‘The roundest peg seldom fits into the roundest hole without some paring’

 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Against Hastening to Remove from our Post of Duty
Published in The Sword and the Trowel, July 1880

As I have said before, unlike my mother and me, my father came from South London.  Until recently, I had looked upon this as a tragedy for him and an irritation for me since through his accident of birth, I was not of one hundred percent pure East London stock.  However, in a somewhat belated effort to share some of the joys my father found in his area of London, I have visited several areas South of the River in the hope of perhaps finding something agreeable, shall we say.  And indeed, if you actually take the time to look for something, you will indeed find something, and on such a journey into what I thought would be the past, I discovered something quite special and vital to my present.



My father loved the Elephant and Castle that erstwhile Piccadilly of South London.  It was here that Charlie Chaplin and Michael Faraday were born and spent their early years and where my father also spent his formative years.  The Elephant, as the area is known, came to prominence with the building of London’s bridges and with the need for connecting roads across South London.  The area began to become built-up in Victorian times and soon became a centre of entertainment as well as for living. 

 Michael Faraday, F.R.S.- born: 22nd September, 1791, died: 25th August, 1867
Chemist and physicist whose major discoveries where in the fields of Electrolysis
Electromagnetic Induction and Diamagnetism.

Left: Michael Faraday statue at outside the Institution of Engineering and Technology at Savoy Place London; Top Centre: London Transport Underground (Tube) Locomotive, Michael Faraday with name plate below; Bottom Centre: Twenty Pound note (1991-2001); Top Left: Gravestone at Highgate Cemetery; and Bottom Left: a short time before his death.  
Michael Faraday declined a knighthood on two occasions and burial in Westminster Abbey, but accepted Queen Victoria's offer of residence at Hampton Court, where he lived until he died.

   Charles (Charlie) Chaplin, KBE - born: 16th April, 1889, died 25th December, 1977 
He was a Victorian Music Hall artist, actor, filmmaker and co-founder of United Artists film studios and whose character, The Little Trap, became an icon recognisable throughout the world.

I remember The Elephant as a child as being a huge expanse where the great highways of South London came together, where endless number of double-decker trams rattled and crashed over points producing sparks and where great theatres of entertainment and lively public houses, including the Elephant and Castle Public House once stood.   

 Pre-World War II Elephant and Castle

The Elephant and Castle Underground Station through the years

 My Elephant and Castle or How I remember it
Top Left: The Underground Station; Top Right: A tram;
Bottom Left: The Trocadero; Bottom Middle: The old Odeon; and Bottom Right: The Taberenacle

Two great photographs of Elephant Teds,  which I found at the wesbite: The Edwardian Teddy Boy.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find a contact address for the author of this site and so could not gain their permission to put these great photographs here.  If you know of a contact address, please let me know.  Note the great cinema advertisement boards in the photograph on the left and the terrific facade of the 
ABC cinema on the right.


Tragically, during the late 1950s, someone or some group at a Council or Ministry decided that the area was ripe for redevelopment.  As a result, according to the locals and my father, The Elephant was destroyed.  

The Elephant and Castle in 2010
Top Left: Ariel view; Top Right: northern roundabout with Faraday Memorial, which is apparently illuminated at night and contains a London Transport substation; it was designed by Brutalist architect, Rodney Gordon  in 1959 and built in 1961; 
Bottom Left: southern roundabout with the Tabernacle on the left; and  
Bottom Right: site of the Trocadero, Metro Central Heights

Basically the area became nothing more than a roundabout, a throughway to speed traffic about the city.  To be honest, much of the area had been severely damaged as a result of bombing during the Second World War.  However, the architectural style chosen for the buildings replacing the damaged and other perfectly acceptable ones proved to be completely lacking in all aspects of charm.  The architectural style chosen was Modernism and was the work of architect, Erno Goldfinger.  The buildings were typical of those of their time and were perhaps the most boring and graceless to ever disturb the skyline of London.  Sadly, the materials used in the construction of these buildings looked to my untrained eye to be of the poorest quality and over the years have weathered badly.  

 The Shopping Mall opposite The Tabernacle

Part of the redevelopment project of the Elephant included a shopping centre.  The centre was the first covered shopping mall in Europe and was to have 120 shops on three floors and an underground car park.  The Group that oversaw this project claimed the mall to be:

the largest and most ambitious shopping venture ever to be embarked upon in London. In design planning and vision it represents an entirely new approach to retailing, setting standards for the sixties that will revolutionise shopping concepts throughout Britain.

 Scenes of the Shopping Mall

At the time of its opening in March 1965, only 29 of the 120 shops were open, but worse, far worse, budget restrictions had caused the scaling down of the size of the building and, worst of all, drastic changes to its finishes.

