Tag Archives: building

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]

Internship 2: Building history

Abby with her exhibition at Westminster City Archives.Abby Logan is a student of architectural history and archaeology at the University of Boston. She has spent two and a half months as an intern at the City of Westminster Archives Centre. In this second blog post, she shares her experience of researching and creating building histories.


In addition to theatre programme conservation, another project I worked on was creating a short buildings history for the Alhambra Theatre and the Royal Aquarium. To go along with those histories I also researched one performer from each building. I chose William Henry Beckwith for the aquarium and Kate Santley for the theatre.

It was not too difficult to find information about William Beckwith because his whole family was very well known. There were plenty of records about his life; however, that was not the case for Kate Santley. It was very difficult to find reliable information about her and her life because she was not born in the United Kingdom and went by a few different names. I was eventually able to find some reliable facts about her but it was much more difficult than I thought it would be!

Alhambra Theatre

The first building to stand where the Alhambra Theatre stood in Leicester Square was The Royal Panopticon of Science and Art which opened in 1854 and closed in 1856. The Panopticon was poorly managed and unsuccessful so the Alhambra Palace was opened in 1856 under E. T. Smith as first a circus and then a music hall in 1860. The building was sold and renamed the Royal Alhambra Palace in 1861. The name again changed in 1872 when it became the Royal Alhambra Theatre under new management. In 1882, now just called the Alhambra Theatre, almost the entire building was destroyed due to a fire; however, the building was quickly rebuilt and reopened in 1883. The Alhambra Theatre was closed and demolished in 1936. A new theatre, The Odeon, was built in 1937 and still remains open today.

Kate Santley

Actress Kate Santley was born Evangeline Estelle Gazina around 1837. Santley lied about her age and said she was born in 1843 so her exact date of birth is difficult to pinpoint. “In 1872 she appeared in the London production of The Black Crook at the Alhambra Theatre” (The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography). She also stared in other productions at the Alhambra such as La Belle Hélène in 1873. At the height of her career Santley was very well known and widely photographed. In 1877 she became the manager of the Royalty Theatre which lasted for thirty years and was how she spent her later years. She married Lockhart Mure Hartley Kennedy and moved to Brunswick Square, Brighton where she died a widow in 1923 as Evangeline Estelle Gazina Kennedy.

The Royal Aquarium

The Royal Aquarium Summer and Winter Garden opened on Tothill Street in 1876. It was a place of entertainment that went beyond a theatre or music hall. There was a separate but attached building for theatre productions, the Royal Aquarium Theatre. The main attractions of the building were other performances that one would expect to see at a circus. In 1879 the theatre came under new management and was renamed the Imperial Theatre. The Royal Aquarium Summer and Winter Garden was closed and demolished in 1903 but the Imperial Theatre remained standing until 1907 when it too was demolished to make way for the Methodist Central Hall.

William Henry Beckwith

William Henry Beckwith was a professional swimmer who often performed at the Royal Aquarium. He was born on 7 August 1857. His father Frederick Beckwith was a well-known swimming professor and performer so William was born into his profession. William and his younger sister Agnes debuted together in Paris and later travelled abroad to America in 1883. The family often performed together as the “Beckwith Frogs” and did so at the Royal Aquarium “demonstrating swimming strokes and life saving techniques as well as preforming aquatic stunts such as smoking, drinking milk, and eating sponge cakes underwater” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). William was also a competitive swimmer and won many awards and accolades. He died on 12 December 1892 of a chest infection.

[Abby]

A working day at the Archives Centre

I’m Cecilia and work as an Archives and Local Studies Assistant at the City of Westminster Archives Centre in St Ann’s Street.

Stained glass celebrating Westminster's history and architecture (Jane Campbell 1995) at Westminster City ArchivesMy daily work is varied and is split between staffing the reception desk on the ground floor and the enquiry desk in the search room on the fifth floor, plus some time off the desk for back office duties.

Reception duties include looking after the meeting room we hire out, the Express Library and the small local history bookshop. I register all new archives and library visitors, answer all the incoming calls for the building, monitoring bookings and statistics etc.

Work in the search room means helping archives users find appropriate sources for their research.

