains in and around Waterloo during their very last days can be viewed below; a sight which is rather surreal when modern office blocks such as the Millbank Tower can be glimpsed in the background…
As well as being one of London’s major transport hubs, the Elephant and Castle (or, more simply, the ‘Elephant’ as locals like to call it) is one of the capital’s more peculiarly named areas.
Thanks to its post-war jumble of tower blocks, roaring traffic and gloomy pedestrian subways, Elephant and Castle has become rather unloved over the years… which, when you consider the area’s long and fascinating history, is a sentiment nothing short of travesty.
Before the Elephant
Before acquiring its unique name, the land which would eventually become the Elephant and Castle was occupied by a village known as Newington which came under Walworth; a manor listed in the 1086 Domesday Book as being part of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s portfolio.
Today, the name of the early settlement lives on in two roads- Newington Causeway and Newington Butts which lie either side of the present day junction.
Many historians believe that ‘Butts’ is a reference to archery butts; a strip of land dedicated to practising bow and arrow firing.
During the Medieval era, such exercise grounds existed all over the kingdom thanks to a law drawn up in 1252 which stated all Englishmen between the ages of 15 and 60 were required to own a bow and to practice their shooting skills every Sunday!
The Elephant stomps in
The Elephant and Castle eponym evolved thanks to a tavern which established itself in the area (to this day, a pub by the same name operates on the junction’s northern roundabout).
Although the image of an elephant partnered with a castle was fairly common at the time, what the pub’s owner was precisely referring to when they named their boozer remains a mystery.
Perhaps it was an allusion to a heraldic symbol? Or an early chess piece?
Then again, the landlord may have been aligning the tavern with the Worshipful Company of Cutlers; the guild responsible for regulating the manufacture of weapons and cutlery who, for many years, incorporated ivory into the handles of their wares- hence their coat of arms bearing the Elephant and Castle icon:
Or perhaps the unusual name was a reference to the time when Louis IX of France presented King Henry III with an elephant as a gift; the donated jumbo being gladly received and placed in the Royal Menagerie which, in those days, was housed in the Tower of London.
Sadly, this celebrated pachyderm somehow managed to wangle its trunk into a large rake of wine… an indulgence which evidently killed the sorry beast after three years spent in the tower.
At least it died happy…
A very early reference to the district’s now famous name can be found in Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, penned circa 1601.
In the play, Antonio informs Sebastian that a good place to lodge for the night is “in the south suburbs, at the Elephant.”
Although Twelfth Night is set nowhere near London (or even England), it is likely that Shakespeare slotted the name in as a cheeky local reference which most of the audience would have understood- the Bard’s Globe Theatre being situated just under a mile away from the area.
It is also possible that the allusion may have been included as an early form of advertising for the tavern, especially as it was within staggering distance of sinful Southwark’s playhouses and debauchery!
The area begins to boom
In 1760, a blacksmith’s workshop in the village was enlarged and converted into a tavern which adopted the Elephant and Castle title.
The newly established premises gradually developed into an important coaching inn, with traffic and trade boosted by the opening of nearby Westminster Bridge (in 1751) and Blackfriars Bridge (in 1769).
With London’s road network expanding around these two new and vital river crossings, the Elephant and Castle quickly became an important hub in the capital’s burgeoning transport network.
In 1861 and encouraged by the Elephant’s growing prominence, the Reformed Baptist church decided to build their main place of worship in the area- the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
As well as the growing importance of the Elephant and Castle, the Reformed Baptists also chose the location as it marks the approximate site where the ‘Southwark Martyrs’ (a group of Protestants executed during the reign of Mary I for their faith) were suffered the brutal fate of being burnt at the stake.
When it first opened, the Metropolitan Tabernacle had a congregation numbering over 5,000 people.
Despite being destroyed by fire in 1898 and Nazi bombs in 1941, the main front portico survived and remains a prominent Elephant and Castle landmark.
Rebuilt in 1957, the interior now hosts religious sermons which are broadcast on Sky Television every Saturday afternoon.
The role of Elephant and Castle as a major transport hub developed even further with the arrival of the railways (in 1863) and the Underground in 1904- with the Bakerloo line making the Elephant their southern terminal.
The Elephant also became a vital cog in London’s sprawling tram network.
Thanks to its multitude of transport links, Elephant and Castle grew into a major shopping and entertainment destination during the early 20th century, earning it the nickname; the ‘Piccadilly of South London.’
A short, moving film from the early 1950s entitled ‘The Elephant Will Never Forget‘ which details the end of tram services in London can be viewed below:
Glamour at the Elephant
Two of the most popular destinations in the Elephant’s glitzy heyday were the large department store, William Tarn and Co, and the mighty Trocadero cinema.
Opened in 1930, the Trocadero (which stood on the present site of the modern Elephant and Castle pub), was a glorious picture-house, capable of seating 3,000 movie-goers.
It also boasted Europe’s largest Wurlitzer organ.
In 1932, the Trocadero was joined by a second cinema; the Coronet; an art-deco 2,000 seater picture house which opened up on the opposite side of the road after being converted from the Victorian built, Theatre Royal.
The theatre (known then as the ‘Elephant Theatre’) can be seen in the following 1920s clip, London at Night, filmed a few years before its conversion to a cinema:
Despite the glitz, the Elephant was still home to many of London’s impoverished, including a large number of down and outs, footage of whom was also included in London at Night:
Although the Elephant’s colossal Trocadero has long since vanished, the Coronet is still going strong, now employed as a venue for many varied events ranging from club nights to boxing.
A very famous resident
Despite being no longer able to provide an evening out at the pictures, Elephant and Castle is now home to The Cinema Museum which can be found on Dugard Way.
Although discreet (at present, if you wish to visit, a tour must be booked), this museum maintains a vast collection of historical cinematic artefacts ranging from the 1890s to the present day; everything from usher’s uniforms and vintage cinema fittings, to publicity shots and rare celluloid reels.
The Cinema Museum is housed within a rather extraordinary building… it was once the administration block for Lambeth’s former Victorian Workhouse.
In the late 1890s, one of the many poor Londoners to spend time within this depressing institution was a young child called Charles Spencer Chaplin.
A few years later, and under the more informal version of his name, this former young workhouse inmate would go onto become the world’s first movie superstar… Charlie Chaplin.
Charlie was very much a local lad, born less than half a mile away from the Elephant on East Street which, to this day, is still home to a popular market.
Growing up in South London, Charlie’s childhood was defined by crushing poverty.
Along with a chronic lack of cash, his mother, Hannah Chaplin, also suffered from poor mental health; a condition which led to her spending time in the Bedlam Lunatic Asylum.
Today, you can still visit the hospital in which Charlie’s mother was incarcerated… it is now the Imperial War Museum, a short walk away from the heart of Elephant and Castle.
Charlie Chaplin’s childhood experiences of growing up in the area would later influence his famous film work which was characterized by a mixture of working-class humour and heart-breaking pathos, with those in authority often portrayed as bullying jobsworths.
This influence is well demonstrated in his 1921 masterpiece, The Kid.
In this feature length silent film, Charlie’s ‘Little Tramp’ has raised an abandoned child from infanthood, the pair very much becoming father and son.
However, when the authorities discover the pair living in hardship , they see fit to cart the child away…
Although filmed in Los Angeles, the following famous sequence contains profound and deeply moving echoes of Chaplin’s south London childhood, especially the desperation he would have experienced whilst being forcefully parted from his mother at the gates of Lambeth workhouse.