Deep beneath Waterloo station and just 800ft from the London Eye runs Leake Street; a disused road tunnel which is now a designated legal graffiti area.
Last open to traffic when Waterloo was home to the Eurostar terminal (more of which in the next and final part of this history on the station), Leake Street’s status as a graffiti hotspot originated in May 2008 when renowned street artist, Banksy arranged the ‘Cans Festival’; an exhibition featuring murals and art installations.
In his own words, the secretive artist expressed his wish that the project would “transform a dark forgotten filth pit into an oasis of beautiful art… I’ve always felt anyone with a paint can should have as much say in how our cities look as architects and ad men.”
Today, Leake Street continues to provide street artists with a vast, urban canvas.
Due to the nature of the style, the artwork changes frequently so repeated visits are well rewarded.
Images from my own recent visit can be viewed below.
Despite being a thriving commuter hub, Waterloo station harbours a surprising number of quirky links with the animal kingdom…
During the first half of the 20th century Waterloo was home to a succession of ‘Railway Collection Dogs’; faithful hounds who padded around the station’s concourse with money boxes strapped to their backs, into which charitable members of the public could pop a few pennies.
Waterloo’s most celebrated charity dog was ‘Laddie’, an Airedale Terrier who was introduced to Waterloo in 1949 to raise cash for a retired railway workers’ home in Woking, Surrey.
Laddie patrolled Waterloo until his retirement in 1956, by which point he’d raised over £5,000; a very handsome sum for the time (approximate to £87,000 in today’s money).
The faithful dog spent his final years at the Woking retirement home amongst the elderly railwaymen he’d done so much for.
When Laddie passed away in 1960 he was stuffed and put on display in a glass cabinet at Wimbledon station where he remained until 1990.
Today, he is kept by the National Railway Museum in York, complete with an original collection box.
As well as dogs, Waterloo was once also home to approximately 40,000 bumble bees… whose hives were located 200ft up on the station’s roof!
The bees were kept in the 1950s and 60s by Mr Wilfred Green, a railway worker who used the hives to make jars of honey for the Southern Railway’s Children’s Home in Woking (allied to the home for which Laddie the dog raised money).
A video of the hives being tended by Wilfred in 1958 can be viewed below (note the complete lack of protective gear!)
Waterloo Pride…the Coade Stone Lion
For almost 180 years, a fearsome, stone lion has roamed the vicinity of Waterloo…
Weighing 13 tonnes, the lion dates back to 1837 when it was created by Warwickshire born artist, William Frederick Woodington as a grand mascot for the ‘Lion Brewery’; a distillery which once stood on the Southbank’s Belvedere Road.
The lion is forged from ‘Coade Stone’; an artificial material which was perfected by Eleanor Coade in the late 18th century.
Fired in a kiln over a period of several days, Coade stone is a very tough substance, famously immune to the onslaught of pollution… which means it always looks sparkling clean.
Like the Lion Brewery, Eleanor Coade’s factory was also located on the Southbank- the site today is now occupied by the Royal Festival Hall.
Holding pride of place above the brewery’s main entrance, the mighty lion was originally painted red as the mock-up image below illustrates…
An early admirer of the sculpture was French writer, Emile Zola who was delighted to see the hefty statue “poised in mid-air” atop its high arch.
Years later, Zola made a special return visit to the site to view the statue- which he affectionately referred to as “my lion”- one last time.
In 1949, the Lion Brewery was demolished and the land passed over to the development of the 1951 Festival of Britain.
At the request of King George VI himself the lion was saved… and adopted by Waterloo Station where, with its red coat (the colour then associated with the newly nationalised British Railways) it was able to continue as a corporate mascot.
During its time at Waterloo, the lion stood outside the York Road entrance, a short distance from the station’s Victory Arch entrance.
