Tag Archives: architecture

Diving lessons with a difference

Some of the most popular posts on this blog over the years have been those relating to the history of the Marshall Street Baths and its more recent refurbishment, so we thought you might like to see a few more pictures from the art deco pool’s past.

Westminster City Archives holds an amazing album of photographs showing servicemen training at the Marshall Street Baths in World War Two. Among them were US Paratroops and Dutch servicemen.

Dutch servicemen at Marshall Street Baths c1939-1945. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The collection includes three black and white photographs of US paratroops training at Marshall Street Baths, jumping into the pool whilst wearing full combat gear (1943-1945), and three black and white copy photographs of Dutch servicemen between 1939 and 1945.

 US paratroops training in full combat gear at Marshall Street Baths c1943-45. Image property of Westminster City Archives.US paratroops training in full combat gear at Marshall Street Baths c1943-45. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

These Grade II listed buildings, also known as the Westminster Public Baths, were built in 1850 and retained their original usage until 1997. Public funds financed the construction for the health and well being of local people; the institution provided hot and cold washing facilities for local people and their garments. The building is noted for its architecture and is Grade II listed.

Since 2010, the Marshall Street Baths has been a modern leisure centre, so you can still visit and imagine the space in this unusual incarnation as a military training zone. Training aside, those jumps look fun…!



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:


A Controversial Sculptor: Jacob Epstein in Westminster

Looking up in London by Jane PeytonJane Peyton in her book Looking up in London draws the reader’s attention to the often unobserved hidden architectural features above eye-level. I discovered a good example of this recently in Marylebone during a lunchtime walk along Wigmore Street. On the north side of Cavendish Square is Dean’s Mews, which contains a striking statue of the Madonna and Child suspended upon an arch.

Intrigued by this imposing but unlabeled sculpture I did a quick internet search and discovered that the sculptor was Jacob Epstein. This is not the only public piece of sculpture by him within the borough. He was also commissioned in 1908 for the British Medical Association (now Zimbabwe House) building façade 18 large nude sculptures. The architect for this building was Charles Holden who also designed the 1929 London Underground headquarters at 55 Broadway, Holden commissioned Epstein again to decorate this façade with the nude sculptures Day and Night above the entrance. These also stirred up controversy with protestors objecting to the sculpture on moral grounds.

Dean’s Mews, Cavendish Square: Jacob Epstain's Our Lady and the Holy Child

Now owned by The Kings Fund, the Dean’s Mews buildings were formally occupied by the Convent of the Holy Child of Jesus. The sisters had previously occupied cramped accommodation near Marylebone High Street but, needing more space for their teaching activities, they moved here in 1889.

Bombed in the Second World War, the convent commissioned the architect Louis Osman to restore the damaged buildings and also to create the linking bridge across the mews. It was his idea to include a statute of the Madonna and Child “levitating” against the bridge’s façade; the statue to be cast from roofing lead acquired from the bombed building. Osman independently commissioned Jacob Epstein to design the cast for the statue which caused a further artistic controversy.

Our Lady and the Holy Child by Jacob Epstein

This was due to people questioning whether it was appropriate for a Jew (Epstein) to create a Christian image and there were also requested alterations to the statue’s faces. The statue was formally unveiled on 14 May 1953. The Times reported this ceremony – you can read a facsimile in The Times Digital Archive (log in with your library card number). It’s also worth checking out other 24/7 resources for artistic and biographical information on Jacob Epstein, such as the Art & Design section and The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Please note that some of the listed art resources can only be accessed in-house at Westminster Reference Library. You will also need to visit the library if you’d like to consult Richard Cork’s well known biography of the artist.

Jacob Epstein by Richard CorkApart from the sculpture discussed above, other examples of Epstein’s work can be found in the borough at Tate Britain. The gallery includes his famous sculpture “Torso in Metal” [Rock Drill] – seen reproduced on the cover of Richard Cork’s biography, together with several other displayed paintings and drawings.

