Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Hidden Treasure

I've lived and worked in and around London for nearly 30 years but, yesterday, I made an extraordinary discovery - an entire self-contained town within a town. I'm talking about the amazing hidden oasis of Dolphin Square.

Imagine creating a set of lawns and an Italian garden in three and half acres. Then add in a croquet lawn and tennis courts. Then, dig underneath it all and build an underground swimming pool, bar, brasserie, gym and car park. Then construct, on all four sides of the grounds, a series of tall red brick blocks of flats; 13 houses, all named after famous mariners like Drake, Raliegh and Nelson, and containing between them some 1250 flats ranging from bedsits to penthouses. You now have something like a red brick city wall penning in the gardens and sealing off this private community from the rest of London. But to really isolate it completely, add a hotel, a laundry and an arcade of shops. And that, ladies and gents, is Dolphin Square; a complete community that, if necessary, could live their lives without the need to ever stray outside.

Built in Pimlico, SW1 near the River Thames between 1935 and 1937 by Richard Costain, Dolphin Square has had some interesting residents. Among them were politicians Harold Wilson, David Steel, William Hague, Estelle Morris and Beverly Hughes. In 1994 alone there were 59 MPs living in the Square, including 23 Conservatives, 27 Labour, and 9 Liberal Democrat. Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, famous for their involvement in the Profumo Affair, were both sub-tenants.

In 1940 the Free French occupied Grenville House, and when General de Gaulle was in the Square, workmen had to be issued with special passes before being allowed entry to that house. William Joyce - the infamous traitor known as Lord Haw-Haw - lived there but was hanged for treason in 1946. Other controversial tenants include Oswald Mosley, the fanatical ‘blackshirt’ fascist and Soviet spy John Vassall. Entertainers lived here too including Arthur Askey, Tommy Trinder and Vic Oliver and music hall star Bud Flanagan, who lived in Raleigh House. As one half of the hugely successful double act Flanagan and Allen (with Chesney Allen), he enjoyed particular success during the Second World War with songs like ‘We’re Going To Hang Out The Washing On The Siegfried Line’. A member of The Crazy Gang, Flanagan is perhaps more familiar today as the voice behind Jimmy Perry’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler’, the theme tune to the BBC TV programme Dad’s Army . The gardens feature a memorial bench to him donated by his wife.

Yet, despite its history and string of famous residents, apartments at Dolphin Square are surprisingly cheap. Well, for London prices anyway.

I'm so pleased I found it and had the chance to look around. Dolphin Square really is a hidden treasure.


Anonymous said...

In view of the popularity with ministers I can only begin to imagine how lovely all those £10,000 kitchens are we all paid for .....!
All joking apart - intriguing and quaint.

potdoll said...

I went to the gym in the Dolphin Square Hotel this weekend. It used to be really old fashioned - the pool was modeled on a ship. But it's all been done up super swanky and now looks like any other trendy pool and gym. sob.

Stevyn Colgan said...

I'm so sorry to hear that - they were doing the building work when I was there. I sob with you.

Anonymous said...

Its a lovely place, its where my mistress resides. :) No better place, honestly.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Anonymous - You lucky fellow you! I always quite fancy a place to flop there myself.