At home with El­iza

The Lon­don pad that in­spired My Fair Lady

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

We all have a soft spot for El­iza Doolit­tle, the Cock­ney flower girl who dropped her aitches un­til she was taken in hand by Prof Henry Hig­gins, the stick­ler for cor­rect pro­nun­ci­a­tion.

The char­ac­ters first saw the light of day in George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pyg­malion be­fore reap­pear­ing in the hit mu­si­cal My Fair Lady, with Au­drey Hep­burn and Rex Har­ri­son.

Prof Hig­gins lived at 27A Wim­pole Street, yards from a par­tic­u­larly grand Maryle­bone town house that has come on the mar­ket for £14.95 mil­lion – and whose pre­vi­ous res­i­dents in­clude a Prof Ho­race Hay­man Wil­son, Bo­den Pro­fes­sor of San­skrit of Ox­ford Univer­sity in the early 19th cen­tury.

A co­in­ci­dence? Not at all. The two facts are closely re­lated.

The main real-life aca­demic “model” for Hig­gins was a crotch­ety early 20th cen­tury Ox­ford pro­fes­sor of pho­net­ics named Henry Sweet – name-checked in the pref­ace to Pyg­malion, writ­ten in 1913. While the ba­sis of Hig­gins’ grand life­style and home was Prof Wil­son of Wim­pole Street and his sur­round­ings.

He was such an em­i­nent aca­demic in his own right that Shaw would have been well aware of him, and where he lived.

The two pro­fes­sors merged into one, and it is only a shame that El­iza Doolit­tle never met Ho­race Hay­man Wil­son, as he would surely have be­come ’Orace ’Ay­man Wil­son, just as Henry Hig­gins be­came ’Enry ’Ig­gins.

The Wim­pole Street ad­dress shared by Hig­gins and Wil­son is also sig­nif­i­cant.

One of the puz­zles in Pyg­malion and My Fair Lady is how a hum­ble pho­net­ics teacher – hardly a well-paid pro­fes­sion – comes to have such grand con­sult­ing rooms on a sought-after street as­so­ci­ated with wealthy pri­vate med­i­cal prac­tices.

The an­swer is ob­vi­ous once you re­alise the ex­tent to which Prof Hig­gins grew out of Prof Wil­son.

Wil­son’s fa­ther, George, was a suc­cess­ful doc­tor who bought a house on Wim­pole Street in 1806 and, as his prac­tice ex­panded, bought the neigh­bour­ing prop­erty so that his son could fol­low in his foot­steps.

Wil­son ju­nior started out as a med­i­cal doc­tor, with a suite of pri­vate con­sult­ing rooms, be­fore pur­su­ing an aca­demic ca­reer, spe­cial­is­ing in San­skrit and other oriental lan­guages.

In his hey­day, he di­vided his time between Ox­ford, Wim­pole Street and Cal­cutta – quite a hat-trick.

He was a man of vo­ra­cious in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity, which would have en­deared him to the sim­i­larly poly­mathic Shaw, who was clearly tick­led by the idea of a man with one foot in academia and the other in Lon­don high so­ci­ety.

The cur­rent own­ers of the prop­erty have lived here for more than 30 years, and the house still has many of the hall­marks of a clas­sic Lon­don town house used for pri­vate med­i­cal con­sul­ta­tions.

There is a splen­did, al­most Hol­ly­wood-like spa­cious­ness about the 10-bed­room prop­erty, from the soar­ing re­cep­tion rooms with 14ft high ceil­ings to the 16-seat for­mal din­ing room with wall pan­elling, Corinthian col­umns and its great sash win­dows.

Shut your eyes and you can imag­ine El­iza Doolit­tle be­ing put through her paces by the pro­fes­sor in the ground-floor study/li­brary.

The 8,520 sq ft home has re­tained many of its pe­riod fea­tures, such as the stained glass fan­light screen (bar­ing the Crest of Vis­count Calvert), in the en­trance hall.

The prop­erty is also dot­ted with or­nate ceil­ing mould­ings and cor­nices, mar­ble floor­ing, and Ge­or­gian fire­places. To the side of the orig­i­nal main stair­case was a lift, in­stalled in 1970 and then re­moved two decades later.

There are two court­yards which fill the six-floor late-Ge­or­gian Grade II listed house with light in ev­ery room, and an ex­tra 1,520 sq ft twobed­room mews house at the end of the gar­den, handy for hous­ing any El­iza Doolit­tle types.

Wim­pole Street – which Vir­ginia Woolf de­scribed as “the most au­gust street in Lon­don” – has changed, like ev­ery­where else in Lon­don.

Many of the prop­er­ties have been di­vided into flats and, in 2016, your neigh­bour is more likely to be a banker than a car­di­ol­o­gist or pro­fes­sor of San­skrit.

Prices in the area have risen by up to 30 per cent in the last five years, ac­cord­ing to Zoopla and the town­houses that line Up­per Wim­pole Street tend to be val­ued between £8 mil­lion and £12 mil­lion, with just one or two big sales per year.

“In this part of Maryle­bone it is very rare for a large fam­ily house of this size and pro­por­tions, with sub­stan­tial frontage and depth, to be­come avail­able for sale on a free­hold ba­sis,” says Becky Fatemi, of Rok­stone, the sell­ing agents. “It is per­fect for a large fam­ily want­ing a size­able Lon­don home, with space to en­ter­tain, and the lower ground floor could be trans­formed into a leisure and fit­ness suite with a yoga stu­dio,” adds Fatemi.

Prof Hig­gins in a down­ward-fac­ing dog? George Bernard Shaw would laugh his head off.

The Grade II listed, six-floor town house on Up­per Wim­pole Street comes with an at­tached two-storey mews house and is on the mar­ket for £14.95 mil­lion with Rok­stone (rok­stone.com)

Flower girl: Au­drey Hep­burn as El­iza Doolit­tle in the hit mu­si­cal My Fair Lady, right

On the street where you live: The sit­ing room, left; the kitchen with a sky­light, right; Up­per Wim­pole Street, be­low

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