Can­non Hall has been home to au­thors, ac­tors and judges. Ju­lia Flynn takes an ex­clu­sive tour of a mag­nif­i­cent slice of London's his­tory

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page - More pic­tures of Can­non Hall tele­graph.co.uk/ prop­erty Can­non Hall in Hamp­stead is be­ing jointly listed by Sav­ills (020 7472 5000; sav­ills. com) and Glen­tree ( 020 8458 7311; glen­tree.co.uk) for £32m.

If you were asked in a pub quiz what linked Daphne du Mau­rier and Lau­rence Olivier, you would prob­a­bly shout “Re­becca!” You might even try to get a bonus point by shout­ing “Di­rected by Al­fred Hitch­cock!” But if you shouted “Can­non Hall!” your rep­u­ta­tion as the pub know-all would spread far and wide. This su­perb prop­erty on the edge of Hamp­stead Heath, on the mar­ket for £32mil­lion, has such an ex­tra­or­di­nary past that its links with Du Mau­rier and Olivier barely scratch the sur­face. On an el­e­vated site, com­mand­ing spec­tac­u­lar views of the London sky­line, the three­storey red-brick house is the most his­toric prop­erty cur­rently for sale in Hamp­stead. That re­ally is say­ing some­thing, given the for­mi­da­ble po­si­tion oc­cu­pied by the area in the London prop­erty hi­er­ar­chy.

The Grade II*-listed hall has six bed­rooms, an in­door swimming pool, a large con­ser­va­tory and ex­ten­sive grounds. It dates back to 1730. Pre­vi­ous own­ers in­clude Du Mau­rier’s fa­ther, Sir Ger­ald du Mau­rier, one of the most cel­e­brated ac­tor-man­agers of the Ed­war­dian era. There is a blue plaque com­mem­o­rat­ing him on the wall of the hall.

Du Mau­rier – a no­to­ri­ous wom­an­iser, with a string of mis­tresses – was the son of George du Mau­rier, the Punch car­toon­ist, and the brother of Sylvia Llewe­lyn Davies, whose five boys in­spired JM Bar­rie’s Peter Pan. (Ger­ald du Mau­rier played Cap­tain Hook in the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion.)

One way and another, the fa­mous fam­ily were at the very heart of lit­er­ary and the­atri­cal London. The hall’s guest-book at the time must have read like a Who’s Who of the Bri­tish the­atre.

Daphne du Mau­rier and her sis­ters – An­gela, a fel­low writer, and Jeanne, who be­came a painter – spent part of their child­hoods here. Echoes of the great house can be found in Du Mau­rier clas­sics such as Re­becca, if you know

where to look. The main model for Man­der­ley, the vast coun­try house that dom­i­nates Re­becca, is gen­er­ally sup­posed to have been Mil­ton Hall in Cam­bridgeshire. But the very open­ing lines of the novel, some of the most fa­mous in English lit­er­a­ture, are also strongly evoca­tive of Can­non Hall.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Man­der­ley again. It seemed to me I stood at the iron gate lead­ing to the drive…” Just such an iron gate, more than 10ft tall, still sep­a­rates Can­non Hall from the street. Passers-by can peer through it, mar­vel­ling at the great proerty beyond.

Inside the house, the ar­chi­tec­tural fea­ture that most ob­vi­ously screams “Re­becca!” is the grand en­trance hall. Its ex­quis­ite wooden stair­case, carved with twisted balus­ters, leads up to the gallery land­ing. All it lacks is a beau­ti­ful Hol­ly­wood ac­tress in a ball-gown sweep­ing down the stairs.

The Olivier con­nec­tion with Can­non Hall dates from 1965, when he starred in the Otto Preminger thriller Bunny Lake is Miss­ing, much of which was shot at the hall, which be­came Frog­more End in the movie.

If Olivier and the Du Mau­ri­ers give the hall the glitter of a celebri­tys­tud­ded past, its ear­lier his­tory is just as in­trigu­ing. Can­non Hall takes its name from the pieces of old can­nons dot­ted around the grounds. They are be­lieved to have been placed there by Sir James Cosmo Melvill, a for­mer sec­re­tary of the East In­dia Company, who lived here.

Another early res­i­dent was Sir Noah Thomas, physi­cian to George III. One can have fun imag­in­ing him re­turn­ing home to his wife, mut­ter­ing, “He’s mad! He’s mad!” and pour­ing him­self a stiff whisky.

In the early 19th cen­tury, the hall was home to a num­ber of judges, in­clud­ing Henry Clark, chair­man of the Hamp­stead mag­is­trates. Be­fore the for­ma­tion of the po­lice force in 1832, the house dou­bled as a court. It was right next to the Hamp­stead Lock-Up, presided over by the parish con­sta­ble, in Can­non Lane. The old court­room is now a bil­liards room.

Grand houses with fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ries are cer­tainly not un­known in Hamp­stead, even if, as in other parts of London, they have tended to be bro­ken up, rather than re­main in sin­gle oc­cu­pa­tion.

One of the last of the truly great Hamp­stead houses to come on the mar­ket – it was sold for just over £9mil­lion in 2005 – was Sarum Chase. This mag­nif­i­cent neo-Tu­dor man­sion on West Heath Road was built for the por­trait artist Frank O Sal­is­bury. Up­per Ter­race House, once home to Ken­neth Clark, the pre­sen­ter of the BBC’s Civil­i­sa­tion, is another Hamp­stead land­mark, still pri­vately owned. Can­non Hall be­longs in the same dis­tin­guished company.