 Peeling paint and chipped figure at the The Shopping Mall to revolutionise shopping in Britain

Despite the clattering sounds of the old trams and the fear that the sparks produced as they passed over the points caused me when I visited the area with my parents and despite the ugly buildings now present and the even louder sounds of the traffic as it roars around the roundabout and along the throughway arterial roads now seemingly given over totally to traffic movement with no concern for those on foot, there remains one building, one beacon in this scene of urban blight that I liked as a child and which I still find attractive in its design.  This is the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which stands proud before the miserable shopping mall that was once thought to revolutionise shopping concepts.

 The Metropolitan Tabernacle from The Shopping Mall

As a child, I used to look at the Tabernacle and marvel.  I always admired its design.  I liked the columns especially.  At first I had no idea that it was a church and thought it must be a government building of some kind.  Later, once I learned it was a church, I had no idea what denomination it was.  

As a child I knew of the Church of England and the Jewish faith.  I had been baptised at St. John Church on Bethnal Green where my mother had also been baptised and I went to Sunday School together with some school friends at Westminster Central Hall, the main Methodist Church.  Despite this Christian background, I spent most of my time with Jews for I lived in Whitechapel, which at the time was populated mostly by Jews.  My early classes at school were filled with Jews and we, Christians, were in the minority.  And so I grew up not only learning about the acts and teachings of Jesus and His Disciples, but also those of the Prophets and the Festivals essential to Judaism.

 Left: St. John on Bethnal Green; Right: Westminster Central Hall

Despite my religious background, I knew nothing of the fragmented branches of either Christianity or Judaism.  Had I thought about it at that time, I would have said that the world was made up mostly of Christians and Jews and seasoned with an occasional Hindu, Sikh and Muslim since these faiths were represented in both the area where I lived and at my school.

Top Row: Sihks; Middle Row: Hindus; and Bottom Row: Moslims

However, one thing I did notice as a child was the overall architectural style of the churches of South London since they were unlike those that I knew in North and East London.  Besides having no Great Cathedrals, if one does not include Southwark Cathedral, which is all but hidden by the railway bridge leading out of London Bridge Station and could easily be missed by the passerby, that part of London has no St. Martin-in-the-fields-type churches.  No, or few, churches with spires or towers.  South London seemed to have spawned churches that had, what I used to call, that Tabernacle look, since to my untrained eye, they were simple and not as grand that I thought, at the time, a church should look.  Needless to say, during these years, I found most of these churches to be decidedly unpleasing to look at. 

Southwark Cathedral and London Bridge Station
Top and Bottom Right: show the bridge that interferes with the view of the Cathedral

The Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields

Once I got older, on the extremely rare occasions when I went to South London, I began to dare to venture into a Tabernacle or two.  Once inside, I noticed that they were remarkably plain and lacking in what I considered suitable decoration.  At this time I was deeply involved in my studies and was far more interested in living life rather than contemplating its meaning.  During these years, I was lucky enough to visit many of the Great Cathedrals of England and of other European countries and even some in North America.  As a result, my tastes had become acclimatised to that ornate majesty seen in their interiors, which attracts vast numbers of visitors each year.  Sadly for me, during these years I did not take the time to stop and linger in the simple Tabernacle and so failed to appreciate the spiritual beauty that many of such Houses of Worship possess and can inspire. 

 The East London Tabernacle
Built in the late 19th Century and destroyed by bombing in 1944.  The pastor, Archibald G. Brown, had been recommended by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  He founded soup kitchens and a boys school in East London and a holiday home for girls at Herne Bay, which my mother stayed at for eighteen months during her childhood when it was determined that she was malnourished and mistreated.

 The Old Vic and Waterloo Bridge

For many years afterwards, whenever I walked across Waterloo Bridge and continued on my way to the Old Vic Theatre, I would look at the church I always passed en route and always made a mental note to go inside sometime.  However I paid little real attention to its architecture.  Evidently unimpressed, I moved on quickly, as I obviously did not wish to arrive at the theatre late.  

 St. John the Evangelist Church, Waterloo Road

On other occasions, I found myself sat on buses, which after flying around the Elephant at top speed and after slamming on the breaks without warning, came to a grinding halt either before the great Metropolitan Tabernacle or else on the other side of the road.  Once I regained my composure from being flung about the bus, I used the few seconds available to me to look at the Tabernacle before being slung forward by the momentum generated, as we roared off again.

