London property market
An ongoing £4 billion regeneration programme is breathing new life into the SW1 property market, from classic houses to new-builds
Penny Churchill and Annunciata Elwes survey the market
IN the Victorian period, it was said that ‘the City of Westminster proper—that triangular slip of the metropolis which lies between the Thames, St James’s Park, and the Vauxhall Bridge Road, can boast at once of some of the noblest and the meanest structures to be found throughout London… In Westminster we have the contrast between rich and poor as marked as in St Giles’s and St James’s, for almost within a stone’s throw of the seat of the great Legislature of England there are, or were till recently, more alms-houses, more charity schools, and more prisons,
more ancient mansions, and more costermongers’ hovels, more thieves’ dens and low public houses, than in any other part of the metropolis of equal extent’ (Old and New London, 1878).
This situation was vastly improved by the expansion of London’s transport and building boom in the mid to late 1800s, which saw the removal of some of Westminster’s worst neighbourhoods, among them part of a slum dubbed ‘the Devil’s Acre’ by Charles Dickens, which was demolished during the construction of Victoria Street, completed in 1851. Similar improvements were achieved on the run-up to the opening of Victoria Station in 1860 and the Metropolitan District Railway (the forerunner of the District Line) in 1864.
Despite Victoria’s emergence as a thriving transport hub, bounded by Westminster to the east, Pimlico to the south and Belgravia to the west—with a prized SW1 postcode to boot—the area around Victoria station remained a dreary backwater in residential terms. That is, until now, when, following an ongoing £4 billion regeneration scheme led by Land Securities, the major landowner in the area, and other elite developers such as Northacre and Grosvenor, the area looks set to become London’s newest prime residential neighbourhood. And, says Robert Oatley of Knight Frank’s Victoria and Westminster office (020–3866 2970), ‘at half the price of its more fashionable neighbours’.
‘Tech giants and creative start-ups have also injected much-needed vitality and excitement into SW1. Microsoft and Google’s London headquarters are now based in trendy offices on Buckingham Palace Road and, catering to the new breed of office workers and “New Victorians”, fashionable shops, restaurants and bars have followed hot on
their heels. As a result of the regeneration and the arrival of new office tenants, younger residents are moving into the area, among them professional couples and international students,’ he reveals.
With the four penthouse apartments already sold at Land Securities’ clean-cut Kings Gate Walk building designed by Patrick Lynch, Strutt & Parker’s London New Homes division (020–7318 4677) is offering one of the more impressive of the remaining 96 apartments and studios on offer. For sale at a guide price of £2.9 million, this is an eighth-floor, three-bedroom apartment, with a fully fitted open-plan kitchen and a stylish oak-floored reception room that has large windows leading onto a private balcony, with views to the north and south.
Meanwhile, Knight Frank (020–3866 2970) and Savills (020–7409 8756) are handling sales of the remaining 19 properties at Land Securities’ flagship Nova building on Buckingham Palace Road and Victoria Street, which has extraordinary views over the palace, The Queen’s private gardens and the terraces of nearby Belgravia. With all the one-bedroom studios now sold, prices range from £2.2m for a two-bedroom apartment to £20m for the one remaining penthouse.
The wider Nova masterplan will include an array of 18 new delis, restaurants, cafes and bars. The development is also ideally placed for commuters travelling to the capital’s business districts or airports.
But it’s not all about ‘out with the old and in with the new’ in SW1 and, despite the negative effects of the recent Stamp Duty hikes for properties worth more than £1.1m, investment properties and second homes, there is still a strong appetite for historic and heritage houses in prestigious corners of the postcode.
The thoroughfare known today as Queen Anne’s Gate is made up of two streets—the eastern named Park Street and the western Queen Square—which were originally separated by a wall surmounted by an iron railing. This barrier was removed in 1873 and, the following year, the whole street was renamed Queen Anne’s Gate. No 28 (formerly 10, Queen Square) is one of a terrace of Grade I-listed houses, originally built as fine town houses from 1702 onwards, for peers, politicians, writers and rich businessmen. Most of the houses were converted to commercial use in the late 19th and 20th centuries and converted back to private use in the 21st.
