Thomas Cubitt and Eccleston Square

Pimlico, originally known as the Neat House Gardens was famous for its wholesome produce of herbs and vegetables. By 1820 the Neat House Gardens had become urban fringe and in addition to the market gardening there were taverns and industry started developing. At this point the Grosvenor Estate owned most of the lands and were in no rush to develop: the produce brought in a good income and the fact that the land was a flood plain meant it would be difficult and costly to build on. Eventually John Johnson bought a lease to develop the land. Some houses were built, but he encountered a great deal of opposition from the gardeners and in 1825, he decided to sell the to Thomas Cubitt. Cubitt compensated the gardeners generously and let the land to Mr Martin who farmed the land until development was feasible. Works eventually began with sewers and raising of the ground above flood level. In 1824 Thomas Cubitt had started to develop Belgravia, and with this endeavour, he made his name and fortune. In 1843 he turned his attentions to South Belgravia – as he preferred to call it – and laid out the street and squares of what is today known as Pimlico.

Thomas Cubitt

Cubitt’s plan developed logically from existing fixed points: the main north west-south east axes of Belgravia, carried across the canal by two new bridges, were continued as Belgrave Road and St George’s Drive. Eccleston Square and Warwick Square were situated between these two new roads.

Lupas Street and Pimlico
Lupas Street and Pimlico

Cubitt dictated the size and number of houses on each street. He sometimes provided elevations and always insisted on uniformity. The landlords of the time also influenced the architecture. In particular the Second Marques of Westminster, who was greatly in favour of the use of stucco and balconies over Doric porticos.

The squares and streets were thus designed as Italianate stucco terraces, many of which have a ‘Pimlico porch’ (Doric portico with balcony above). The streets are relatively wide and the squares provide contrasting greenery to the elegant and formal frontages. The areas of Eccleston Square, Warwick Square and St Georges Square remain some of the most architecturally consistent areas of London, even today.

Eccleston Square
Eccleston Square

Thomas Cubitt died in 1855 by which time the broad streets were fully laid out and about half the houses built. The rest were not finished until 1875, but were true to Cubitt’s plan.

The elegant houses of Pimlico were intended for the wealthy middle classes; the aspirations of its residents however, were short-lived. Before the houses had been completed the drinking water from the Thames was becoming increasingly polluted and in 1854 there was a cholera outbreak, which is said to have cost the lives of many in Pimlico. When in 1858 the smell from the river became so bad that it was affecting the House of Commons, a bill was quickly passed and in 1875 Joseph Bazalgette resolved the problem by building new sewers and the Western Pumping Station.

In 1860 Victoria Station was completed and Streatham and Brixton became commutable from London. Central London was no longer fashionable and gradually the larger houses of Pimlico were turned into hotels and lodging houses.

Cubitt himself was said to have regretted building houses that were too large and too expensive for the locality. By 1861 there was much concern amongst the middle class at the rapid increase in low-income residents. By 1894 many houses were occupied by four or five families, they were poorly maintained and very shabby. After the WWI the shortage of homes became a prominent issue and the London Housing board began to convert some of the houses into flats and demolished older properties in order to build new estates. In 1935 it was calculated that of the 3000 houses in the area only 846 were in single-family occupation. WWII brought devastation to the area with few streets saved from bomb damages and squares in Pimlico were used as allotments for growing vegetables.

After the war the city council produced a ‘plan for Pimlico’ that proposed to demolish the old and shabby houses and construct new ten-story apartment blocks, shopping zones and broad roads. Thankfully, a more modest building programme was actually implemented. The Churchill Gardens Estate was built. Cubitt’s Pimlico was said to look drab and shabby in contrast. However, by 1961 the run-down charm of Pimlico started to attract the more discerning residents who were attracted to its wide streets and green squares. Although shabby it was found to be pleasant, socially mixed and un-spoilt and so the gentrification of Pimlico began.

Eccleston Square

The earliest houses, numbers 1-3 were built by Thomas Cubitt in 1836. They were designed in a restrained Last Classical style, similar to many of the buildings of Belgravia. Numbers 4-5, also by Cubitt were built in 1842 and are taller and more ornate. In 1841 numbers 6-10 were built, more ornate and decorated with a ‘Pimlico porch’. Any of the houses built after 1841 have porches. In 1847 numbers 11-16 were built and the height increased from 4 to 5 stories. Numbers 17-24 were built in 1857-59 and Thomas Cubitt built the last two houses on the north east side of the square in 1855.

The south east side of the Square is far more uniform and was built between 1842 and 1855, almost entirely by Thomas Cubitt. Along St. Georges Drive the properties have slightly increased fronts. The Belgrave Road side is more varied and has changed far more over the years. Numbers 79 to 83 were built in 1854-6. Numbers 82-83 is occupied by the Eccleston Hotel which has a neo-Georgian extension at the back, built in 1929-30. Numbers 84-89 were built in 1984-9, in the ‘Neo-Cubitt’ style by the Diamond Partnership, but have six stories instead of five.

Eccleston Square Today
Eccleston Square Today

Eccleston Square Today

Today, Eccleston Square is visually consistent and largely unchanged since the 1850s when it was completed. Properties today are occupied by a variety of residents and businesses. These include several charities, religious mission societies, educational establishments, hotel, a Buddhist centre and a Church of England seafarers.

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