As I said, it was not until a couple of years ago that I decided to re-look at the areas so loved by my father, and this time, to pay some attention.  These areas had been cruelly dismissed by me as lacking interest since I could not believe that anything in South London could possibly compare to that found in the East End.  At this time, plans for the redevelopment of the Elephant were just beginning to be discussed and a new skyscraper in the area was almost complete.  And so, I crossed the river again and started my rediscovery at the Elephant before it was changed again and also to look at the new oddly shaped tower that seemed so very out of place on the London skyline and which had been named, The Shard.

 The Shard

I arrived at the Elephant with every intention of making a quick exploration of the area and then walking towards the Shard, the latest skyscraper to disturb the London skyline, which was almost complete.  I went into the shopping mall that was supposed to revolutionise shopping concepts in Britain.  The mall could only be described as miserable and I quickly made my way out onto the patio that overlooked the main road, Newington Butts, which leads south from the Elephant's northern roundabout. 

 Elephant and Tabernacle

Before me was the monstrous new stylised red-coloured Elephant meant to represent the area.  However, beyond this monstrosity I saw the Metropolitan Tabernacle on the other side of the road.  I stopped and looked at the building.    It was amazing that despite the ruin of this once lively and interesting area of London, the Tabernacle remained aloof and distant from the disaster brought about by the total insensitivity of town planners.  I stood and looked at the building and appreciated its dignity and calm majesty.  As I did an old couple walked by and stopped to look too.  I asked them if they were from the area.  They were and we discussed the changes.  They remembered the trams and the Trocadero and the old Elephant public house and, as they did, they shook their heads. I watched them disappear into the mall.  And after a sigh or two, I thought it was time to actually cross the road and look at this building properly for the first time.

And so, with every wish to discover something modern, I found myself discovering something from the past, which would bring me a surprise and joy.


Where I now live, one of the television companies, WRAZ, broadcasts each Sunday morning a church service from a Baptist church nearby, Hayes Barton Baptist Church.  This is now the only full-length Sunday service that is available on television nowadays, which goes to show just how less religious the United States is today and, as bad, how the television companies are loathed to worry about minority audiences and provide something for everyone.  When I first moved here, there were a number of services on television on Sunday mornings, but slowly, over the years, the need to have good ratings has seen the services dwindle down to one.  This service is of importance to shut-ins, as people who are ill or else lacking a car or help in getting to the church rely on television for their weekly religious fellowship.

Hayes Barton Baptist Church

The Ministers at Hayes Barton Baptist Church
From Left to Right:  Pastor David H. Hailey; Minister with Students David With
Associate Pastor Kristin Muse; Former Associate Pastor Tom Bodkin; and Minster of Music Dan Ridley

I remember the minister when he first came to the area sometime in the 1990s.  He had dark hair then and two young children.  His children are now grown and married and his hair is a little grayer than it once was.  My mother enjoyed his sermons when she was alive, as he has a personable style and always makes them interesting.   He is obviously fond of the works of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and often quotes from them.  I am always impressed, as he refers to Dr. Spurgeon as English and not by the generic British!  I notice here in the United States that people like me are always thought of as being British until we do something disagreeable.  Then we become English!  And this is generally said with a sneer.  But the minister always refers to Dr. Spurgeon as being English, and for this, I am truly grateful.

But allow me to back up for a moment.  I can hear you asking ….. Charles Who?  Did you mean to say Sturgeon, like the fish?  No, Spurgeon, as in Charles Haddon Spurgeon!  It is unfortunate to think that not many years ago this name would have caused people to sit up, as almost everyone would have known of him.  Times change and sadly, having written, the moving finger obviously moves on:

 The Moving Finger ...... Book of Daniel 5:1-12
Left: Belshazzar's Feast by Rembrandt; Top Right: a depiction of Omar Khayyam; and Bottom Right: cover of the book, The Moving Finger, by Agatha Christie.  
Belshazzar's Feast has been interpreted musically by Handel and William Walton

     The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
 Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
 Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

So who was Charles Haddon Spurgeon?  The Reverend Spurgeon was an English Orator whose sermons were apparently spellbinding and who was the Pasteur of a huge flock of parishioners in London.  People came from far and wide to hear him preach.  Today, people still read and re-read his sermons and pamphlets.  He was, shall we say, The Billy Graham of His Day.  Yet I feel certain that even the great Billy Graham would be honoured to be mentioned in the same breath as the Reverend Spurgeon.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon - 19th  June, 1834 – 31st January, 1892

