A brochure for Dolphin Square, 1937

The treasure from the Archives that we have unearthed for you today is a 30 page brochure produced by Richard Costain Ltd promoting the Dolphin Square flats to potential purchasers, with floor plans of different suites and colour illustrations.

Dolphin Square Cover (Acc 2518/2). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Occupying the site of Thomas Cubbit’s building works and later the Royal Army Clothing depot, lies Dolphin Square. This famous apartment block still exists today, standing tall on the banks of the Thames in Pimlico. Architecturally it blends with the style of modern constructions, but historically this building was foreign, speculative and state-of-the-art.

Dolphin Square was the brainchild of Fred French, an American real estate specialist known for speculative housing ventures and responsible for developments in New York’s East Side, of these the monumental art deco Fred F. French building on the corner of 45th and Fifth that still stands today. Designed by Stanley Gordon Jeeves and built by Costains Ltd, the building set the classical proportions of the art-deco and neo-Georgian style against the familiar domesticity of red brickwork and framed white windows.

Black and white exterior photograph of the flats in Dolphin Square, photograph by Sydney W Newbury, of Stockwell Terrace, London. 1930s. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The social scene of the 1930s saw the great juxtaposition of prosperity and adversity in the UK. This was, as expected, most deeply felt in the cultural hub of London. The world was quickly moving forward with the advent of modern home technologies, changes in family dynamics, the Golden Age of photography and film in Hollywood, and the establishment of the Art Deco movement that would govern aesthetics until after the Second World War.

All the while, the “Great Slump” – the very British name given to the Britain’s equivalent of America’s Great Depression – was well underway. Falling prices, hire-purchase schemes and smaller families – all direct causes of the Slump – meant that those with access to some wealth had more money to spend on luxuries. Investors seized this opportunity, building apartment blocks which were able to contain a number of residents in an ever-crowded city and boasting ‘avant-garde’ technologies to lure the common man.

Illustration on the opening pages of the Dolphin Square brochure. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Illustration on the opening pages of the Dolphin Square brochure. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Dolphin Square was marketed as “Europe’s greatest residential landmark on London’s riverside drive” and “London’s most distinguished address”. It boasted squash courts, a swimming pool, gymnasium, private rooms for hire, a restaurant, laundry service and beauty parlour as well as state-of-the-art mechanised electricity, heating and plumbing that would make life “as effortless as modern science can make it”. The 1236 flats were to have different designs to suit a variety of family structures from the bachelor to the young couple or family unit.

Interestingly, the brochure subtly toys with the idea of independence and freedom, seducing the modern woman and her avant-garde spouse with amenities that will allow for “blessed relief from domestic improvement”.

'Effortless Home Life' at Dolphin Square. Image property of Westminster City Archives

On a different page, advertising a childcare facility named Toddler Town, the slogan appears again:

“Parenthood has not lost its sense of duty, nor motherhood its inherent love, but both have become sensible to the dictates of modern life – and seek conditions of life which minister to these new proportions”.

Ultimately, the execution of this ideal fell somewhat short of expectation for developers and tenants alike. When Dolphin Square was formally opened on the 25 November 1936, a large proportion of the leases had not been taken and rates were reduced.

Black and white photograph of Frobisher House, Dolphin Square. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Black and white photograph of Frobisher House, Dolphin Square. Image property of Westminster City Archives

The apartment block was hit in the war, though it was never demolished as a result of the bomb damage. The vast space previously allocated to the luxurious facilities was re-vamped as part of the War Effort as well, serving as a shelter and ambulance bay. Nevertheless, in its time, the history of the building and its inhabitants is interesting. Dolphin Square has shaped the cityscape and the riverside view, and featured prominently in the history of the area. The building has been home to many British politicians, provided sanctuary to young single women and same-sex couples, and even had known connections to espionage.

If you’d like to know more, visit our search room to peruse the collection of documents and read about it in our local studies collection. Besides this brochure and the Civil Defence files from which the black and white photographs are drawn, there are a number of other documents you might find interesting including photographs, postcards, architectural plans, and more brochures!

The buidings of England: London 6: Westminster, by Simon Bradley and Nikolaus PevsnerThe following books, available in the reference library of the Archives Search Room, are also a wonderful resource in learning about the history of the area:

[Michelle]

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