The name “Pimlico”

The neighbourhood of Pimlico embraces the whole of Belgravia, as well as extending from Buckingham Palace Road to the Thames, and stretching westward to Chelsea. This includes Grosvenor Road and the Eccleston sub-district of squares, terraces, and streets, nearly all of which have sprung up within the last half-century.

Etymology of Pimlico

“I’ll have thee, Captain Gilthead, and march up and take in Pimlico.”—Old Play.

Etymology of Pimlico—The Locality Half a Century Ago—Warwick Square—Vauxhall Bridge Road—The Army Clothing Depot—St. George’s Square—The Church of St. James the Less—Victoria Railway Station—New Chelsea Bridge—The Western Pumping Station, and Metropolitan Main-Drainage Works—St. Barnabas Church—St. Barnabas Mission House and Orphanage—Bramah, the Engineer and Locksmith—Thomas Cubitt, the Builder—The “Monster” Tavern—The “Gun”, the “Star and Garter”, and the “Orange” Tea-Gardens—”Jenny’s Whim”—Tart Hall—Stafford Row—St. Peter’s Chapel and Dr. Dodd—Richard Heber and his famous Library.

The Mosnter Tea Garden - 1820
The Mosnter Tea Garden – 1820

The Name

The origin of the name Pimlico has puzzled topographers for a long time. Gifford, in a note in his edition of Ben Jonson, says that “Pimlico is sometimes spoken of as a person, and may not improbably have been the master of a house once famous for ale of a particular description”; and we also know, from Dodsley’s “Old Plays”, and from Ben Jonson’s writings, that there was another Pimlico at today’s Hoxton, or “Hogsdon”, where, to the present day there is a “Pimlico Walk”. It is evident, from a reference to The Alchemist of Ben Jonson, that the place at “Hogsdon” did not have a good reputation, and constantly frequented by all sorts of people, from knights, ladies, and gentlewomen, down to oyster-wenches:

“Gallants, men, and women,

And of all sorts, tag-rag, been seen to flock here,

In these ten weeks, as to a second Hogsdon, In days of Pimlico.”

In another play of about the same period, a worthy knight is represented as sending his daughter to Pimlico “to fetch a draught of Derby ale”. It is probable, therefore, that the district lying between Chelsea and St. James’s Park should have got the name from an accidental resemblance to its antipodes at Hoxton. And this supposition is confirmed by Isaac Reed, who tells us, in Dodsley’s “Old Plays”, how “a place near Chelsea is still called Pimlico, and was resorted to within these few years on the same account as the former at Hogsdon”. It may be added that Pimlico is still celebrated for its ales, and also that the district is not mentioned by the name of Pimlico in any existing documents prior to 1626.

“At this time”—i.e. the reign of Charles I., writes Mr. Peter Cunningham—”Pimlico

was quite uninhabited, nor is it introduced into the rate books of St. Martin’s (to which it belonged) until the year 1680, when the Earl of Arlington (previously rated as residing in the Mulberry Gardens) is rated, though still living in the same house, under the head of Pimlico. In 1687, seven years later, four people are described as living in what was then called Pimlico—the Duke of Grafton, Lady Stafford, Thomas Wilkins, and Dr. Crispin. The Duke of Grafton, having married the only child of the Earl of Arlington, was residing in Arlington House; and Lady Stafford in what was then and long before known as Tart Hall.” Arlington House was ultimately developed into Buckingham Palace.

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