Let me tell the reader from the get-go that my account of Dr. Spurgeon is not going to be an academic treatise despite my wishing that it could be!  However, I will say that Dr. Spurgeon was what is known as a Particular Baptist.  Although Christianity and its study together with the study of other religions certainly interest me, I fear that my scholarly limitations do not allow me to discuss the meaning of what exactly a Particular Baptist is in any depth and how its definition fits into further definitions such as Baptist and Christian amongst others.  I will, however mention something about Baptist origins.  For this I will touch briefly on the four main views to account for its origins, as proposed by the Baptist historian Bruce Gourley:
  1. that the modern scholarly consensus being that the movement had its origin in the 17th Century with the English Separatists or Dissenters; 
  2. that it was an outgrowth of Anabaptist traditions; 
  3. while the Perpetuity view considers the Baptist Movement and Practice to have existed since the time of Christ and has always been separate from Catholicism and so in existence before Protestant Reformation.  This view was held by Charles H. Spurgeon amongst others; and 
  4. the Successionist view or Baptist Successionism also argues that Baptist churches have existed in an unbroken chain since the time of Christ.   
From: Bruce Gorley, A Very Brief Introduction to Baptist History, Then and Now,
The Baptist Observer

Like most definitions, attempting to decide on one generally leads the interested to other terms that will also require defining, which in turn leads to additional terms ….. etc etc etc.  This can be somewhat daunting and rather like looking down a microscope where something living is magnified many times and to such an extent that life disappears leaving the reader baffled, bemused and often lost besides having a headache and oftentimes with an inability to remember what he or she was defining in the first place!

And so having said this let me say that Dr. Spurgeon was a Baptist and a renowned preacher. 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon is renowned for having given spellbinding sermons.  His sermons were powerful and caused his audiences to meditate on what they heard.  He apparently engaged his audience directly and used only the briefest of notes to remind him of the major points of his text.  His sermons were translated into many languages, which lead to him becoming known throughout the Christian world.  It is a great testament to his ability as a preacher that he is still referenced today and I can attest that his words have remained powerful and thought provoking.  In addition, he wrote prolifically and his written works included numerous commentaries, books on prayer and other devotional pieces. 

Dr. Spurgeon stated that:

G-d opened his heart to the salvation message 

on a cold and snowy day in Colchester when he was 16-years of age in 1850.  The text that affected him so was Isaiah 45:22, which states:

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am G-d, and there is none else.

His ability to preach well together with his conviction was quickly recognised and while still only 20-years of age he was made Pastor of the New Park Street Chapel in Southwark, London.  This chapel had the largest congregation of all Baptist chapels in London at the time.  Within a few months of taking up the Pastorate, word spread of his remarkable ability to preach.  After just one year in the New Street Pulpit, his sermons, which were diligently noted by stenographers, began to be published, a process which was to continue over the next 38 years.

 New Park Street Chapel
Left: in 1854 at the time when Dr. Spurgeon became the Pastor; and Right: in 1889 following its expansion

The New Park Street Chapel was soon filled to capacity each week and then overflowing with those wishing to hear his sermons.  To accommodate the huge numbers of parishioners, services were moved to the Exeter Hall in The Strand and then to Surrey Music Hall in Kennington, where some 10,000 people heard him preach each week.   Tragedy struck during his first sermon at Surrey Music Hall on 19th October, 1856 when apparently a crowd member yelled Fire!   Panic occurred and a stampede led to the death of several people.  This event proved humbling as well as devastating to Dr. Spurgeon and was to evoke periods of melancholy throughout his life.

 Left: Exeter Hall; Right: Surrey Music Hall

As is the case with such people as Dr. Spurgeon, he was not without critics during his lifetime.  Apparently the first attack in the press appeared in the publication, Earthen Vessel, in January 1855.  Dr. Spurgeon did not preach in a revolutionary style or in substance, but was plain-spoken with a direct appeal to the people and quoted from The Bible in the hope of provoking his audience to consider the teachings of Jesus.  Criticism continued throughout his life.  

With the increasing weekly additions to those wishing to hear Dr. Spurgeon preach, proposals for a new chapel eventually came to fruition with the founding of the Metropolitan Tabernacle at the Elephant and Castle in the Borough of Southwark.  The Tabernacle opened on 18th March, 1861 and originally seated 5,000 with room for 1,000 standing and was the largest church of its time.  Unlike many ministers, he did not ask for those wishing to pledge themselves to G-d to come forward to the altar at the end of his sermons.  Instead, he asked those who were moved to seek an interest in Christ by his preaching to meet him at the vestry on Monday morning.  Dr. Spurgeon was to preach at the Tabernacle several times a week until his death in 1892.

It is said that Dr. Spurgeon preached to some 10,000,000 during his lifetime and delivered almost 3,600 sermons and published 49 volumes of written works.  On 7th October, 1857, he preached to his largest crowd, a gathering of 23,654 at the Crystal Palace.