The lion guarded the station until 1966 when it was sadly forced to make way for the ‘Tower Building’; a looming 1960s office block which squeezes right up to Waterloo’s 1920s façade in a pretty thuggish way…
After being displaced by the modernist office slab, the Coade Stone Lion (also known today as the ‘Southbank Lion’) had its red paint removed and was shifted to its current site… the north-eastern foot of Westminster Bridge, right between the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.
The lion has a twin which once also adorned the former brewery… this partner can now be found at Twickenham rugby stadium’s west gate, standing proud in a coat of gold paint.
Elephant in the Room
Looming above the escalators that lead down to Waterloo’s connection with the Jubilee Line stands this rather fine elephant:
The piece was created in 2000 by Kendra Haste, a renowned artist who specializes in creating animal sculptures from wire.
The little fellow pictured above can be found hiding behind a cheerful statue of the artist Terence Cuneo which stands close to Waterloo’s Victory Arch entrance.
Born in London in 1907, Terence Cuneo studied at the Slade School of Fine Art and began his career as an illustrator for books and magazines.
In WWII, he served with the Royal Engineers and also carried out work for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, creating a number of works depicting scenes from the conflict.
Cuneo was an expert at capturing fleeting moments in painstaking detail, a skill which led to him being appointed the official artist for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953.
As well as his wartime paintings and Royal commissions, Terence Cuneo was especially renowned for his paintings of railways… a selection of which can be viewed in the slideshow below.
Terence had a very playful personality and crafted many fine toys for his two beloved children- including a full-size roundabout and a miniature railway which trundled around the garden.
His sense of mischief extended to his paintings, which are famous for their inclusion of a trademark little mouse, often very well hidden….rather like an early version of ‘Where’s Wally?’… hence the wee rodent included in the Waterloo statue.
Spotting the mice within his paintings can be quite a challenge!
Terence Cuneo passed away in 1996 and his statue, sculpted by Philip Jackson, was unveiled at Waterloo station in 2004.
A short film documenting Terence at work in 1960 can be viewed below:
More Waterloo trivia to follow soon….
Handling an average of over 90 million passengers a year, Waterloo which lies close to London’s South Bank, is the UK’s largest railway station.
The origins of Waterloo Station stretch back to 1838 with the founding of the London and Southampton Railway, a company established to provide an important rail link between the capital and the docks at Southampton.
Originally designed with freight in mind, the London end of the new connection to the south coast opened on 21st May 1838 at Nine Elms, an area close to a wharf on the southern shore of the Thames- some distance away from the present Waterloo station.
Built in the neo-classical style, the station building at Nine Elms was designed by Sir William Tite, the same architect who designed the Royal Exchange which stands opposite the Bank of England.
Although a convenient place for shifting cargo, the Nine Elms location proved to be most inconvenient for the growing numbers of passengers who were beginning to use the line for trips into London.
There were pleasure gardens at nearby Vauxhall which were a popular destination, but for those wishing to travel onwards to Westminster and the City things were a real hassle with trips having to be completed by boat (which involved a lengthy wait) or by road (which involved high costs due to the existence of turnpike tolls).
As the London Illustrated News reported at the time, “the distance of the South Western’s metropolitan terminus from the heart of London has been a subject of complaint from the first opening of the line.”
Realising that their railway fell short- and that there was of course more money to be made- the company (now renamed the London and South Western Railway) decided to extend the line approximately 2 miles north across Lambeth Marsh in a project costing £800,000- approximately £35 million in today’s money.
The site marked for the new terminal was described as being “vacant ground, to a great extent occupied as hay-stalls and cow-yards and by dung-heaps, and similar nuisances” which lay close to the southern foot of the recently opened Waterloo Bridge.
A lost ‘Trafalgar Station’?
The station’s South Bank site was a plan B option- what developers had really wanted was to cross the Thames and build a station right opposite what was then a pretty much brand new Trafalgar Square.
The snag with this however was that the Duke of Northumberland’s mansion stood in the way and he refused to release the land… a 170 year old decision which still brings cabbies plenty of quick fares across the river during the rush hour!
