By Simon Basketter
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Who would live in a house like this?

This article is over 1 years, 2 months old
Central London mansion is expected to be sold for £250 million
Issue 2845
The Holme in Regents Park, Central London.

The Holme in Regents Park, Central London. (Picture: Garry Knight)

A London mansion hit the headlines last week. The plush pad is on the market after a £150 million loan wasn’t paid, triggering what is likely to be London’s most expensive ever repossession house sale.

The Holme, as it is called, is set in four acres of Regent’s Park in central London and is estimated to cost £250 million. Various bits of the Saudi royal family have a stake, and it is unclear how much the untraceable debts and scams floating about have to do with infighting among them.

It covers 29,000 square feet, has eight garages, 40 ­bedrooms, and a tennis court— as well as a sauna and so on. The 20th century architectural critic Ian Nairn described The Holme as “a definition of Western civilization in a single view”. He wasn’t wrong. 

The 205-year-old villa had been mired in royal shenanigans, empire and dodgy deals from the start. It was built as a home for James Burton, a Georgian property developer. The freeholder of the land is the royal family

The site was nicked by Henry VIII off the church. Later Oliver Cromwell took it off Charles I and sold it off in bits to pay the army. Charles II stole it back and executed the chief leaseholder before proceeding to sell his own leases.

In 1806 the builder John Nash was told to develop a new plan for the park. It was to be an exclusive ­development for the rich—a Georgian equivalent of a gated community—reserved for the “wealthy and the good.”

The prince regent was ­looking after things since his dad had become mentally distressed at losing America from the empireHe liked to have nice ­buildings for parties. Developers promised a palatial residence, 50 villas and elegant terraces. This exclusive set of buildings would link via the new Regent’s Street, to St James’s Park and the prince’s house.

Nash ran out of cash. In the end, only eight villas were built. Developer Burton bailed him out and got a nice house.

Burton profited from ­building over 3,000 properties in central London, including most of Bloomsbury and Regent Street. He also built—entirely unregulated and unrecorded—poorly made buildings for the poor behind his plush houses across London. 

These became slums, and so encouraged the rich to look further afield for nicer places. Burton built the whole town of St Leonards on the south coast precisely to profit from getting people away from the poor clogging up London.

His son, architect Decimus Burton, designed The Holme for his dad. Burton senior made a ­fortune through patronage from royals and from the cash flowing into London off the back of empire and the declining slave trade. 

The act to abolish slavery in the British Empire was not passed until 1833. This may explain his ­keenness to defend the empire. He made yet another fortune by owning the major gunpowder factories during the Napoleonic wars

He also had a private army, recruiting 1,600 “volunteers” who he named the Loyal British Artificers. He declared himself Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant to deal with any invasion of the French into England

In 1826 a man called Raffles set up London Zoo next to The Holme. Like the rest of the park the public were not allowed in. But as most of the animals died quickly, they didn’t miss much. 

Raffles was an important figure in the East India Company and founded—or stole—Singapore among numerous other Imperial outposts.

Nash and Burton also had shares in the Regents Canal. It was opened in 1820, connecting the Grand Union Canal to London Docks. And it was a very profitable move as Britain’s trade dominance grew.

The birth pangs of the area have come Holme to roost. The sale relies on the ­backroom obscurity of rich people’s money being moved around mysteriously with dubious royal patronage ­scamming. Burton would be proud and would take a cut. 

Oh, and it is still leased off land owned by the British royals.

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