The Crystal Palace, 1851

In addition to preaching and writing, Dr. Spurgeon founded a Pastor’s College in 1857, which was renamed in his honour in 1923 when it was moved to its present site in South Norwood Hill.  He also founded an orphanage in Stockwell London, which was open to boys in 1867 and then to girls in 1879 and which continued there until it was bombed during the Second World War after which it was moved to the coast.  The orphanage was closed in 1979 with the founding of Spurgeons, a charity set up to provide support that will enable these children to enjoy their childhood and fulfill their true potential, based in England with projects around the country and in other countries.

 Spurgeon's College, South Norwood Hill

Spurgeon's Orphanage, which moved to the South Coast during the Second World War and closed in 1979 with the founding of Spurgeon's charitable organisation

In 1887, Dr. Spurgeon became the centre of a controversy amongst Baptists as a result of his published article, Down-grade.  As a result, the Metropolitan Tabernacle was disaffected from the Baptist Union. From what I can gather, the controversy arose from tensions resulting from the interpretation of Scripture.  Dr. Spurgeon held to the principle that The Bible alone contains all knowledge necessary for Salvation and Holiness, the Sola scriptura (i.e. by scripture alone).  This was the subject of much debate at the same time throughout Protestant fellowships and would serve to divide them.  Dr. Spurgeon believed that his success as a preacher came from his belief in Sola scriptura and alleged that the Baptist Union was being weakened by its downgrading by tolerating an incremental creeping into its belief by concepts that he considered alien to belief (e.g. The Theory of Evolution, The Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis etc).  Unfortunately controversy spread amongst members of the college that he had founded and brought division amongst the students.

Dr. Spurgeon married on 8th January, 1856 to Susannah Thompson in London and had twin sons, Charles and Thomas, born on 20th September, 1856.  Susannah Spurgeon suffered from ill-health for much of her married life and was invalided by the time she was 33-years of age.  Despite this, she was to out-live her husband.

 Left: when beginning his life as a preacher; Right: soon after marriage

 Charles and Susannah Spurgeon

Dr. Spurgeon also suffered ill health in his later years with Rheumatism, Gout and Bright’s disease and often went to Menton in the South of France to recuperate.  It was during such a visit that he died on 31 January, 1892.  He was buried at West Norwood Cemetery where his tomb is still often visited by admirers.

The Grave of Susannah and Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Dr. Spurgeon's son, Thomas became a Pastor and preached in Australia and New Zealand.  He returned to England and eventually became Pastor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle from 1893 and 1908.  Thomas Spurgeon was the Pastor of the Tabernacle in 1898 when it was destroyed by fire with only the portico and basement being saved.  

 Left: Thomas Spurgeon, as a young man; Right: at 50-years of age; and
Centre: with his wife Lila Rutherford Spurgeon

The Tabernacle was rebuilt along similar lines as before, but was severely damaged once more in May 1941 during the longest air raid of the Second World War.  Again the portico and basement was saved.  In 1957, the Tabernacle was rebuilt a second time on the original perimeter walls, but on this occasion to a different design. 

 The Rebuilt Metropolitan Tabernacle (1957) with original Portico

Unfortunately the Second World War brought much damage to the area of the Elephant causing a reduction of the population living there.  This led to a marked decrease in the congregation attending  By 1970, the numbers attending services each Sunday were at their lowest point, but since then, due to the efforts of the Pastor and his staff, the numbers have begun to increase again.

However despite the woes of the Tabernacle, the name of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and his sermons continue to inspire people throughout the world and as long as the Pastor on television here continues to preach, he will not be forgotten in this area, I am glad to say.

I have read that Dr. Spurgeon enjoyed the hymns of Issac Watts incidentally is buried in the Non-Conformist cemetery, Bunhill Fields, along with John Bunyan, William Blake and Daniel Defoe, which is very close to where I once went to school.  Here are some hymns that I am sure were well-known to him:


The Metropolitan Tabernacle

Not too long ago, I decided that it was time for me to revisit South London and to actually look at it and not simply race through on a bus.

I went first to Dulwich, where my father was born and then to Albany Road in Camberwell where his family moved to shortly before he started to go to school.  I walked the whole length of Albany Road and looked carefully at the few remaining Victorian houses and wondered if one might be where he lived.  The road was longer than I thought, but eventually I came into the New Kent Road, which in turn proved long.  At last the road brought me to the northern roundabout of the Elephant and Castle.  I looked at the mess that it had become.  

 Once I got to the Elephant and Castle, there was not a smile in site .......
....  and who could blame them!

I failed to appreciate either the Coronet cinema or the memorial to Michael Faraday found on the roundabout.  Sadly, I not only completely missed the symbolism of the memorial, but also failed to appreciate it as being the best that Britain could offer one of the greatest scientists ever to live.  He was, and is and will continued to be highly regarded.  It is interesting to note that a picture of Michael Faraday was found amongst Albert Einstein’s personal possessions after his death.

