The great builder Thomas Cubitt, who is the subject of the Garden Village of Pimlico walk, had always hoped that Pimlico would attract the business and professional families who could not afford Belgravia, but with the opening of Victoria Station and the Army Clothing Depot on the Thames , it ‘always had a certain social ambiguity’ (Stephen Inwood’ A History of London’.
Once the area started to decline in Edwardian times, that ambiguity increased and quite a few famous but less moneyed artistic types, moved into the area. Pimlico did not really pick up until the early 1960s.The houses round the big squares of Ecclestone, Warwick and St George’s never lost their exclusiveness however.
On the way home after I undertook my last Garden Village of Pimlico walk, I found myself thinking about posting on Instagram ‘Good bye to Pimlico’. This seemed to make the place almost like another country and then I remembered that famous phrase ‘Passport to Pimlico’.
‘Passport to Pimlico’ is a 1949 film, about the Blitz spirit set a few years after the end of World War 2, starring Stanley Holloway and Margaret Rutherford. It follows Pimlico residents in their battle against bureaucracy. There is rationing and a record-breaking heat wave. Sounds familiar?
In the film, it turns out that Pimlico is still technically part of Burgundy, France and British law does not apply – the fight to retain independence and keep the benefits and safety of British law then take off with vengeance!
Passport to Pimlico was actually filmed in Lambeth, not Pimlico, but the fact remains that the name and the area had sufficient aura to be used in a major film, and if you dig deeper there are quite a few names of books with the name Pimlico in the title or which are set in Pimlico, I have listed them below!
There are also other references such as in music hall – ‘Percy from Pimlico’ – a music hall song about a pick pocket in the West End who happened to live in Pimlico
and also in another film ‘Gaslight’ 1944 which was previously a play.
The late Victorian philosopher and critic G.K.Chesterton (1874 -1896) also wrote about Pimlico as if it was a place which drew you to it almost despite yourself. It had that intangible thing called atmosphere.
“Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing – say Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne of the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico; in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico; for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico; to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles… If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”―
So over and above the buildings and the garden village there is a lot more besides, behind those net curtains – see you, perhaps, on the next Pimlico walk ?
Books which either have Pimlico in the title or are set there:
The Sweets of Pimlico AN Wilson
Walking in Pimlico Ann Featherstone
The Silent House in Pimlico Fergus Hume
Corduroy Mansions Alistair McCaul Smith
Excellent Women Barbara Pym
London Beneath the Streets Peter Ackroyd
The St Zita Society Ruth Rendall
The Dog who came in from the Cold Alistair McCaul Smith
The Small house at Allington Anthony Trollope
Whether you’re a resident of London or just visiting, I hope this list inspires you to explore your surroundings through the eyes of your favourite authors, actors and directors.