‘To stumble upon this most exquisite of streets is one of London’s best architectural surprises… also about the only place where you will see London houses of the 18th century in near mint condition,’ wrote the architectural historians Elain Harwood and Andrew Saint in London (1991).
In the 1720s, the trustees of the South Sea Company sold Nos 28 and 30 to John and Samuel Rush. At the time, No 28 was occupied by Lord Derby, who appears to have also rented No 30 from 1718 to 1721. He was succeeded at No 28 by Edward Waddington, Bishop of Chichester, and later by Admiral Sir Peter Parker, perhaps best known as the early patron of Nelson.
A Blue Plaque confirms its occupation by Lord Haldane, ‘statesman, lawyer and philosopher’. The 1720s sale document describes the house as ‘containing in front about 29 feet and in depth 40 feet, three storeys high, with a large hall, two parlours and two staircases on the first floor, three rooms on each of the other floors, and kitchens, washhouses and other offices underground’.
Specialist designer Atelier has recently refurbished the entire house to 21st-century standards of comfort and efficiency, while highlighting its many grand original features, such as the panelled entrance hall and the beautifully carved English-oak staircase. In all, it now offers six reception rooms, five bedrooms and six bathrooms.
Notable rooms include the formal dining room overlooking the main terrace and St James’s Park beyond, a front reception room and a state-of-the-art wine-and-cigar room on the ground floor; on the piano nobile above, there is a formal study at the front and, to the rear, a grand drawing room, five windows wide, with even more spectacular, green views of the park. The garden floor houses more informal living spaces, including a modern kitchen/breakfast room and a huge, 600sq ft, open-plan dining and living area, with doors leading to the landscaped garden. This enviable modern masterpiece is currently for sale through Knight Frank (020–7881 7721) and Hathaways (020– 7222 3133) at a guide price of £19.5m.
Around the corner from Queen Anne’s Gate, Strutt & Parker are handling the sale —at a guide price of £8.95m—of the charmingly authentic, Grade Ii-listed 20, Old Queen Street, a splendid Arts-and-crafts house originally designed by the Scottish architect Francis W. Troup as a family home for Henry Gage Spicer of Spicers’ Paper. The present owners renovated the property in 2009, when great care was taken to highlight its character.
The house, which boasts an impressive panelled drawing room, five double bedrooms and four bathrooms on six floors, all of which have views of St James’s Park, has a light well running through its entire height, which allows natural light to flood the interior. Various outside living areas include a gated entrance portico, a terrace leading to a large shared garden—and, through a private gate, to St James’s Park— and a large, decked roof terrace overlooking the landmark-studded skyline.
Prices drop sharply the further south and east you go in the direction of ‘New Victoria’, where large apartments within traditional Edwardian mansion blocks are especially popular among British families, as well as South-east Asian and other overseas buyers. Around Westminster Cathedral, for example, apartments in quiet, red-brick mansion blocks in Ashley Gardens and Carlisle Place on the edge of the newly regenerated area cost from about £1,300 to £1,500 per square foot, which compares favourably with the likely price tag of £2,900 per square foot for a house in the area south of St James’s Park or £4,000 to £5,000 for those north of the park.
This scenario is reflected in the £2.8m guide price quoted by Savills (020–3430 6860) for a 2,282sq ft, second-floor, lateral apartment at 165 Ashley Gardens, which has versatile and well-proportioned living space throughout. ‘This is an ideal family home or pied-à-terre, with accommodation comprising 2/3 reception rooms, 3/4 bedrooms and two bathrooms, with a contemporary kitchen/breakfast room and a good sense of natural light in every room,’ the agents say.
Close to St James’s Park, Grade Ii-listed 20, Old Queen Street is an Arts-and-crafts gem that was elegantly renovated in 2009. £8.95m
Left and above: Lateral living could be ideal for a family at traditional 165, Ashley Gardens. £2.8m. Below: Sleek modern lines are matched by a killer view at the new development at Kings Gate Walk
At 28, Queen Anne’s Gate, modern comforts are on hand throughout (left), but the six-storey house (below) still retains its traditional grand features, such as original panelling and oak staircase. £19.5m