 Two Unattractive Boxes at the Northern Roundabout of the Elephant and Castle
Top Left: the Memorial to Michael Faraday, by day; and Top Right: by night 
(I believe the lights no longer work!)
Bottom: the Coronet Cinema (to think, the Trocadero once stood on the other side of the street!)

I walked through the numerous subways under the northern roundabout.  These passageways allowed the pedestrian forgo the horror of trying to cross the many and dangerous roads that form a junction here.  Despite valiant attempts to decorate the subway walls with murals and tiles, these passageways remain unattractive and somewhat daunting, which is perhaps unaided by their dirty, poorly lit and foul-smelling state.  I certain would not be willing to venture through one at night.  One really has to ask oneself, who is it that designs this sort of thing?  Obviously someone who does not have to use it and who lives far, far away!

The Tiling in the Subway System beneath the Northern Roundabout of the Elephant and Castle
(The tiles look better in this collage than they did when I was taking the photographs)

Murals on the Walls of the Subway System beneath the Northern Roundabout
The murals are meant to recall the famous who once lived in the area (Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Michael Faraday and Charlie Chaplin) and the ethnic diversity of today, as well as Elephants and Rhinos.
(I can understand the Elephants ...... but the Rhinos .....???  Obviously I have missed the point ...... again!)

As I looked around the northern roundabout, I did not fail to appreciate the ugliness of the Charlie Chaplin and the new Elephant and Castle Public Houses.  One would have thought that a more attractive design could have been chosen together with the use of more interesting materials to commemorate the birthplace of a national treasure.

 The Charlie Chaplin Public House at the Elephant and Castle (found adjacent to the Coronet)
(I am intrigued by the bucket in the bottom right-handed corner of the photograph on the left!)

The Latest Incarnation of the Elephant and Castle Public House
According to the Board on the right, visitors are being welcomed to the world famous Elephant and Castle.  It is tragic to think that such a world famous establishment as this should have been rebuilt as such a monstrosity.  I remember the Public House of 1898 and it was glorious compared to this pathetic establishment.  It was a public house of interest.

However, my complaints of the area were not over.  Worse was yet to come.  If the subways and the design of the public houses were not sufficiently offensive to the eye, these were soon to pail and be surpassed by further examples of urban plight in the area.  A walk through the open air market and the Shopping Mall soon fulfilled my worst expectations.   Although I had prepared myself for the horror of the Shopping Mall, without doubt, nothing, absolutely nothing prepared me for what I found: for I was to find a structure that reached up and became the pinnacle of ugliness.

 The Open Air Market at the Elephant and Castle
(Sadly boring and unappealing from any angle)

The Shopping Mall at the Elephant and Castle
(Also sadly boring, unappealing and unbelievably ugly from any angle!)

Nothing that I had yet seen at the once attractive and interesting Elephant and Castle prepared me for the state of deterioration that the Shopping Mall to revolutionise shopping in Britain had suffered.  The sooner this poorly designed and poorly constructed eyesore can be replaced, the better for the residents of the area.  Mind you, many of the 3,000 or so residents who once lived at the Heygate Estate had been moved and it is now closed, boarded up and ready for demolition.

 The Heygate Estate - currently closed and awaiting demolition

The Heygate Estate became known as one of the worst examples of urban decay.   It was meant to represent a modern living environment consisting of tall concrete blocks towering over smaller blocks and surrounded by gardens.  The buildings were to be linked by concrete bridges and so allow avoidance of the dwellers from walking on pavements besides roads.

The estate was completed in 1974 and, according to what I can gather, was once a popular place to live.  According to what I read, the flats were light and spacious, but according to me, despite the flats being so described, so much concrete does not make for a pleasant looking environment and its size does not lend itself to a sense of community.  The estate later gained a reputation for a high crime rate, poverty and dilapidation.   By 2000, the estate was in serious need of repair. 

It seems that there is yet another plan to regenerate the Elephant and Castle area, which is said to cost £1.5 billion.  The plan includes the total demolition of the Heygate Estate with its replacement with some 2,500 new homes.  The demolition costs will be in the area of £8.5 million together with an additional £35 million to rehouse the residents.  Demolition began in April 2011.  It seems that the finals blocks will not be demolished before 2015 since each one contains asbestos, which takes time to remove safely.

 The Start of the Demolition of the Heygate Estate in April 2011

While in the midst of discovering the Shopping Mall I  remember suddenly having had enough of present day Elephant and Castle and being seized with the need to escape this urban plight and find peace, if not quiet, outside!  