“Prop­er­ties of this cal­i­bre in Hamp­stead only come on the mar­ket ev­ery 10 years or so, mainly be­cause their own­ers are so loth to sell them,” says Frank Townsend of Sav­ills, the joint agents for Can­non Hall. The present Bri­tish own­ers of the prop­erty have lived there since 1996. That’s not a long “in­nings” in a well-heeled en­clave to which res­i­dents feel a fierce tribal loy­alty.

The Hamp­stead de­mo­graphic has changed sub­tly over the years. Once home to po­ets and painters – Keats, Con­sta­ble, Wilkie Collins – it later be­came the place to live if you were in­ter­ested in psy­chi­a­try. In the Six­ties and Sev­en­ties, more mid­dle-class neu­rotics were ly­ing on couches, shar­ing bed­room se­crets with their an­a­lysts, than in any other bor­ough in Eng­land. There is a statue of Sig­mund Freud on Fitzjohns Av­enue, and Freud’s for­mer home in Mares­field Gar­dens is now a mu­seum.

“The area hasn’t for­got­ten its bo­hemian roots,” adds Townsend. “Cur­rent res­i­dents in­clude Nick Ma­son of Pink Floyd. There are plenty of other mu­si­cians and ac­tors at­tracted to the area. But the dom­i­nant groups, pro­fes­sion­ally, are prob­a­bly lawyers and hedge fund man­agers.”

And Hamp­stead house prices – 10 to 15 per cent higher than in neigh­bour­ing High­gate, which is equally pres­ti­gious – re­flect that. The fa­mous Bishops Av­enue, which links Hamp­stead to East Finch­ley, used to be known as Mil­lion­aires’ Row. It has now been up­graded to Billionaires’ Row.

But, so­cially, Hamp­stead is far less con­ser­va­tive than, say, Knight­bridge or Bel­gravia. Townsend likens the area to Rich­mond, in south-west London. In both places, some su­perb pe­riod prop­er­ties come on the mar­ket. There is a lot of money swill­ing around but also a slightly un­con­ven­tional edge.

“It is a very eclec­tic area,” says Trevor Abram­son of Glen­tree, the other joint agents. “Ar­chi­tec­turally, it is all hig­gledy-pig­gledy. There is hardly a house in Hamp­stead which is per­fectly straight. But there is a real cul­tural mix in the vil­lage, which in the sum­mer has an almost Mediter­ranean feel.”

For Abram­son, what makes Hamp­stead so spe­cial is the fact that it has re­tained some of the charm of a much older Hamp­stead. It was a me­dieval vil­lage, like neigh­bour­ing High­gate, sep­a­rated by green fields from cen­tral London. “Hamp­stead used to be a stag­ing-post on the road to Ox­ford,” ex­plains Abram­son. “In the 18th cen­tury, at around about the time Can­non Hall was built, the high­way­man Dick Turpin was ac­tive in Hamp­stead. Then, peo­ple thought of the area, with its wide open spa­ces, as far bet­ter for their health than in­ner London. They started to move here for that rea­son.”

The open spa­ces may have shrunk since then, although there are still two golf cour­ses in Hamp­stead, as well as the fa­mous heath, with its open-air swimming-ponds (and pool). But the charm of an ur­ban en­clave that has not com­pletely sev­ered its ru­ral roots still tugs at the heart­strings of Hamp­stead res­i­dents. They feel a pas­sion­ate at­tach­ment to their sur­round­ings that you do not en­counter among peo­ple liv­ing next to, say, Hyde Park.

“The first thing I no­ticed was the

clar­ity of the air and the sharp green colour of the land,” wrote Daphne du Mau­rier in The House on the

Strand. She might have been sit­ting in the gar­den at Can­non Hall, with the sun shin­ing, the birds singing and the lush heath beyond.

What kind of a buyer – apart from an ex­tremely rich one – will be at­tracted to the prop­erty? When cen­tral London prop­er­ties in this price bracket come on the mar­ket, Rus­sian oli­garchs or buy­ers from the Mid­dle East are of­ten head­ing the stam­pede. But Townsend be­lieves that, Hamp­stead be­ing Hamp­stead, the bas­tion of a cer­tain kind of old-fash­ioned Bri­tish­ness, the an­swer will lie closer to home.

“We have seen a lot of wealthy French buy­ers in Hamp­stead in re­cent years, and a prop­erty like this might well ap­peal to some­one from Scan­di­navia or another north­ern Euro­pean coun­try. But I would not be at all sur­prised if the prop­erty went to an ar­che­typal Hamp­stead Brit, who is al­ready liv­ing half a mile away.”

He or she, if wish­ing to con­form to Hamp­stead stereo­types, will not just be ex­cep­tion­ally rich, but slightly ec­cen­tric, bo­hemian and in need of psy­cho­anal­y­sis. Straight out of a Daphne du Mau­rier novel.

Star billing: Can­non Hall has played a ma­jor role in lit­er­a­ture and films. Bunny Lake is Miss­ing, star­ring Lau­rence Olivier, was shot here and it was home to Daphne du Mau­rier and her fa­ther Sir Ger­ald du Mau­rier, a cel­e­brated the­atri­cal ac­tor-man­ager

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