What’s it named after? A pub that sat on this site before the construction of Alexander Fleming House.
What’s the carpet like?
London’s changing. Not many places are changing as fast as the Elephant & Castle, though. The old Heygate housing estate’s been pulled down, the roundabouts ripped out and subways filled in. It’s now all about pop-ups, Elephant Park, and trying to get across the pelican crossings before the cruelly-short countdown runs out.
But not everything’s changed. The Rockingham Arms is a marker of continuity in dizzying, disconcerting times. It’s even named after a pub that was destroyed in the Blitz.
Friday night in the Rockingham brings a hugely mixed crowd – locals mixing with nearby office workers. The tiling – the same in the bar as in the ladies’ toilet – makes it feel a bit like a bar plonked in an office reception, but that’s what it is.
Part of the pub used to be the ground floor of Alexander Fleming House, Erno Goldfinger’s Brutalist headquarters for the old Department of Health and Social Security. The rest was a NatWest. But the bank has gone and the civil servants have long moved across the road, and the upper floors are now flats. While much of the rest of the Elephant is being bulldozed, this 1960s building is listed.
While the developers’ billboards crow about this being central London, the Rockingham Arms is defiantly, loudly South London. Service is efficient and friendly, and the place is packed with tables, each marked with an instruction to watch your bag. There’s not much standing going on here. For a moment, all the high-backed chairs and unremarkable paintings remind you of the latest refurb of Brixton McDonald’s.
As Friday evening wears on, the atmosphere gets more chilled out. There’s a big group of office workers hitting the red wine and taking selfies. The beer is well-kept, but wine so-so. Bars in the new-look Elephant face out onto the street, but the Rockingham is defiantly cocooned away.
There aren’t any local history facts on the wall, and that’s probably because the local legends surround the Elephant & Castle itself, which also sits in the same block. A dump for many years, it was saved from a fate worse than death – conversion to a Foxtons estate agent – and is now a loud and lively Antic pub. And over the road, the “unremittingly grim” Charlie Chaplin is surely fit only for the wrecker’s ball that will finally claim the shopping centre.
But the busy, bustling Rockingham is, hopefully, safe. Long may it, and the locals who love it, stay here.
Address: 119 Newington Causeway SE1 6BN
Bus: Any to the Elephant & Castle (too many to list here – here’s a map)
Tube/train: Elephant & Castle (Zone 1 – Bakerloo, Northern, Thameslink).