The search room at Westminster City Archives

Most of our users are looking for their family history and will look at the parish registers, census records, historical maps, prints and photos and electoral registers for Westminster. They can also access many more records for a wider area through the libraries subscription to family history websites such as Ancestry and Findmypast. Many of Westminster’s parish registers and early rate books are available to search by name and view on Findmypast. They are also available on microfilm in the search room as are other parish records, local newspapers etc.

Finding Aids at Westminster City Archives

Other users are looking at building history and use our large collection of council drainage/architectural plans. All original and unique records are kept in our strong rooms and are available by request slips. Descriptions and finding numbers can be found by searching our online catalogue WESTCAT or by using one of our finding aids in the searchroom, such as the print and photo card index or one of the printed volumes of indexes. On the Archives website there a wealth of information to help, for example our Information Sheets found under Family History and a guide to the General Register Office indexes. Most of these records are only available to view in person by visiting us. We also have a large collection of printed material, such as reference books, pamphlets, periodicals and London directories, which have listings of trades and streets etc.

Doing research at Westminster City Archives

One of the most interesting aspects of the job is answering the email enquiries we receive – I often learn something new about the history of Westminster while answering. It’s great to have all this information collected in one place.

[Cecilia]

Hide and seek

Charing Cross Library, although in a brilliant location, has never been the easiest library to find. Many customers have said they used to walk past for years without realising there was a library here, and this is not helped by our relatively narrow entrance.

Charing Cross Library under scaffolding, September 2014

For the next 3 months it will be even more difficult to spot us as we are completely obscured by scaffolding from top to bottom while repairs to the roof are taking place.

We will be open as usual! Don’t be put off by our appearance, come in and look around, like a tardis we are much bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Charing Cross Library interior, 2014

[Helen]

Letter from the Queen

You may remember that Maida Vale Library sent a letter to The Queen recently, enclosing all of the pictures drawn by children for a half-term competition.

Winning picture by Halah, aged 9What with all the excitement with the birth of the new Prince George of Cambridge, we were somewhat surprised to receive a reply from Her Majesty so quickly. The letter just appeared on the library desk and we wondered if The Queen had dropped it in person on her way to Scotland! With no sign of a sparkling tiara bobbing above the shelves and no yapping of Corgis being heard, we guessed it must have been another Royal that had delivered it: Royal Mail! Take a look at the reply we received, below…

Don’t forget that Maida Vale Library will be closed from this Saturday, 3 August to Saturday 10 August 2013 inclusive to allow us to move back to the ground floor. We re-open on Monday 12 August and very much look forward to seeing you then – royal, commoner or anything in between!

Letter from the Queen to Maida Vale Library,  23 July 2013

[Ben]

Maida Vale Library – nearly there!

The internal scaffolding and plastic sheeting at Maida Vale Library has now come down and the beautifully restored ceiling can be seen in its full glory.

Restored ceiling at Maida Vale Library, July 2013

Work continues on getting the library ready to be handed over to staff, with a deep clean planned once the builders have left. This should get it in ship shape condition to receive the shelves and books.

Don’t forget that the temporary basement library closes Saturday 3 to Saturday 10 August inclusive to enable everything to be packed up and moved. The library re-opens on the ground floor on  Monday 12 August 2013.

[Ben]

Marylebone Library on the move… Pt3

Macintosh House, July 2013Call it a library? It’s just a heap of junk.

Old furniture, abandoned fridges and cookers, cardboard boxes I would rather not look inside – it’s all piled up in an under-lit basement room, intended to be a reference library.

Don’t panic. Even as I type, Womble-like people are picking through this unsightly pile, recycling wherever possible, clearing everything, ready for the grand transformation. Give it a few weeks, and there will be bookshelves, newspaper racks, computers, an enquiry desk and (an important ingredient, this) enquiry staff to sit behind it.

It’s the same throughout Macintosh House, Marylebone Library’s temporary home from August. Stuff is being cleared, new lighting fitted, walls decorated, floors carpeted, and library furniture installed. Now that the library’s reserve stock has made the journey to its own temporary home at Victoria Library, our attention here at Marylebone has turned to sorting, selecting, and packing, so that we are ready for the off.

Aha, I hear you chuckle – I’ll bet they’ve got junk of their own to get rid of. Well, I couldn’t possibly comment on that. Suffice to say that I have filled the odd recycling bag in the last few days, and I may fill one or two more before I finish. [At this point, I was going to make a joke about a woman’s work never being done, but I am a devout coward!]

[David]