Kingsland Road in the 1930s

Above: Hoarding surrounding a development at the Elephant and Castle.

Reminiscing the Past

I was waiting for a bus at the Elephant and Castle traffic interchange a few months ago and I noticed a large drawing of a pink elephant on the protective hoarding of a new development beside one of the roundabouts. For some reason it reminded me of a story told to me some time ago – in the 1980s – which was about real elephants.

My father was a pharmacist at the Evelina Hospital for Sick Children. One of his best friends was a consultant dentist at Guy’s Hospital who spent one day each week at the Evelina – to carry out work on the children’s teeth. His name was Mr James Mansie. I also knew him well and one day he told me the following story.

It relates to when he was a student which would have been around the 1930s. When I knew him, he was a distinguished consultant dentist, usually dressed in a morning suit. To anyone other than my father and me he probably looked rather intimidating. It was hard to ever picture him as a young student. He told me that one evening he had gone to a party in the West End with some of his student friends. They were all enjoying the party and, by the end of the evening, they were all a little tipsy. It was then time for them to make their way home. It was the ‘early hours’ before they left the party and they suddenly realised that it was far too late for them to catch any form of public transport. Most of them lived in digs – either in Southwark, near Guy’s Hospital, where they were students, or just north of the City of London. James Mansie was then living with his parents where his father (who was a doctor and the local GP) lived in a house which he also used for his General Practice somewhere near Shoreditch, possibly on Kingsland Road.

The group set off on foot, ready to walk home together and then split up and go their separate ways as they got nearer to their digs. He said that the night was dry but inclined to be slightly foggy and it took them some hours to walk home. After they had been walking for some considerable time, one of the group announced that he thought he could see elephants in the distance. We all know about people who have had too much to drink and how they often claim to see strange objects. The group took little notice of the claim and continued walking and chatting. Within a short distance they all began to see elephants!

Being in the middle of the night, the roads in those days were really very quiet, with almost no traffic at all to worry about. It turned out that a travelling circus was taking advantage of the quiet roads at night to move their troop of circus elephants from one site to another one being set up a few miles away. The line of elephants was to be seen walking along Kingsland Road or Shoreditch High Street under the supervision of their keeper!

It is a good story and for me, it is all the more amusing to have heard it from a man who, when he told the story, had been a highly eminent consultant dentist well into his eighties! London, obviously, was a different place in the 1930s.


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