Pimlico

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History of the Area

The map below gives an impression of the land around London in very early times.

Map
"London before the houses" published 1884 [5]

Click image for enlarged view

The cartographer shows the placenames Batters Ey, Chels Ey and Thorn Ey. Ait, Ey and Eyot are all old forms denoting a small island. Thorn Ey became Thorney and the site of Westminster Abbey. The name Battersea could be from Batricheseie meaning 'gravel island', but Chelsea is more likely to have come from Chelchehithe - Anglo-Saxon for chalk landing-place.

The areas of Chelsea, Pimlico and Thorney were marshland, as were most of the areas along the Thames that we know today. Various Thames tributaries, now culveted, passed through them [6]:

  • Bridge Creek: Later known as Coulter's Creek, rises near Kensal Green cemetery and drains into the Thames next to the former Lotts Road Power Station. I have a lot of information about Coulter's Creek and will add a link here to the research when it is available.
  • West Bourne: Rising in Hampstead, it flows through Kilburn and Bayswater to Hyde Park where it was dammed to form the Serpentine, passes under Knightsbridge, follows the route of Bourne Street and joins the Thames at Chelsea near the Chelsea Barracks.
  • The Tyburn: Also rising in Hampstead, it flows through Regents Park, under Buckingham Palace and joins the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge in Pimlico. A branch of the river formed the Island of Thorney that became the site of Westminster Abbey.
  • The River Fleet: The most well-known and notorious of London's culveted rivers, it arises from two springs at Hampstead Heath which feed nearby ponds (built as reservoirs in the 1700s) and passes through Camden Town, Kings Cross, follows Farringdon Street and joins the Thames at Blackfriars. The upper reaches were once known as the Holbourne and gave Holborn its name. The river got increasingly polluted with effluent from Smithfield Market and human waste over the centuries and was completely culverted in the 1870s

The area now known as Pimlico was marshy had once been part of an larges estate known as Ebury; it was sparsely populated until the 19th century. The owner Lord Grosvenor placed a contract with the Master Builder Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855) to develop the area and he used soil excavated during the construction of St. Katherine Docks near the Tower of London to reclaim the land. Pimlico became an area of handsome, white Regency-style stucco terraced houses and elegant squares. Lupus Street that features in the photos was lined with grand houses and shops.

The origin of the name 'Pimlico' is unknown. Brewer [4] quotes the following, but he gives no evidence for his claim and may be completely wrong:

Pimlico (London): A district of public gardens much frequented on holidays. According to tradition, it received its name from Ben Pimlico, famous for his nut-brown ale. His teagardens, however, were near Hoxton, and the road to them was termed Pimlico Path, so that what is now called Pimlico was so named from the popularity of the Hoxton resort".

Thomas Cubitt was the son of a Norfolk carpenter and did very well for himself. His great-great-great granddaughter became Queen Camilla a few days before I wrote this page. Cubitt also worked on Osborne House, Buckingham Palace, Polesden Lacey House and Bloomsbury as well as many other development projects during the course of his working life. He was instrumental in the establishment of Battersea Park and donated the land for St. Saviour's Church in Lupus Street which had the tallest spire in London in the 1860s.

Pimlico has more than its share of 'Blue Plaques' with one-time residents including many politicians, writers, artists, actors and Bram Stroker - the author of Dracula. Much of Pimlico is now in a Conservation Area.

I wonder what the good people of Pimlico made of my grandfather and his gang of navvies disturbing the peace and digging up the street? Perhaps their peace had already been disturbed by the installation of gas supplies?

Lupus Street and Bessborough Street

There are three locations shown in the photographs that join up - Lupus Street, Bessborough Street and Dundonald Street. Their relative positions can be seen from the map below. Dundonald Street is in Westminster and is covered on the page for Millbank.

Map
Extract from 25" Ordinance Survey Map published 1916 [2]

Click image for enlarged view

Lupus Street

This photo has the caption 'March 11 1930 Lupus Street Victoria, 25,000 volts'. St Saviour's Church can be seen on the right and still exists but most of the other buildings on the right have gone - some possibly as a result of war damage but there has been a lot of redevelopment in that part of Lupus Street.

Lupus Street
Cable laying at Lupus Street, Pimlico in 1930 [1]

This is an image from Google Street View from about the same location as the previous photo.

Lupus Street
View on Lupus Street, Pimlico looking towards St Saviour's Church [2]

The next two photos are looking down Lupus Street in the opposite direction towards Chelsea. The building on the right with four chimney pots is on the corner of Cambridge Street and is one of the few in the image that are still standing. The extent of the redevelopment is clear from the Google Street View image further down the page.

My grandfather is watching the workmen digging a trench around 5 feet deep.

Lupus Street
Cable laying at Lupus Street, Pimlico in 1930 [1]
Lupus Street
Cable laying at Lupus Street, Pimlico in 1930 [1]

The next photo had no information about the location, but I checked out the name over the door of one of the shops and discovered that Walton, Hassell & Port were trading as 'oil and colourmen' from 79 Lupus Street so that was one more mystery solved.

Lupus Street
Cable laying at Lupus Street, Pimlico in 1930 [1]

This is an image from Google Street View from about the same location as the previous photo.

Lupus Street
View on Lupus Street, Pimlico looking towards Chelsea [7]

In the second old Lupus Street image above there is a building on the left which is on the corner of Ranelagh Road that has a sign reading '...LIGHT CLINIC'. An intriguing name. I wondered whether it could be 'highlight', 'sunlight', 'candlelight' or 'moonlight'? To my amazement, I managed to track down an article in an Australian newspaper that provided the answer.

Cutting
Cutting from The West Australian 1 July 1930 [3]

I found further references to The London Light and Electrical Clinic in Ranelagh Road are in 1931 and 1935. The clinic appears to have offered a number of what must have been 'leading edge' treatments in the 1930s. How effective or safe they were I have no idea.

Cutting
Cutting from the British Medical Journal 19 September 1931 [3]

Bessborough Street

Something went wrong with Pickford's delivery of cables from Callender's manufacturing site at Erith in Kent. One of the baulks of timber used to roll the cable drums off the trailer broke causing the cable to fall on its side on the road. In the first photo my grandfather is staring at it with a look of disgust, and I have no doubt that some extremely foul language escaped his lips.

I hope nobody was in the way when the cable drum tipped over as it would have weighed several tons. The cable might well have been damaged and the work schedule disrupted as a result. Whether this was simply the wood breaking or due to mishandling by whoever was unloading the cable drum will remain unknown.

Bessborough Accident
Accident on Bessborough Street [1]
Bessborough Accident
Accident on Bessborough Street [1]

I am pretty certain that the next photo captioned 'Unloading 5 inch ducts' is Bessborough Street by the appearance of the houses. Presumably the ducts were to install cables in. There are certainly a lot of them and they have been packed onto the lorry with straw to minimise breakages in transit.

Unloading ducts
Unloading ducts on Bessborough Street [1]

Much of Bessborough Street has been demolished, but this image below from Google Street View looks very much like the site of the old photos.

Bessborough Street
View houses on Bessborough Street from Google Street View [7]

The next page covers cable-laying at Millbank.