Jacob Epstein is of course not the only sculptor to create public works of art in London. Rupert Hill’s book Walking London’s Statues and Monuments is one of several guide books for the curious explorer of London’s treasures.


Open House at the Archives Centre

http://www.openhouselondon.org.uk/As befitting of a celebration of art and architecture of London, we felt that our contribution to Open House London this year needed to be themed around some of the beautiful Georgian mansions of Westminster. We chose to showcase these wonderful buildings using some of the resources that we have associated with them.

Being a Georgian history ‘anorak’ and self-confessed Byromaniac (a term coined for someone who dotes on the poetry and personage of George Gordon, Lord Byron), I decided to use my fairly extensive knowledge of the notable people and social history of the period as a linchpin for explaining some of our fascinating resources.

"Procession to the Hustings After a Successful Canvass” by Thomas Rowlandson, 1784. Image property of Westminster City Archives

“Procession to the Hustings After a Successful Canvass” by Thomas Rowlandson, 1784. Image property of Westminster City Archives

The first property on our list was the magnificent Spencer House, which was one of the homes of Lady Georgiana Spencer – later the famous (and infamous) Duchess of Devonshire. Anyone who has seen The Duchess will realise that she is immortalised by Kiera Knightley in that film. One of the resources we used from our beautiful Gardiner collection of prints in connection with the property was a cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson, “Procession to the Hustings After a Successful Canvass” satirising the Westminster election, 1784. The cartoon shows supporters of the Whig politician Charles James Fox marching towards the hustings during the election. The Duchess was a celebrated socialite, political campaigner and champion of the Whig party and it was said that she exchanged kisses for votes.

Another of the properties that we looked at was Apsley House, once the London home of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. It was perhaps most appropriate that we should showcase material associated with the Duke, as 2015 marks the Bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo.

Cannon from the Battle of Salamanca at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. Image property fo Westminster City Archives

Cannon from the Battle of Salamanca at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. Image property fo Westminster City Archives

One small black mortar that was captured at the Battle of Salamanca (a great victory for Wellington) was unveiled in St James’s Park on the Prince Regent’s birthday in 1816, to commemorate the victory. The Prince Regent (later the uncelebrated George IV) had this cannon mounted on a plinth at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, surrounded by garish dragons – quite typical of his appalling taste in art and decor. It was subsequently nicknamed The Regent’s Bomb and was used against the prince by satirists in the caricature literature of the day. “Bomb”, sounds like the word “bum” and the prince was fairly rotund – which posited such satirical ditties such as:


Being uncovered, in St. James’s Park, on Monday, the 12th of August, 1816, His Royal Highness’s Birth-Day.

Oh! all ye Muses, hither come—
And celebrate the Regent’s bomb!
Illustrious Bomb! Immortal capture!
Thou fill’st my every sense with rapture!
Oh, such a Bomb! so full of fire—
Apollo—hither bring thy lyre—
And all ye powers of music come,
And aid me sing this mighty Bomb…”

This was far too irresistible a poem for us not to relate to the public and show this together with a picture from our images collection of The Regent’s Bomb. Where there’s social history there’s humour and connecting the social aspects of history with a celebration of architecture is one of the best ways of engagement. Give your audience something to remember!

A very enjoyable day was had by all and all of the organising was well worth it. We wish to extend a huge thanks to the staff and volunteers who made the day possible and also to our fantastic public for visiting us. We look forward to welcoming everyone again next year!


London Squares – cuttings from the past

Drinking fountain, Byranston Square 1863Westminster Archives resources range from parish records to local maps, but why not come and take a look at one of the less frequently utilised resources – our collection of newspaper cuttings? Although we hold local newspapers in our collection, the newspaper cuttings collected and collated over the years are a quick and easy way to discover historic events, changes to streets and the ongoing history of buildings in an area. Perhaps there is a historic event that you remember which is detailed in our collection?

