« MorphWorld: [The voices of] Taffy Nivert and Kate Pierson | Home | TravelPost.com — Interactive travel diaries and maps »

March 30, 2005

'Can a Dead Politician Sell a House?'


In this case the politician is Winston Churchill and the house is where the great man lived just prior to becoming prime minister during World War II.

Rachel Halliburton wrote a most interesting story for the March 26 Financial Times about how the association with Churchill does not seem to mean a whole lot in Britain as far as increasing the value of the property.

James Taylor, who as sales manager for the Chelsea branch of estate agent Jackson Stops & Staff is marketing it, said in the article that "a famous name might add 5% to a flat or house price, but certainly not 20%."

That is the opposite of the case in the U.S., at least when it comes to movie and television stars.

I have read story after story over the years reporting on the sale of unremarkable homes in ordinary settings for much, much more than they would have brought if Elvis hadn't lived there, or Marilyn Monroe.

I guess the British just aren't as star-struck as los Americanos.

Here's the Financial Times story.

    Can a Dead Politician Sell a House?

    The discreet gentility of Morpeth Mansions belies the fact that it was the setting for one of the most dramatic moments in 20th-century politics.

    The elegant red-brick Victorian block is hidden on a quiet street behind Westminster Cathedral.

    A short walk from Buckingham Palace in one direction and the Houses of Parliament in the other, the flats have long attracted leading politicians and international businessmen.

    But one is of particular historical importance: it is the place where Winston Churchill formally opposed prime minister Neville Chamberlain's disastrous policy of appeasing Hitler.

    An electric storm was raging when a small group of rebel Conservative politicians gathered at 11 Morpeth Mansions on September 2 1939.

    All were outraged that in spite of the Nazi advance through Poland, Chamberlain had made a speech in the House of Commons arguing that Hitler might be persuaded to withdraw his troops.

    Churchill had until recently been exiled from government, but for more than a decade he had been predicting the dangers of allowing Germany to build up full military strength.

    A thunderclap shook the flat as he read out a letter he had written to the prime minister that evening, urging him not to shrink from declaring war.

    How much would you pay to be associated with such a moment?

    The flat is on the market for £2m, and James Taylor, sales manager of the Chelsea branch of estate agent Jackson Stops & Staff, does think potential buyers will be interested in the Churchill element as well as the bricks and mortar.

    "We've had quite a lot of Americans looking around who've been interested in the historic connection," he reports.

    "There have also been a serious numbers of enquiries from politicians.

    I'm not at liberty to say who, but two are former Cabinet members, and one is in the House of Lords at the moment."

    Peter Sheppard, a designer, chairman of the Catholic Herald and present occupant of the flat, thinks that living in a home owned by a famous historic figure is "like lineage".

    It's like having a posh father or ancestor - you may not have known Churchill, but you definitely are connected to him. This is the most important place he lived, apart from Chartwell - he went from 11 Downing Street to here, and from here to the Admiralty and 10 Downing Street. This is where he would have walked from to see Edward VIII for the abdication crisis in 1936. He would have taken calls from the President of the United States in the room that is now my dining room."

    Of course, both Taylor and Sheppard are realistic about how much these associations will amount to financially.

    In the past Taylor has been involved with the sale of the Earls Court flat where Princess Diana was living when she met Prince Charles, and the house in Flood Street where Margaret Thatcher was based when she became Tory leader.

    From both experiences, he concludes that while a historic connection "helps enormously with our job of getting people to see the property, it's not like selling a work of art".

    Because something's signed, for instance, by Damien Hirst, you can add a nought to the price - but that doesn't work with property," he adds.

    A famous name might add 5 per cent to a flat or house price, but certainly not 20 per cent. In the hard day's business of buying and selling a property, people just won't pay a premium."

    Churchill has certainly dominated Sheppard's time in the flat, even if his decision to buy it 10 years ago had more to do with the property's intrinsic value.

    Biographies of the politician and memorabilia (including a cigar) fill the study, and the house bubbly is Pol Roger because it was Churchill's favourite champagne.

    Ranged over two floors, with close-up views of Westminster Cathedral, the flat covers 2,758 sq ft, and now has three interconnecting reception rooms.

    Sheppard admits that the distinctively modernised property looks very different now to the way it did when Churchill was there.

    The hallway resembles a Venetian street, complete with pillars and stonework; the compact kitchen is a foodie's delight; and a new stairway at the end of the entrance corridor is a distinct improvement on the small spiral staircase that Churchill used to squeeze up to his study.

    But he thinks innovation is appropriately Churchillian: "there's an anecdote that when he was at Chequers, someone found him painting over a Rubens. His explanation was that he didn't think Rubens had got the foot quite right."

    Dawn Carritt, who works with the Mayfair branch of Jackson Stops & Staff, points out that it's now quite rare to find a property owned by a famous historical figure in London.

    Of course, others do exist; for example, Elizabeth Lord, a Knightsbridge-based private property consultant, is currently selling a family house in Brompton Square where the Symbolist poet Mallarmé lived.

    But many have been turned into museums, and, says Carritt, "a lot of properties owned by affluent people would either have been bombed in World War II, or have been deemed impractical for modern living, and converted into flats and offices."

    It would seem, therefore, that while historic links cannot be precisely quantified in terms of money, they are both a qualitative and an emotional investment.

    Buying a flat with a prominent story is - to a degree - to gain intimacy with the past.

    "Often when you go to a country house," remarks Sheppard happily, "people will say 'This is the room Churchill slept in.' And I want to say, 'Well I sleep in his bedroom every night.'"

March 30, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference 'Can a Dead Politician Sell a House?':

» Extended Warranties: Worth The Cost? from blink? Maybe
wishing you had an extended warranty. Financial adviser Ray Martin looks at when it's worth the extra cost " and when it's not. [Read More]

Tracked on May 23, 2006 7:02:04 PM

» Two elected to Vanderbilt University Board of Trust from Vanderbilt University
senior in the School of Engineering are the newest members of the Vanderbilt [Read More]

Tracked on May 29, 2006 7:50:43 AM

» Ex-Yankee's drug woes 'shock' Joe from him: the house
ex-players, Jason Grimsley, was raided by federal agents as part of a steroid investigation. [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 10, 2006 4:46:23 PM

» Pistons' Ending Didn't Ruin Ride from I often found
this season, I often found myself watching Pistons games while silently reminding [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 13, 2006 5:48:03 AM


The comments to this entry are closed.