Saturday, 12 December 2020

Londonderry House: II


LONDONDERRY HOUSE was sold by the Londonderry family Trustees (of the 7th Marquess's Will Trust) in 1962 to a developer who built the "Londonderry Hotel" on the site, not the Hilton [Belmont thinks the Como Metropolitan Hotel now occupies the site].

The Hilton Hotel is on the other side of the street, and had already been opened.

The Londonderry family received a sale consideration of £500,000 in 1962 (equivalent to £10.7 million in today's money).

This sounds little for such a prestigious location, when considering London residential property values in 2018, but it should be remembered that the Londonderry family had been trying, unsuccessfully, to sell the property for many years prior to 1962.

The rates bill for the property was around £44,000 per annum in 1962 (equivalent to £946,000 in today's money) and, following the departure of the Royal Aero Club, which had occupied most of the property since the Second World War, the full amount of this impost was about to fall at the door of the Londonderry family once again, on a financially crippling recurring basis.

This was also at least a decade before the rise in the oil price created the type of Middle Eastern potentate private buyer, such as the Emir of Qatar, whose family eventually bought Dudley House further up Park Lane, retaining that aristocratic palace as a private residence.

The tragedy of the sale of Londonderry House was not the comparatively meagre price (by current standards) it fetched for the Londonderry family, but the fact that it was completely demolished.

The bland exterior concealed magnificently painted, and fresco-ceiling interiors by James "Athenian" Stuart who had, coincidentally, built the Temple of the Winds at the Londonderry's Ulster seat of Mount Stewart.

The magnificent state rooms where 7th Marquess and Marchioness had, in the inter-war years, hosted their annual Eve of the Opening of Parliament reception for 2,000 guests, succumbed to the wrecker's ball.

Fortunately, many of the fireplaces survived after being ripped out and sold separately by a salvage company.

The two final social events hosted by the Londonderry family in the House were the wedding reception of Hon Elizabeth Keppel, following her marriage to her cousin Alastair Villiers in June, 1962, and a final "farewell" party given by Alastair, 9th Marquess, which his friends Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney attended.

The following day all of the furniture was removed and either sold by the family Trustees (eg the Canova sculptures from the hall were sold to the V&A) or sent over to Mount Stewart, being the personal property of 9th Marquess's aunt, Lady Mairi Bury.

George Stubbs's masterpiece, the life size painting of the racehorse Hambletonian after his famous win at Newmarket, was one of the items which belonged to Lady Mairi Bury and it was taken down from the library in Londonderry House and rehung on the staircase at Mount Stewart, where it is to be seen today.

First published in July, 2018.

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