Open Garden Squares is coming up this weekend (13-14 June) so I took a look at some of the newspaper cuttings for those in our area: Bryanston Square, Montagu Square, Belgrave Square and Eaton Square. Below are some of the articles I found – just a few of the fascinating historic articles on the garden squares of the City of Westminster.

Bryanston Square

This drinking fountain pictured above was erected at the south end of Bryanston Square in 1863, paying tribute to William Pitt Byrne (1806-1861). Byrne was the editor of the Morning Post. The fountain still exists and is now a Grade II listed monument. Unfortunately, during the years following its construction it was allowed to run dry. The Evening Standard noted this in 1974:

Bryanston Square 1974, newspaper cutting from Evening Standard

Montagu Square

Quirky tales can often be found in our cuttings. Here is Yoko Ono in 1990 reliving her time at Montagu Square, where she shared a flat with John Lennon.

Montagu Square 1990, newspaper cutting from Evening Standard

In 1982 the members of the Montagu Square Garden Trust observed resident Reginald Heaney’s 70th birthday with a watercolour of the square and garden. If you couldn’t be outside to enjoy the garden, looking at a lovely painting instead might do.

Montagu Square 1982 - watercolour for resident Reginald Heaney’s 70th birthday

Belgrave Sqaure

In 1979 the annual ‘extravaganza’ at Belgrave Square took place; a fair with top fashion designers, music and even a relay jog. The main event, the traditional Belgrave Beano, was an exuberant evening event where socialising amid dancing, food and drink was a highlight of the year.

Belgrave Square 1979, newspaper cutting from Country Life

Look out for signed architecture on the houses alongside the 4.5 acre garden at Belgrave Square. An article in the Times (1973) gave instructions on locating the Victorian architects who were proud enough of their work to inscribe their names in various places on the buildings. Can you spot George Basevi Junior’s name or Philip Hardwick’s?

Belgrave Square 1973, newspaper cutting from The Times

Eaton Square

Neville Chamberlain, who was prime minister from 1869-1940, and actress Vivien Leigh were each given a blue plaque at Eaton Square. Vivien Leigh lived at number 54 Eaton Square from 1913 to 1967 whilst Chamberlain occupied number 37 from 1923-1935. Both these famous past residences of Eaton Square and their new plaques were awarded note in our newspaper cuttings.

During the post war years, a time when Vivien Leigh was a resident of Eaton Square, the garden would have looked like this:

Eaton Square 1952, image property of Westminster City Archives

Our newspaper cuttings can be searched with a visit to our Archives Search Room. Visit our periodicals website, WULOP, to see a list of the local newspapers we hold in our collection.

Quiet London by Siobhan WallInterested in other outdoor areas of London? Quiet London by Siobhan Wall gives an excellent guide to the less frequently trodden areas of London, including some captivating hidden gardens, most of which are open throughout the year.


Peabody present, Peabody past

Trace 14135 [Peabody Estate from Sutherland St, 1989] Image property of Westminster City Archives

Peabody Estate from Sutherland St, 1989. Image property of Westminster City Archives

We gathered at Charing Cross Library last week to learn more about the philanthropist George Peabody and his legacy. As Londoners we continually walk past the iconic Peabody buildings, so it was interesting to hear more about the man, his working class background in Massachusetts, USA and the development of his social conscience as he began in the 1860s to fund the creation of social housing in London – which at the time had horrific slums.

Christine Wagg, who has worked for the Peabody Trust for over 20 years, illustrated her talk with some lovely photographs of the man himself, the buildings and the people who lived in them. It is astonishing that the majority of the housing remains standing, in good repair and in use by over 80,000 people today.

Acc 2552 - Copy of the printed rules and regulations of the Peabody Buildings, Old Pye Street, [1914] Image property of Westminster City Archives

Rules and regulations of the Peabody Buildings, Old Pye Street, 1914. Image property of Westminster City Archives

A couple who came to the talk said they had been living in the Wild Street Estate when it still had communal water taps on the landings, communal bath houses and elderly ladies who insisted they polish the brass on their front door every week.