Had the site been allowed it is quite possible that the LSWR’s terminal would have been named ‘Trafalgar Station‘… either way, a name in honor of one of the great victories of the Napoleonic Wars was inevitable!
Bridging the Bogs
In order to traverse the boggy ground the extension required the construction of a brick viaduct comprising 290 arches- very similar to the London and Greenwich Railway which was constructed on the opposite side of the capital during the same era.
Whilst building the viaduct from Nine Elms to Waterloo the tradesmen certainly didn’t hang around. The arch across Miles Street for example is said to have taken just 45 hours to complete from scratch, despite being at a tricky angle and requiring some 90,000 bricks!
The LSWR turned again to Sir William Tite to design their new terminal and, like the track extension, the station had to be built upon a series of arches in order to rise above the soggy earth; a high-rise position which is still evident to this day.
I wonder how many of the passengers in my cab who asked to be dropped at “Waterloo steps” realise why they have to huff and puff up such a steep flight in order to catch their train….
Named ‘Waterloo Bridge Station’, the new terminal, with a 600ft façade facing York Road, opened to the public on the 11th July 1848 with just three platforms and 14 trains a day.
Originally, the station was never intended to be the end of the line- it was planned that the rails would be forged onwards, right into the heart of the financial square mile.
As we can see today of course, this vision was never realised (with the exception of an underground link which we will come to later) and the site was officially renamed ‘Waterloo Station’ in 1886.
The Decline of Nine Elms
With the opening of the Waterloo terminal, the original Nine Elms Station closed to passengers in 1848.
A vast freight yard and wagon works flourished on the site but suffered heavy damage during WWII from which it never fully recovered. A clip of the site as it appeared in the mid-1960s, during the last days of steam, can be seen below (please click to view).
In the early 1950s, it was proposed that Tite’s surviving Nine Elms station building would make an ideal home for a planned National Railway Museum. However, British Rail refused to release the land and the museum eventually found a very worthy home in the beautiful city of York.
The Nine Elms building was sadly demolished in the 1960s, paving the way for the construction of New Covent Garden Market which still occupies the site today, maintaining the location’s historical link as a major hub for shifting goods into the capital.
In a few years’ time, the area will also provide a home for the new American Embassy.
Back at Waterloo
With the addition of connections to different railway companies, Waterloo station expanded in a messy, chaotic way throughout the Victorian period.
As new platforms were added they gained eccentric nicknames such as ‘Cyprus Station’ and ‘Khartoum Station’; each with their own entrance, booking office and Hackney Carriage rank.
Some platform numbers were duplicated whilst others weren’t labelled at all which created considerable confusion. In 1889, this bizarre situation was satirized by Jerome K. Jerome in ‘Three Men in a Boat’:
“We got to Waterloo at eleven and asked where the eleven-five started from. Of course, nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to… the porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one. The station-master on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local.”
There was even a set of tracks which cut right through the pedestrian concourse and out through an arch towards what is now Waterloo East station.
Even by Victorian standards this rail link was a health and safety nightmare and was rarely used.
However, this curious set-up was still prominent enough to feature in H.G Wells’ 1898 classic, ‘War of the Worlds’ in a scene which describes troops departing Waterloo for Surrey in preparation for a clash with the Martian invaders.
“About five o’clock the gathering crowd in the station was immensely excited by the opening of the line of communication between the South-Eastern and South-Western stations, and the passage of carriage-trucks bearing huge guns and carriages crammed with soldiers.
These were the guns that were brought up from Woolwich and Chatham to cover Kingston. There was an exchange of pleasantries: ‘You’ll get eaten!’ ‘We’re the beast-tamers!” and so forth.”
The unusual bridge which linked the two stations is still in place and can be seen stretching over Waterloo Road.
Until relatively recently, it was used as a pedestrian link before being replaced by a more modern walkway (the grey, tube structure which can be seen running above).