Dolphin Square is a block of private flats and business complex built near the River Thames at Pimlico in London, between 1935 and 1937. At one time, the huge development was home to more than 70 MPs, and at least 10 Lords.
At the time of its construction the development of 1,250 up-market flats was billed, according to Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as the "largest self-contained block of flats in Europe" and, to an extent, their design has been a model for later municipal developments.
The Dolphin Square development is situated on the former works of the developer and builder Thomas Cubitt, who created the surrounding Pimlico district in the 19th-century. An Army clothing factory was built on the site after Cubitt's death, standing until 1933, when the leasehold on the site reverted to the Duke of Westminster. An American company, the Frederick French Corporation, bought the freehold for the site from the Duke, with plans to build a large residential development, Ormonde Court. The precarious financial situation of the Frederick French Corporation resulted in the sale of the site to Richard Rylands Costain (founder of the nascent Costain Group), who began construction on his own development in 1935.
A. P. Herbert, "Dolphin Square", 1935 (illustrations by H. M. Bateman) described the Square as 'a city of 1,250 flats, each enjoying at the same time most of the advantages of the separate house and the big communal dwelling place'; the provision of a restaurant made him fear that 'fortunate wives will not have enough to do. A little drudgery is good for wives, perhaps. The Dolphin lady may be spoiled'. This promotional booklet was produced for Costains. On purchasing the site, Costain remarked to a colleague: ‘in two or three years we'll either drive up to this spot in a Rolls-Royce, or we'll be standing here selling matches’.
Dolphin Square, as it was now known, was sold by Costains to Sir Maxwell Joseph who bought the complex in 1958 for £2.4 million, selling it to Lintang Investments in 1959 for £3.1 million. Westminster City Council bought the lease of the block for £4.5 million in the mid-1960s, and subsequently sub-let it to the Dolphin Square Trust, an effective housing association, which had been newly created for the purpose. In January 2006, the Dolphin Square Trust and Westminster City Council sold Dolphin Square to the American Westbrook Holdings group for £200 million.
Accommodation is provided in 13 'houses' each named after a famous navigator or admiral. At the south (Thames) side of the Square the houses are Grenville, Drake, Raleigh and Hawkins. Moving from the river up the west side, there are Nelson, Howard, Beatty, and Duncan. A hotel and administration offices, situated at the north side of the Square, is in Dolphin House, previously known as Rodney. Heading south from the hotel there is Keyes, Hood, Collingwood and Frobisher.
The estate contains a swimming pool, bar, brasserie (all of which were renovated in 2008), gymnasium, and shopping arcade. In the basement are a launderette and car park. A tennis court and croquet lawn overlook the River Thames. Until 21 January 1970, London Transport bus route 134 showed PIMLICO Dolphin Square as a destination and actually terminated in Chichester Street.
The proximity of Dolphin Square to the Palace of Westminster and the headquarters of the intelligence agencies MI5 (Thames House) and MI6 (Vauxhall Cross) has attracted many politicians, peers, civil servants and intelligence agency personnel as residents.
Politicians who have lived in the development include Harold Wilson, David Steel, William Hague, Estelle Morris, Beverley Hughes, Michael Mates, John Langford-Holt and Iain Mills. (Mills died in his flat in the square's Duncan House.)
Other notable residents have included: comedians Ben Lyon and Bud Flanagan; actor Peter Finch; writer Radclyffe Hall; former Lord Chief Justice Lord Goddard; journalist Norman Cliff; Anne, Princess Royal, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies.
John Vassall, the Soviet spy, was arrested at apartment 807 in the square's Hood House in 1962. Oswald Mosley and his wife Diana Mitford, Lady Mosley, left their apartment at Dolphin Square for internment in 1940 during the Second World War.
It provided a base for the Free French during World War II and number 308 Hood House was used by MI5 section B5(b) responsible for infiltrating agents into potentially subversive groups from 1924 to 1946.
Allegations of paedophile activity
In November 2014 the Metropolitan Police Service opened an inquiry under Operation Fairbank into allegations that prominent MPs used the block of flats as a venue for child abuse. One alleged abuse survivor, named only as "Nick", claims that he was taken to Dolphin Square regularly as a young boy and abused by groups of men including politicians. Exaro and the BBC News both carried interviews with Nick about the abuse he says he faced at Dolphin Square.
The Metropolitan Police simultaneously launched a related murder inquiry under the name Operation Midland, in relation to Nick's claims that he saw an MP strangle a child to death. On 21 March 2016, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that Operation Midland had been closed without any charges being brought.
In popular culture
British jazz baritone saxophonist Ronnie Ross released jazz album Cleopatra's Needle (1968), containing its first track titled "Dolphin Square", which, according to the sleeve notes, was "dedicated to a party, at which Zoot Sims was present, once held in a flat there ('It must have been a good one, because I don't remember it')".
In The Sandbaggers episode "A Proper Function of Government, the character Neil Burnside can be seen walking out of the Dolphin Square apartment complex, where he apparently lives, on his way to work.
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