Times have changed. There has been masses of refurbishment to the flats and there’s no longer a requirement to polish weekly – nor indeed to sweep the passages every morning before 10 o’clock!

“Really interesting”

“Enjoyed the talk very much”


Portrait of an archivist

Alison Kenney, Archivist at the City of Westminster Archives CentreProfile of Alison Kenney, Archivist

How long have you been an archivist?
I’ve worked for Westminster City Archives for 31 years – after doing a history degree, a year’s work experience and an archive diploma/MA.
You may think 31 years is a long time, but I’ll never beat my father’s record of 51 years in the same office!

What do you like best about it?
The variety – there’s never a dull moment! We acquire, sort, list and conserve archives so that we can use them for enquiries, exhibitions, talks and tours. I really enjoy using my knowledge of the collections to find information for local residents with problems. I remember once helping a very nice old gent with a flooded basement  in Pimlico, who was then able to prove to Thames Water that the River Tyburn did indeed flow under his house, using the Geological Survey maps I found for him.

Liberty ‘Dress and Decoration’ catalogue, 1905, page 27. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Liberty ‘Dress and Decoration’ catalogue, 1905. Image property of Westminster City Archives

What are your favourite items in the collection?
I really love the catalogues of Arts and Crafts costume, furniture and metalwork from Liberty’s, the famous West End store – they are so beautiful!
I also like the lovely 19th century watercolours of Westminster scenes by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd – he always includes a little family group and dog in the foreground for interest.
And as a life-long architecture fanatic, I love the late Victorian photographs by Bedford Lemere of the grand mansions in Mayfair, many of which are long since gone.

What interesting stories have you unearthed in the archives?
There are plenty of fascinating stories about people’s lives in the 18th century settlement examination books of St Martin-in-the-Fields Parish.  They contain interviews with poor people applying for financial help. Some of them even include heart-rending notes pinned to the clothing of babies abandoned by their mothers before the Foundling Hospital was established. One of our volunteers discovered the amazing story of a soldier’s wife who brought back six orphaned children from the Seven Years’ War in Europe to be looked after in London in 1760.

What’s the most curious item you’ve ever found?
It has to be the bizarre print of the Java sparrows who performed in a show in New Bond Street in the 1820s. Their owners claimed they were proficient in seven languages and could do card tricks!

Advert for Java sparrows on New Bond Street, 1820s. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Advert for Java sparrows on New Bond Street, 1820s. Image property of Westminster City Archives

What’s been your most surprising discovery?
Seeing the great seal of Elizabeth I on a deed in the Grosvenor Estate archives. It shows the queen in a spectacular dress with a lace ruff at the neck just like the ones in the famous portraits.

What’s the oldest document in the archives?
It’s a grant from Henry III to Westminster Abbey of rights to hold a market in Tothill Fields, Westminster, in 1256. It’s written in ink on parchment (sheepskin) and has most of its original green wax seal showing the king on the throne holding a sword.

Exterior view of the Archives Centre

Westminster Archives Centre

What are your concerns for the future of archives?
The fact that the 1256 document survives in the correct environment in the Archives Centre makes me wonder if any of the records we are producing now will last as long, especially as so many have been created on computers. I think the 19th century will be the best recorded century in London’s history because minutes of meetings were carefully written in bound volumes, not like the files of loose papers we get today.

What qualities do you think the archivist can bring to society?
Perspective! – we view everything that happens now against a backdrop of centuries of history. But we’re also always thinking of the future and the legacy we’re leaving to future generations. I think archivists can bring a fair degree of impartiality to the decisions about which records to keep and which to destroy. Basically, good record keeping is essential for a democratic society. You’ve only to think of the despotic regimes throughout the world, which destroy government records to deny citizens their rights, or else invade their privacy by recording every minute detail of their lives, to see just how important an issue this is.Explore Your Archive 2013