The Elephant, as it is known for short, consists of major traffic intersections connected by a short road called Elephant and Castle, part of the A3. Between these intersections, on the eastern side, is the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, with an office block called Hannibal House on top. To the north of this, bounded by Newington Causeway and New Kent Road is a large residential block called Metro Central Heights. The 43-storey Strata residential block lies just south of the shopping centre on Walworth Road. "Elephant and Castle" has largely replaced the original name of the area — Newington.
The intersections route traffic arriving from and heading to the south-east of England along the A2 — called here the New Kent Road and then the Old Kent Road — and towards the south of England on the A3 as well as splitting traffic into the West End via St George's Road, and the City of London via London Road and Newington Causeway at the northern intersection. Newington Butts and Walworth Road adjoin the southern intersection. The whole junction system forms part of the London Inner Ring Road and part of the boundary of the London congestion charge zone.
In the middle of the northern intersection island is the Michael Faraday Memorial, a large stainless steel box built in honour of Michael Faraday, who was born nearby. The structure also contains an electrical substation for the Northern Line of the London Underground.
The Elephant is also home to two linked London Underground stations (Northern and Bakerloo lines) as well as a National Rail station served both by South-East Trains (Kentish Town to Sevenoaks via Catford) and by First Capital Connect (Thameslink suburban loop to Sutton and Wimbledon). Other local buildings include Skipton House (housing the Department of Health), Perronet House an award winning residential block owned by Southwark Council, a large part of the London South Bank University campus, the London College of Communication, the Ministry of Sound nightclub, and the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The Cuming Museum is nearby.
Known previously as Newington (Newington Butts and Newington Causeway are two of the principal roads of the area), in the medieval period it was simply a part of rural Surrey, of the manor of Walworth. This is listed in the Domesday Book as belonging to the Archbishop of Canterbury; the income from its rents and tithes supplied the monks at Christ Church Canterbury with their clothing; a 'church' is also mentioned. However, the parish was called 'St Mary, Newington'. That church occupied the site of the current leisure centre, next to the Tabernacle, being first recorded by name in 1222.
In May 1557, William Morant, Stephen Gratwick, and a man named King (known as the Southwark Martyrs), were burnt at the stake in St. George's Field on the site of the present Tabernacle during the Marian Persecutions.
St Mary's church was rebuilt in 1720. However, this was not as long-lived as its predecessor and was completely replaced in 1790, to a design of Francis Hurlbatt. Within another hundred years this too was to be demolished, but it was decided that the successor should be relocated elsewhere within the parish; a site was chosen in Kennington Park Road. The new church was ready in 1876. That building was destroyed in 1940 by enemy action. The remains of the tower and an arch were incorporated into the modern design of its replacement of 1958. The open space at the leisure centre is still known as St Mary's Churchyard, and the narrow pedestrian walk at its southend is 'Churchyard Row'.
Other institutions were created here. There is record of a 'hospital' before the Reformation. In 1601 the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers erected St Peter's Hospital, i.e. almshouses, on the site of the present London College of Communication. This expanded and survived until 1850, when it removed to Wandsworth. The Drapers livery company created Walters' Almshouses on a site now at the southern intersection island in 1640, giving the tower block opposite its name 'Draper House'. The almshouses were relocated to Brandon Street in the 1960s as part of the major redevelopments here.
In the 19th century the nationally famed Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon built his Metropolitan Tabernacle here. It was bombed in the blitz but rebuilt and is still flourishing today.
During the late 19th century, a cemetery existed in the vicinity of Elephant and Castle. It was however built over during London's rapid expansion.
The Elephant and Castle was the centre of the target zone for the German air raids on London on 10 May 1941 and suffered "raging fires" during this raid.
Most recently, the Elephant and Castle is featured on the cover of The High Llamas' "Beet Maize & Corn" album (2003) in a painting by Jeremy Glogan.
Elephant and Castle is also the location of The London College of Communication formerly known as The London College of Printing, an internationally renowned dedicated college. The present structure was constructed during the redevelopment of the area in the early 1960s.