An Unusual Address
London has a treasure trove of properties with a not so well-known and esoteric history behind them
Article by Charles Fraser-Sampson
Walking along London’s streets you’ve no doubt seen a blue plaque stating that some mildly important historical character once lived at that address and you’ll be aware of the more obvious residents of such landmarks as Buckingham Palace or 10 Downing Street. But what about the more unusual or lesser known addresses that have played their part in history and what has happened to them since?
60 Coleherne Court – Earl’s Court
This, for a period in the very early 1980s, was one of the most staked out areas in the World, let alone London, as international media and, in particular, the tabloid press descended. Bought by her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, in 1979, for £50,000, it was the first London home of a young, Lady Diana Spencer, who lived there with three rent paying girlfriends. The reason for this intense media scrutiny, was of course because she was shortly to become HRH The Princess of Wales and in turn one of the most photographed and globally sought-after figures. The rest is well-documented and ends extremely sadly.
The flat was sold shortly after her marriage for £100,000 to Japanese buyers and one would assume that they paid a premium to secure the former home of Princess Diana. Today, the attractive, Victorian mansion block is renowned for its large, 3 -4 bedroom, lateral flats, porters and private residents’ garden. Diana’s old flat, number 60, most recently sold for £1,870,000 in December 2012 and if on the market today would easily achieve north of £2 million.
Flat D, 23 Cranley Gardens – Muswell Hill
The tranquillity of the leafy, residential Cranley Gardens in North London was shattered in 1983 when a gruesome discovery of human remains were found blocking the drains to number 23. A swift police investigation led them to believe that the source of that blockage was the tenant occupying the top floor, Flat D, a single man in his late 30s called, Denis Nilsen. Nilsen was arrested on his return from work, where he is alleged to have said “It’s a long story… I want to get it off my chest.”
A former Army chef, he’d learnt that by boiling animal parts, the flesh would simply peel away from bone and he willingly applied the same technique in his kitchen to human body parts such as heads, feet and hands which couldn’t so easily be dissected and disposed of. Whilst keeping tightly sealed bags of various body parts, hidden within the flat, he disposed of the rest by flushing them down the toilet. This eventually led to the blockage that was to prove his timely un-doing. His victims, believed to number at least 12, were often young men he picked up in pubs with the promise of a meal and alcohol before strangling and drowning them in the bath.
Charged with six counts of murder in 1983 and aged 70, he’s still rated a Category A prisoner with no opportunity for future release, making him one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers.
His former flat at 23 Cranley Gardens made the headlines a couple of years ago when it emerged that a property developer had renovated it and was attempting to sell it for £300,000. The estate agents were compelled to tell prospective buyers about the murders which caused nearly all buyers to cancel their viewing, but it would appear that somebody didn’t seem to mind and paid £285,000 for the one bedroom, top floor flat in August 2015.
17 Wimpole Mews – Fitzrovia
This was to be the last address of the 1950s osteopath to the rich and famous, Stephen Ward. Having successfully gained a privileged position amongst some of his upper class society clients, not only for his osteopath skills, but also as a popular bachelor and introducer / networker. His demise was an unfortunate series of events which sparked one of Britain’s worst political scandals.
The ‘Profumo Affair,’centred around a chance love triangle, which in reality was a short-lived series of sexual encounters between John Profumo, The Secretary of State for War, a young brunette showgirl called, Christine Keeler, and Yevgeny Ivanov, who was believed to be a Russian Intelligence Officer based in London. These encounters would normally take place at the unimposing, 17 Wimpole Mews. Given the intense political period of the Cold War, the very real security threat that loose pillow talk might have been passed from Cabinet Minister to the Russians Spy was a huge concern; made worse when Profumo publically denied any wrongdoing in The Commons only to then admit his guilt and resign later when the evidence and pressure became too much. It was a huge embarrassment to the Conservative, Macmillan Government and is widely attributed to the Tories losing the election to Labour the following year.
The establishment knives were out and who knew all the people involved, who introduced them, who had knowledge of these encounters at their residence? Stephen Ward was the convenient scape goat. In 1963, his world was plunged into complete chaos as, what today, 50 years on, now seem like trumped up charges were made against him leading to a trial at the Old Baily; a trail where he was always destined to be found guilty. After his society friends had ostracised him, a damning prosecution summing up at his trail and his reputation lying in ruins, beyond distraught, he decided to end his life at 17 Wimpole Mews with an overdose of sleeping pills. Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber has even created ‘Stephen Ward, the Musical,’ a West End show which ran for less than a year.