Dolphin Square

Neighbourhood in/near Pimlico, existing between 1937 and now

(51.4863 -0.136429, 51.486 -0.136) 
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Neighbourhood · Pimlico · SW1V ·

Dolphin Square is a block of private flats and business complex built near the River Thames between 1935 and 1937.

At the time of its construction the development of 1,250 up-market flats was billed by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as the "largest self-contained block of flats in Europe" and, to an extent, their design has been a model for later municipal developments.

The Dolphin Square development is situated on the former works of the developer and builder Thomas Cubitt, who created the surrounding Pimlico district in the 19th century. An Army clothing factory was built on the site after Cubitt’s death, standing until 1933, when the leasehold on the site reverted to the Duke of Westminster. An American company, the Frederick French Corporation, bought the freehold for the site from the Duke, with plans to build a large residential development, Ormonde Court. The precarious financial situation of the Frederick French Corporation resulted in the sale of the site to Richard Rylands Costain (founder of the nascent Costain Group), who began construction on his own development in 1935.

A. P. Herbert described the Square as ’a city of 1,250 flats, each enjoying at the same time most of the advantages of the separate house and the big communal dwelling place’; the provision of a restaurant made him fear that ’fortunate wives will not have enough to do. A little drudgery is good for wives, perhaps. The Dolphin lady may be spoiled’. This promotional booklet was produced for Costains. On purchasing the site, Costain remarked to a colleague: ‘in two or three years we’ll either drive up to this spot in a Rolls-Royce, or we’ll be standing here selling matches’.

Dolphin Square, as it was now known, was sold by Costains to Sir Maxwell Joseph who bought the complex in 1958 for £2.4 million, selling it to Lintang Investments in 1959 for £3.1 million. Westminster City Council bought the lease of the block for £4.5 million in the mid-1960s, and subsequently sub-let it to the Dolphin Square Trust, an effective housing association, which had been newly created for the purpose. In January 2006, the Dolphin Square Trust and Westminster City Council sold Dolphin Square to the American Westbrook Holdings group for £200 million.

Accommodation is provided in 13 ’houses’ each named after a famous navigator or admiral. At the south (Thames) side of the Square the houses are Grenville, Drake, Raleigh and Hawkins. Moving from the river up the west side, there are Nelson, Howard, Beatty, and Duncan. A hotel and administration offices, situated at the north side of the Square, is in Dolphin House, previously known as Rodney. Heading south from the hotel there is Keyes, Hood, Collingwood and Frobisher.

The estate contains a swimming pool, bar, brasserie (all of which were renovated in 2008), gymnasium, and shopping arcade. In the basement are a launderette and car park. A tennis court and croquet lawn overlook the River Thames. Until 21 January 1970, London Transport bus route 134 showed PIMLICO Dolphin Square as a destination and actually terminated in Chichester Street.

The proximity of Dolphin Square to the Palace of Westminster and the headquarters of the intelligence agencies MI5 (Thames House) and MI6 (Vauxhall Cross) has attracted many politicians, peers, civil servants and intelligence agency personnel as residents. Politicians who have lived in the development include Harold Wilson, David Steel, William Hague, Estelle Morris, Beverley Hughes, Michael Mates, John Langford-Holt and Iain Mills.

Other notable residents have included: comedians Ben Lyon and Bud Flanagan; actor Peter Finch; writer Radclyffe Hall; former Lord Chief Justice Lord Goddard; journalist Norman Cliff; tennis writer Bud Collins; Anne, Princess Royal; Profumo affair topless showgirls Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. Australian tennis player Rod Laver stayed here for the 1969 Wimbledon championships during his Grand Slam season.

John Vassall, the Soviet spy, was arrested at apartment 807 in the square’s Hood House in 1962. Oswald Mosley and his wife Diana Mitford, Lady Mosley, left their apartment at Dolphin Square for internment in 1940 during the Second World War.

It provided a base for the Free French during World War II and number 308 Hood House was used by MI5 section B5(b) responsible for infiltrating agents into potentially subversive groups from 1924 to 1946.