I went out onto the patio or forecourt or whatever the area is called for some air.  Despite the noise of the endless traffic, I was immediately cheered by what now faced me across the road for there was the Metropolitan Tabernacle, the building I had liked so much as a child.  

Without further ado, I raced down the steps and out of the mall and, taking my life in my hands, I crossed the road, Newington Butts, and ran over to the Tabernacle.

At that time, I knew nothing about the Tabernacle except that I always liked its appearance.  I did not know it had opened on 18th March, 1861 with Charles Haddon Spurgeon as Pastor or that the building was destroyed twice, first by fire in 1898 and then by incendiary bomb in 1941.  I had no idea that the portico had survived on both occasions.  I remember looking at the portico many times as a child and always admiring the columns, yet I had never been inside the building. 

As I looked at the Tabernacle that day, I appreciated for the first time that the portico had been built in a classical Greek style so admired by Victorians.  There were six impressive Corinth columns before the entrance area, which was raised up from the roadway behind a small wall.  Access was achieved from either side of the wall by passing through the metal gate and climbing the stone steps. 

As I looked and admired the portico, I noticed a blue board with white lettering on the front wall of the Tabernacle.  While reading, I was stunned for I was greatly surprised at what I read.  In fact, as they used to say, you could have knocked me down with a feather!  

My surprise came from the fact that it was not until I went to live in North America in 1980 that I learned of the existence of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and now, here, today, after the passage of many intervening years, I now learned that this had been his church, the building where he gave many of his sermons.  As I said, I was stunned.  Imagine, being here!  I could not believe my good fortune. 

Now that I had discovered that this was THE Metropolitan Tabernacle and THIS was where Charles Haddon Spurgeon had preached, I decided that I was not leaving without going inside.

After a while I managed to compose myself and set about seeing how I was going to get inside the Tabernacle.  However gaining entry was to prove easier said than done.  I noticed that one of the main gates at the road level was open.  I entered and climbed the steps up to the entrance area.  There were three large front doors that proved to be locked and obviously bolted.  Knocking on them did not bring anyone hurrying to see who was there.  Disappointed, but not daunted, I walked down the side steps and decided to try ‘round the back.

Although I did manage to gain entry  I had arrived at the Tabernacle at about 10.00 a.m. on a Monday morning and I suspect that most of the staff had yet to arrive.  ‘Round the back I found a door that when I knocked on it brought a woman to open it.  I say open!  She offered the smallest crack of an opening.  She was evidently part of the clerical staff and immediately told me that no one was available to talk to me.  I suppose she expected me to scamper off, but I did not.  She was obviously not impressed with me despite my smiling at her and giving her a friendly greeting and a friendly chat.  Obviously charm was not going to have the desired effect on this lady and get me inside the building.  And so, with regret, I decided that in order to gain entrance, I needed to resort to a little deceit.

I have found over the years that when one wants something and wants it badly enough, a little deceit often proves the grease to open the door.  It is not that I enjoy being slightly deceitful, because I do not.  But oftentimes I find people in authority to be somewhat harsh and a tad cruel in their behaviour to a reasonable request.  I appreciate that in today’s age of violence, one has to be careful who one allows into one’s home and place of work, but I have always believed that anyone can see that I am honest and mean them no harm and so can never understand reticence at allowing me access to something I want to see. 

Although I continued to display my best smile and to use words intended to charm the lady, I knew I had to chose better words.  I decided that I had to tell her something of a lie.  After assessing the situation with some speed, I knew that complete truth was not going to gain me access and that some exaggeration would be necessary to win this woman over and have her grant me entrance.

I decided to tell her that I had come from America – which was true – and that I had come especially to visit the Tabernacle – which was almost true.  It was almost true as I have planned to visit the area and I am sure that I would have wanted to visit the building.  I then launched into a history of my father and how he loved the Elephant and how he had brought my mother and me here often, and how I had always admired the building.  None of these confessions brought any change to the lady’s expression. 


I realised that I needed to bring out my big guns!  I knew that I had to come up with something that would prove to be my Open Sesame and weaken the lady’s resolve and cause her to open the door and allow me inside.  I told her of the Pastor of the Baptist Church whose services were presented on television each Sunday and how he admired the sermons of Dr. Spurgeon.  I detected the faintest flicker in her eye and knew that this was the path to entry.

I have learned that if one mentions one’s mother, oftentimes even the hardest of hearts will melt.  I have mentioned my mother on many occasions and have always received the warmest of responses.  I feel no guilt in mentioning my mother, as she was a good woman of great humour and charm who had a faith that although simple was profound.  I told her how my mother enjoyed attending the television services since she was not able to travel far in her later years.  I mentioned how she used to hang onto every word of the Sunday sermon and meditated on their essence and how many had been inspired by those of Dr. Spurgeon.  Believe it or not, this was all true!

