Waterloo to Wandsworth

This is the first post in what should be a series of three or four on the railway journey from London to Salisbury. This is still very much a work in progress – if you can add anything please let me know via the comments.

The posts so far are:

If you’re planning to go on from Salisbury to Stonehenge then you might want to look at:

Waterloo station

Waterloo station started life as Waterloo Bridge Station in 1848. It was originally several different stations, being operated by different railway and underground companies. It was a notoriously difficult and complicated place.

Jerome K Jerome satirized this at the beginning of ‘Three Men in a Boat’:

We got to Waterloo at eleven, and asked where the eleven-five started from. Of course nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to, or anything about it. The porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one. The station-master, on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local.

To put an end to the matter, we went upstairs, and asked the traffic superintendent, and he told us that he had just met a man, who said he had seen it at number three platform. We went to number three platform, but the authorities there said that they rather thought that train was the Southampton express, or else the Windsor loop. But they were sure it wasn’t the Kingston train, though why they were sure it wasn’t they couldn’t say.

Then our porter said he thought that must be it on the high-level platform; said he thought he knew the train. So we went to the high- level platform, and saw the engine-driver, and asked him if he was going to Kingston. He said he couldn’t say for certain of course, but that he rather thought he was. Anyhow, if he wasn’t the 11.5 for Kingston, he said he was pretty confident he was the 9.32 for Virginia Water, or the 10 a.m. express for the Isle of Wight, or somewhere in that direction, and we should all know when we got there. We slipped half-a-crown into his hand, and begged him to be the 11.5 for Kingston.

Waterloo, Belgium

Waterloo Bridge and by extension Waterloo Station were, of course, named after the Battle of Waterloo, where the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon.

The ‘Iron Duke’ is referenced in the name of one of the stations bars ‘The Wellesley’[1], and by the pub in in Waterloo Road called the Duke of Wellington.

The Etymology of Waterloo

The placename ‘Waterloo’ has two parts, derived from either Flemish or Dutch. The first element means ‘wet’, the second means ‘forest’, ‘clearing in a forest’[2], or possibly ‘sacred forest’[3].

A conservative French politician, Florent Longuepée, complained in 1998 that the the name of Waterloo station might cause ‘discomfort’ to French visitors, writing “At a time of European integration, which I know you support, it seems to me opportune that England should give this station another name.”[4]

Waterloo – the songs

‘Waterloo’ features in two great pop songs, which, as far as I can think, is two more than any other railway station in the country[5]

The first was Abba’s ‘Waterloo’, which won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. In Great Britain and perhaps Sweden “meeting one’s Waterloo” means coming to a day of reckoning and, typically, coming out badly[6] . I’m not sure why the phrase assumes the loser’s viewpoint. In the song, the singer meets her Waterloo by losing herself to romance – ‘I feel like I win when I lose’. I often wonder what Napoleon would have made of this perspective. According to the song’s Wikipedia page, it was originally titled ‘Honey Pie’.

The other great ‘Waterloo song’ is ‘Waterloo Sunset’ by the Kinks[7]. According to Paul du Noyer’s book ‘In the City: A Celebration of London Music’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ was originally going to be a song about Liverpool. The song was covered by Cathy Dennis who went on to co-write Kylie’s hit ‘Cant get you out of my head’

Leaving Waterloo station

As you leave Waterloo station, on your right[8] you can catch glimpses of some of the local landmarks – the London Eye and Big Ben.

The first London Borough the train goes through is Lambeth. Lambeth is famous for the song ‘The Lambeth Walk’ and for Lambeth Palace. The Palace would be on your right just after you come out of Waterloo, although I’m not sure whether the Palace or the Grounds are visible. It’s the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop is the head of the Church of England, England’s state church.

Vauxhall and Battersea

Beyond Lambeth is Vauxhall. Vauxhall’s most prominent building is the large sandy coloured one to your right just before you come into the station. The building is occupied by MI5 (the British Secret Service) – it looks the part.

Shortly after the MI5 building, also on the right is New Covent Garden Market. This is London’s wholesale fruit and veg market, which moved out from the old Covent Garden in 1974.

Shortly after the MI5 building, also on the right, is New Covent Garden Market. This is London’s wholesale fruit and veg market, which moved out from the old Covent Garden in 1974 [9]

After Vauxhall, the train passes through Battersea. Battersea’s most prominent landmark is Battersea Power Station. It’s no longer in use. The power station became internationally famous after being featured on the cover of a Pink Floyd album.

Battersea is also famous for Battersea Dog’s Home. On some trains you can hear the dogs barking, which always strikes me as a very sad sound.

After the power station, just before you get to Clapham Junction, the low hill to the left is ‘Lavender Hill’, home of the ‘Lavender Hill Mob’ from the 1951 film.

The train sometimes stops at Clapham Junction (which is actually in Battersea rather than Clapham as far as I’m concerned but opinions vary).

Clapham Junction was the ‘junction’ which is referenced by the title of Nell Dunn’s 1963 book ‘Up The Junction’. The book was made into a film in 1968 starring Maureen Lipman. Both the film and the book are southern, more female-centric counterparts to the gritty, kitchen-sink northern dramas ‘Saturday night and Sunday Morning’ and ‘Room at the Top’.

The title ‘Up The Junction’ was also used by Squeeze (who were actually from Deptford, in South East London) for the 1978 new-wave hit. The song starts with the lines ‘I never thought it would happen, with me and the girl from Clapham’

In song, film and book ‘Up the Junction’ is a euphemism for being pregnant.

Beyond Clapham is Wandsworth. Wandsworth is probably most famous for Wandsworth Prison, which as far as I’m aware isn’t visible from the train.


  1. The Duke was named Arthur Wellesley. []
  2. Waterloo, Belgium – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia []
  3. Online Etymology Dictionary []
  4. BBC News | UK | Waterloo insult to French visitors []
  5. unless you count ‘Up the Junction’. Other contenders might be the Pet Shop Boys ‘Kings Cross’, songs called Victoria by both Shane MacGowan and the Fall. I can’t think of any more – but let me know if you can! []
  6. Pedants corner: As is fairly well known, at Waterloo Napoleon did not in fact surrender. He formally surrendered at Rochefort on the Atlantic coast in July 1815, a couple of weeks after Waterloo, seeking political asylum. He had previously surrendered in 1814 at Fontainebleau. []
  7. It might be interesting to hear Waterloo Sunset performed in the style of late period Abba, and Waterloo done in the style of the louder Kinks records []
  8. I’m going to assume that you’re facing forwards in the train i.e. in the direction you’re travelling []
  9. history | newcoventgardenmarket.com []

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