Main source: Wikipedia
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Dolphin Square Dolphin Square is a block of private flats and business complex built near the River Thames between 1935 and 1937.
Pimlico Pimlico is known for its garden squares and Regency architecture.
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St Saviour’s St Saviour’s is an Anglo-Catholic church in Pimlico.

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Antrobus Street, SW1V Antrobus Street, now demolished, was long called Rutland Street.
Aylesford Street, SW1V Aylesford Street was built in 1848.
Balniel Gate, SW1V Balniel Gate is a road of Pimlico.
Balvaird Place, SW1V Balvaird Place is a road in the SW1V postcode area
Bessborough Gardens, SW1V Bessborough Gardens is a road in the SW1V postcode area
Bessborough Place, SW1V Bessborough Place is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
Bessborough Street, SW1V Bessborough Street is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
Cambridge Street, SW1V Cambridge Street is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
Charlwood Street, SW1V Charlwood Street is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
Chichester Street, SW1V Chichester Street is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
Churchill Gardens Road, SW1V Churchill Gardens Road is a road in the SW1V postcode area
Churchill Gardens, SW1V Churchill Gardens is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
Claverton Street, SW1V Claverton Street runs from Lupus Street to Grosvenor Road.
Crown Reach Riverside Walk, SW1V Crown Reach Riverside Walk is a road in the SW1V postcode area
Cumberland Street, SW1V Cumberland Street is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
Denbigh Place, SW1V Denbigh Place is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
Denbigh Street, SW1V Denbigh Street is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
Dolphin Square East Side, SW1V Dolphin Square consists of blocks of private flats built between 1935 and 1937.
Dolphin Square West, SW1V Dolphin Square West is a road in the SW1V postcode area
Drummond Gate, SW1V Drummond Gate is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
Duncan House, SW1V Residential block
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Frobisher House, SW1V Residential block
Glasgow Terrace, SW1V Glasgow Terrace has coexisted with the name of Caledonia Street.
Gloucester Street, SW1V Gloucester Street is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
Grosvenor Road, SW1V Grosvenor Road forms part of the Thames embankment.
Johnson’s Place, SW1V Johnson’s Place is a road in the SW1V postcode area
Keyes House, SW1V Residential block
Lindsay Square, SW1V Lindsay Square is a road in the SW1V postcode area
Lupus Street, SW1V Lupus Street was named after Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester.
Lutyens House, SW1V Residential block
Moreton Place, SW1 Moreton Place is a road in the SW1 postcode area
Moreton Street, SW1V Moreton Street is one of the streets of London in the SW1V postal area.
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Nelson House, SW1V Residential block
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Paxton Terrace, SW1V Paxton Terrace is a road in the SW1V postcode area
Ponsonby Place, SW1V Ponsonby Place is one of the streets of London in the SW1P postal area.
Ponsonby Terrace, SW1V Ponsonby Terrace is one of the streets of London in the SW1P postal area.
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Pimlico is known for its garden squares and Regency architecture.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Manor of Ebury was divided up and leased by the Crown to servants or favourites. In 1623, James I sold the freehold of Ebury - the land was sold on several more times until it came into the possession of heiress Mary Davies in 1666.

Mary’s dowry not only included modern-day Pimlico and Belgravia, but also most of what is now Mayfair and Knightsbridge. She was much pursued and in 1677 at the age of twelve she married Sir Thomas Grosvenor. The Grosvenors were a family of Norman descent long seated at Eaton Hall in Cheshire who until this auspicious marriage were only of local consequence in the county of Cheshire. Through the development and good management of this land, the Grosvenors acquired enormous wealth.

At some point in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, the area ceased to be known as Ebury (or ’The Five Fields’) and gained the name by which it is now known. According to folklore, it received its name from Ben Pimlico, famous for his nut-brown ale. His tea-gardens were near Hoxton, and the road to them from here was termed Pimlico Path, so that what is now called Pimlico was so named from the popularity of the Hoxton resort.

