Farewell to Pimlico

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’.

Photo: Barbara Wright

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.”― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Gaslight poster 1944

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.

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