Over the years, Waterloo station and its cluster of surrounding streets have seen more than their fair share of life’s darker side…
The Lambeth Poisoner
In the autumn of 1891, the area around Waterloo was stalked by Dr Thomas Neill Cream, a Glaswegian born physician and surgeon who’d spent much time in Canada and Chicago running decidedly dubious clinics.
Following the mysterious deaths of several of his patients and a 10 year stint in Chicago’s Joliet prison, Dr Cream headed for London where he secured lodgings at 103 Lambeth Palace Road.
Shortly after his arrival, the Doctor popped into the Wellington pub on Waterloo Road and got chatting to a 19 year old prostitute named Ellen Donworth.
Ellen accepted a drink from Dr Cream… and later that night, she collapsed outside the pub.
Trembling and in great pain, she claimed she’d been poisoned.
Dr Cream’s next targets were Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell, two young women who lived together on Stamford Street, just north of Waterloo station.
After plying the pair with bottles of Guinness, the doctor handed the women some globule like tablets which, when swallowed, led the victims to suffer painful, fatal convulsions.
Creams’ final victim was Matilda Clover, a young mother who lived on Lambeth Road.
As she lay screaming and dying on her bed, Matilda managed to tell her landlady, “that wretch has given me some pills and they have made me ill…”
In each case, the killer never hung around to witness the terrible results of his gruesome handiwork.
Dr Cream was captured after befriending an American tourist…who happened to be a New York cop.
After listening to Cream speak in revealing detail about the crimes, the American voiced his concerns to Scotland Yard. Following the tip off, Dr Cream was put under surveillance… and his behaviour soon confirmed the New Yorker’s hunch, leading to the suspect’s arrest.
Tried at the Old Bailey, Dr Cream was found guilty and executed at Newgate in November 1892.
Curiously, it is said that his final words, uttered as the trap door sprang, were, “I’m Jack the…”
Killed in a carriage
On the evening of 11th February 1897, Elizabeth Camp– 33 year old manageress of the ‘Good Intent’ pub, on East Street, Walworth– was found battered to death in a carriage shortly after it pulled into Waterloo station.
Tragically, Elizabeth’s fiancé, Edward Berry was waiting on the platform to meet his lover and witnessed the ghastly commotion as the body was discovered.
It was believed that the main motive had been robbery and Elizabeth, who was described as a large, “formidable” woman, had put up a tough fight.
The apparent murder weapon- a chemist’s pestle caked in blood and hair– was soon discovered on a nearby railway embankment, leading investigators to suspect that the killer had boarded the train at either Putney or Clapham Junction.
Despite this, along with reports of a mysterious, flustered man nervously ordering a drink at a tavern in Vauxhall, the killer was never caught…
A disturbing discovery
In February 1935 a large, brown parcel was found stuffed beneath a seat in a carriage at Waterloo station which, when opened, gave railway staff a terrifying shock… for the package contained a pair of human legs, neatly severed from the knee down.
The following month, three young boys playing beside the Grand Union Canal in Brentford towards the west of London, spotted a sack floating in the water. Their curiosity got the better of them and they dragged the object towards them for a nosy peek…only to find that it contained a headless, legless torso…
The parts were examined by pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury who declared that they were part of the same body.
Sir Spilsbury believed that the victim had been a healthy young man, aged between 20-30. He also noted that the victim may have been a dancer as the toes on the chopped off legs appeared to have been slightly contracted by tight-fitting shoes.
However, like the murder of Elizabeth Camp years before, the case remains unsolved…
By the 1970s the streets and walkways surrounding Waterloo station had gained a reputation as a grimy and increasingly crime ridden area.
One evening in August 1973, 68 year old widower and retired railway worker, Graham Arthur Hills was returning home after an evening at the theatre. On a raised walkway linking the Shell Centre to Waterloo station, he was confronted by three youths aged 15, 16 and 17 who mugged the elderly gentleman.
After a struggle, Mr Arthur Hills was stabbed in the heart and killed… his briefcase, which contained no more than a single prayer book, was found discarded close by.
The murder of PC Frank O’Neill
On the 10th October 1980 two police officers- PC Frank O’Neill and WPC Angela Seeds– were called to a disturbance at a Boots chemist shop on Waterloo’s Lower Marsh where Josun Soan, a drug addict from Wembley, was attempting to acquire drugs with a forged prescription.
Suspicions had initially been raised when the chemist queried the note’s handwriting… saying it was far “too neat for a doctor.”
As PC Frank O’Neill approached, Soan lashed out and stabbed the officer in the stomach- he would later claim in court that he’d been hallucinating and mistook the policeman for a “big brown bear… I saw it out of the corner of my eye, which scared the living daylights out of me…I got a knife out and slashed in that direction and then ran out of the shop.”
PC O’Neill gave chase but collapsed to the pavement and later died. He was 32 and father to four children.
His colleague, 25 year old WPC Seeds bravely continued the pursuit, finally cornering the killer on a platform at Lambeth North tube station.
Josun Soan was tried at the Old Bailey in May 1981. At the time he was 23 and had been a drug addict since the age of 14. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Following the crime, donations for Frank’s widow and children poured into police stations across London.
‘Frank O’Neill House’ on Clapham Road, is named after the fallen officer.
Ward 5’s Medical Horror
Just across the road from Waterloo station stands the former ‘Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women’ which was founded in 1816 (the current building was constructed between 1903-1905).
Between the 1960s and 70s the hospital was home to the notorious ‘Ward 5’; a unit where some 500 women suffering from depression and anorexia were subjected to horrendous experiments, completely disproportionate to their condition.
Ward 5 was under the charge of William Sargant, a cold, imposing man who described himself as a “physician in psychological medicine.”
Rejecting psychotherapy, Sargant approached the treatment of mental illness as if he were dealing with a physical ailment, believing it was possible to rewire the brain.
In his quest to achieve this, Sargant treated the unfortunate women who passed through Ward 5 as guinea pigs, subjecting them to high drug doses, frequent sessions of electroshock therapy and, in some cases, lobotomies.
A windowless chamber on the top floor of the hospital was set aside as a ‘Narcosis Room’ where many female patients were drugged into deep sleeps for weeks on end.
One patient, Elizabeth Reed (who was admitted to the hospital when she was just 22), recently gave a disturbing account of the room;
“Women there were occasionally woken to be taken to the toilet or fed. We were like zombies… the worst times was when I started not to be asleep. I was awake but couldn’t move or speak. It was torture lying there for hours in the darkness.”
The Narcosis Room remained in use until 1973 (despite the death of four women whilst in their induced comas) and the hospital closed in July 1976.
Sargant continued to work at nearby St Thomas’s Hospital until his death in 1988. He personally destroyed all of his records.
The former Waterloo hospital is now a student hall of residence.
For much of the 20th century, Waterloo station and its surrounding walkways became synonymous with London’s homeless who congregated in the area to sleep rough.
By the early 1980s an entire community- dubbed ‘Cardboard City’- had developed beneath the ‘Bullring’; a concrete roundabout at the foot of Waterloo Bridge.
By the middle of the decade, up to 200 people were living in the subterranean area.
Conditions in the concrete complex were harsh to say the least. In 1988 for example a broken sewer unleashed a colony of rats which crawled over the inhabitants as they slept.
In 1998, the High Court granted an eviction order against the 30 destitute people who remained in the makeshift community… so that the area could be prepared for the construction of the huge IMAX cinema.
I wonder how many visitors to the imposing venue realise that Britain’s largest cinema screen stands on the site of what was once the nation’s largest homeless community…
A slideshow of the area as it appears today can be viewed below.
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…
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: