Changing London

Pioneering square’s late arrival in Pimlico history

Walking into Dolphin Square in Pimlico feels like entering a football stadium, except instead of rows of seats you are surrounded by apartments. In the centre, the pitch if you like, there are landscaped gardens with an ornamental fountains in a pond as a centre piece. Accommodation is provided in 13 ‘houses’ each named after a famous navigator or admiral, including Nelson, Hawkins and Drake.

There is also a restaurant pavilion and a members’ health club with a swimming pool, plus tennis and croquet down by the Thames. And, curiously, it has its own charming shopping arcade with everything from a sandwich shop and hairdressers to a supermarket and travel agents.

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This vast development, containing some 1,250 apartments (when it was constructed it was the largest self-contained block of flats in Europe) was built in the 1930s. It’s been home to some famous faces over the years, including Harold Wilson and William Hague, and today is still where many MPs live.

A. P. Herbert who produced a book about the development in 1935 said each of the apartments enjoy “the same time most of the advantages of the separate house and the big communal dwelling place”. But including a restaurant made him worry that “fortunate wives will not have enough to do. A little drudgery is good for wives, perhaps. The Dolphin lady may be spoiled”.

But sandwiched between St George’s Square on one side and Claverton Street on the other, both laid out in the 1800s, you might wonder why development came so late at Dolphin Square. That’s because it was the site of Cubbit’s Yard – the depot of Thomas Cubbit, the main builder of Belgravia and Pimlico. If you look at this 1827 map you can see this space in residential development:

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Of course, there have been bigger developments since the 1930s, but when it was created it must have been particularly spectacular and seen as ahead of its time. That said, you can’t fail to be amazed when walk into this amazing place today.

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