By the nineteenth century, and as a result of an increase in demand for property in the previously unfashionable West End of London following the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of London, Pimlico had become ripe for development. In 1825, Thomas Cubitt was contracted by Lord Grosvenor to develop Pimlico. The land up to this time had been marshy but was reclaimed using soil excavated during the construction of St Katharine Docks.

Cubitt developed Pimlico as a grid of handsome white stucco terraces. The largest and most opulent houses were built along St George’s Drive and Belgrave Road, the two principal streets, and Eccleston, Warwick and St George’s Squares. Lupus Street contained similarly grand houses, as well as shops and, until the early twentieth century, a hospital for women and children. Smaller-scale properties, typically of three storeys, line the side streets. An 1877 newspaper article described Pimlico as "genteel, sacred to professional men… not rich enough to luxuriate in Belgravia proper, but rich enough to live in private houses." Its inhabitants were "more lively than in Kensington… and yet a cut above Chelsea, which is only commercial."

Although the area was dominated by the well-to-do middle and upper-middle classes as late as Booth’s 1889 Map of London Poverty, parts of Pimlico are said to have declined significantly by the 1890s. When Rev Gerald Olivier moved to the neighbourhood in 1912 with his family, including the young Laurence Olivier, to minister to the parishioners of St Saviour, it was part of a venture to west London ’slums’ that had previously taken the family to the depths of Notting Hill.

Through the late nineteenth century, Pimlico saw the construction of several Peabody Estates, charitable housing projects designed to provide affordable, quality homes.

Proximity to the Houses of Parliament made Pimlico a centre of political activity. Prior to 1928, the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress shared offices on Eccleston Square, and it was here in 1926 that the General Strike was organised.

In the mid-1930s Pimlico saw a second wave of development with the construction of Dolphin Square, a self-contained ’city’ of 1250 up-market flats built on the site formerly occupied by Cubitt’s building works. Completed in 1937, it quickly became popular with MPs and public servants. It was home to fascist Oswald Mosley until his arrest in 1940, and the headquarters of the Free French for much of the Second World War.

Pimlico survived the war with its essential character intact, although parts sustained significant bomb damage. Through the 1950s these areas were the focus of large-scale redevelopment as the Churchill Gardens and Lillington and Longmoore Gardens estates, and many of the larger Victorian houses were converted to hotels and other uses.

To provide affordable and efficient heating to the residents of the new post-war developments, Pimlico became one of the few places in the UK to have a district heating system installed.

In 1953, the Second Duke of Westminster sold the part of the Grosvenor estate on which Pimlico is built.

Pimlico was connected to the underground in 1972 as a late addition to the Victoria Line. Following the designation of a conservation area in 1968 (extended in 1973 and again in 1990), the area has seen extensive regeneration. Successive waves of development have given Pimlico an interesting social mix, combining exclusive restaurants and residences with Westminster City Council run facilities.

Notable residents of Pimlico have included politician Winston Churchill, designer Laura Ashley, philosopher Swami Vivekananda, actor Laurence Olivier, illustrator and author Aubrey Beardsley, Kenyan nationalist Jomo Kenyatta and inventor of lawn tennis Major Walter Wingfield.

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Antrobus Street sign
TUM image id: 1601897046
Licence: CC BY 2.0

In the neighbourhood...

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The Lillington Gardens estate
Credit: Ewan Munro
Licence: CC BY 2.0

Victoria coach station’s temporary base, 1929, where the Tachbrook Estate is now. The King’s Scholar Pond sewer is on the left.
Licence: CC BY 2.0

Nine Elms Station map in the 1850s with the new line to Waterloo on right.
Licence: CC BY 2.0

Pulford Street being demolished
Credit: Peabody Trust
Licence: CC BY 2.0

Antrobus Street sign
Licence: CC BY 2.0

"A Sunset with a View of Nine Elms" (c.1755)
Credit: Samuel Scott/Tate Britain

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