The Edgars’ home is their castle, for now
Britain is a land of castles but, aside from the famous Beefeaters who guard the Tower of London, almost nobody in London can claim to live in one — except for Dave and Barbara Edgar.
Their home for 20 years has been Vanbrugh Castle, a fortress-like folly built around 1720 by John Vanbrugh, a great Georgian-era architect and playwright. He is said to have modelled his south London mansion on the French Bastille, where he was imprisoned on charges of spying for the British government.
When Dave Edgar, now 60, and his wife, 59, first saw the castle, “it was a real rush of blood to the head moment”, he says. “We just fell in love. And given its historic importance we also felt that we could be custodians of the castle for future generations.”
Vanbrugh Castle, in Greenwich, is one of the finest surviving buildings of its period.
In 1719 the 55-year-old Vanbrugh married 26-yearold Henrietta Yarburgh and designed their nuptial home. The British are known for their love of eccentricity, and Vanbrugh Castle is certainly quirky. The gothic-style mansion includes defence towers, battlements and a central tower with a conical, copper roof.
“I think that Vanbrugh must have been a little paranoid because when we moved in we discovered he had dug all sorts of quite spooky escape tunnels running from our cellar and out into the grounds,” Edgar says. “Because we had an inquisitive eight-year-old at the time, we also got a little bit paranoid and had them bricked up, but there are tunnels in the grounds which still exist.”
Sadly, Vanbrugh didn’t get to enjoy his castle for long. He died after suffering an asthma attack in 1726, leaving Henrietta a widow with a young son, Charles.
In the years after his death the castle was sold. Subsequent residents included a novelist, an engineer who pioneered treatments for spinal injuries, and an oil merchant who donated it to the Royal Air Force to be used as a school for the children of officers killed in the service. It fell into disrepair until, in 1976, a local conservation charity, the Blackheath Preservation Trust, took it on and converted it into four separate homes.
The Edgars own the central section of the castle, which measures just over 232sq m. Laid out across three main floors it has four bedrooms and two bathrooms as well as a cellar. Their favourite part of the home is its roof terrace in one of the battlement towers.
Set on a hectare, the mansion has outdoor spaces that include gardens and woodland shared with the castle’s other homeowners. After they moved in, the Edgars noticed the remains of a private amphitheatre built by Vanbrugh to put on alfresco performances.
The property was in a “terrible state” when they bought it for £400,000 in the mid-1990s. Before they could move in, they embarked on a year-long restoration, upgrading ageing plumbing and wiring, redecorating and installing a new kitchen and bathrooms.
As well as the cellar of their main house, the Edgars also own a second cellar, accessed via the back yard. They use this space as a party room and for guest accommodation and storage.
The Edgars are selling because their son, Tom, is now 28 and has left home. They want to downsize and would like a more lock-up-and-leave home so they can travel. The castle is listed for £2.9 million ($5.7m). The Edgars have mixed feelings on the sale. “We all agree it is absolutely the right thing to do, but we are deliberately not talking about it,” Dave Edgar says. “It is such an emotional subject. Moving day is going to be hard.”
Vanbrugh Castle, in London’s Greenwich, is one of the finest surviving buildings of its period. You can buy a slice for $5.7 million