The lady weakened and I gained from her the slightest of smiles.  She said that she could show me the main building, but we would have to be quick since she had a meeting in twenty minutes.  I thanked her and stepped inside the Tabernacle.

I was taken along several corridors and into the Main Chapel.  My guide was not talkative and did not give me any information about the building.  I attempted to engage her in conversation, but she only gave the briefest of answers and so after a while I decided that she obviously preferred silence and so I granted her her preference.

The lady allowed me to sit in a pew and look at the altar for a minute or two and tolerated my lingering at the Baptism Pool. 

Left: Pews; Right: Baptism Pool

The Chapel was light and airy with little decoration.  The altar was raised and reached by a small number of steps and consisted of a series of wooden panels with a covering of some unknown gray material.  Above the decoration is the text:

Look unto Me and be ye saved

All the ends of the earth

and before it is a simple lectern with a few wooden chairs behind.   

There are pews on either side of a central transcript.  There are huge windows on either side of the side walls which allow light into the Chapel.  The upper section has pews on three sides, which rise towards the back.

After a few minutes, the lady tells me that I must go, but she offers to allow me to linger a while at the Book Shop, which is now open as the salesperson had now arrived and opened it to the general public.

Once the lady had introduced me to the salesman, she bade me a very quick good-bye and disappeared before I could thank her properly.  I fear that she had already forgotten me by the time she arrived at her meeting.  Be that as it may, she had opened the door and allowed me in and now I had visited the Tabernacle and felt the better for it. 

When I left the building, I was filled with great joy and spent the rest of the morning examining and re-examining the exterior of the building.  Imagine, I had been inside the Tabernacle where Dr. Spurgeon had once been.  My only sadness was that I was unable to tell my mother about the visit.  Still ………………


The story is dedicated to the Reverend David H. Hailey of Hayes Barton Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina, with grateful thanks for introducing me to the sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon; to my father for his love of The Elephant and for bringing me to the area to see, without knowing, the Tabernacle during my childhood; and to my mother, who enjoyed sermons inspired by the writing of Dr. Spurgeon.  I thank you all and, last but by no means least, I thank the lady at Spurgeon's Church for without whom I would not have gained entry on my visit.



Looking at your piece about Spurgeon and the Elephant and Castle I have to tell you that my Great grandmother's maiden name on our English side was Spurgeon.  I believe it is an Essex name.  
I recently had to get something witnessed and the solicitor's surname was also Spurgeon.
I had already heard of this minister you have written about.  Whether we are all related or not I don't know, but I could research it.  
Maybe it runs in the family - getting into trouble with people over religion!!!
I went to the London College of Printing next door to the church when it was first built and which opened around 1962.  It is a pale blue tower block.  It had an annex between the building and the church where the practical reprographics studios were housed.   I was at the college from when it opened until about 1967.  I believe they now call it The London College of Communication or some such name.
Elephant and Castle is derived from the Spanish  Infanta di CastileThe shopping centre was opened around 1965.  It was hideous even then, but was hailed as the biggest in Europe at the time. 
Peter Kurton


I finally got time to take a closer look at your story!  I remember those London Transport locomotives at Harrow-on-the-Hill  station.  I believe there were only about 20-25 of them.  They were diesels and were named after famous Englishmen, such as Christopher Wren, John Wycliffe, Isaac Newton, etc., and operated on the Metropolitan line all the way to Aylesbury.  The trains on the same route that were electric, and not pulled by those locomotives, had to have a steam engine attached to them at Rickmansworth (or maybe it was Moor Park).  We used to ride them to one of our favourite places, Chorleywood, where we used to wade into the pond on the golf course and fish out lost golf balls.

I must admit that I had never heard of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  But then we were Catholics, which may account for this!

Thanks for the memories.



Interesting article.   My two sisters and I were dedicated as opposed to baptised at Shoreditch Tabernacle in Hackney Road.   You possibly may remember it.   My older sister some years later lived in Handforth Road at the Oval.   She had her two sons dedicated at the Elephant and Castle Tabernacle.  I remember going to the services there in the early seventies during rare trips over the water, as we used to say!!!

Brian Hall


I found your story very interesting and some of the photos are fascinating. 
In the late 70s-early 80s I worked just off Borough High Street, in an old building full of nooks and crannies and character. Very occasionally in my lunch hour, I would walk to the Elephant Shopping Centre, but it had a very sad and sorry air about it, even then, and to get to it I had to brave the underpass – which might be more colourful these days, but I imagine it’s equally dodgy!  So usually I walked in the other direction towards the hustle and bustle of Borough Market and London Bridge.