Just south of bustling Victoria lies a little enclave comprising some of the quietest streets in London. It is an area full of intrigue and scandal, so isolated yet near to the seats of power if I were a spy I would seek out a pad here. Roughly a lop-sided square with Lupus Street running along its southern edge and Warwick Way to the north, with Belgrave Road and Sutherland Street enclosing this labyrinthian pattern of parallel streets.
[O]ne might be excused for thinking its layout was the easiest to learn while studying The Knowledge. But there is a problem none of the roads comprising the Pimlico Parallelogram can be driven along their entire length as most are one-way in multiple directions.
The kernel of this post was that recently I asked a customer to direct me to their house, complaining, as usual, that I had given up years ago trying to learn the geography of his neighbourhood. It was then he told me that the bizarre one-way system was to protect MPs.
Apparently it is impossible to transverse this little area, this was in part to prevent the IRA targeting its high profile residents. I pointed out that if an individual was prepared to kill to further their cause, compliance of the Highway Code would not be high on their agenda, but he insisted that that was the case.
The resident safety would probably not have occurred to the speculative builder Thomas Cubitt who in the 1820s started to build these houses with their perfect Regency symmetry which were described in an 1877 newspaper article as:
Genteel, sacred to professional men . . . not rich enough to luxuriate in Belgravia proper, but rich enough to live in private houses, its inhabitants were more lively than in Kensington . . . and yet a cut above Chelsea, which is only commercial.
The area’s isolation was the setting for the 1949 comedy Passport to Pimlico where in a cellar children find an ancient parchment document which authenticates Pimlico as legally part of Burgundy and therefore outside British Government jurisdiction.
Now the area has over 350 Grade II listed buildings and without grand houses, Victorian serial killers, ancient monuments or tourist attractions it still feels detached from London.
With its proximity to The Houses of Parliament over the years the area has attracted Members of Parliament – and their mistresses. Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, the young women at the heart of the Profumo scandal were sub-tenants of Dolphin Square, but no one seems to remember which flats they occupied; some say Keeler lived in 501 or 601. Other famous or infamous politicians have included Sir Winston Churchill, Jomo Kenyatta, Charles De Gaulle and Oswald Mosley.
With MI5 and MI6 a short walk away this seems to make Pimlico and perfect spot for those protecting – and spying on – the corridors of power . . .