12th February 2008
The choice parts of the capital remain in the same hands - The Duke of Westminster, The Earl of Cadogan, Charlotte Townshend and The Portman family
There is still just a handful of the ruling elite who own huge swathes of London and the four largest estates are owned and controlled by aristocratic families who can trace their lineages back hundreds of years.
The Grosvenor Estate, the Cadogan Estate, the Portman Estate and the Howard de Walden Estate own or control more than 650 acres of the capital's most sought-after property. They hold sway over large tracts of Belgravia, Chelsea, Marylebone and Mayfair. The value of the 650 acres is difficult to establish but it is put conservatively at £5 billion by property experts. But even that may be a huge underestimate because a ten-acre vacant plot in central London that belonged to the BP Pension Fund recently changed hands for more than £300 million.
The Duke of Westminster
Areas: Belgravia and Mayfair
The Grosvenor Estate covers two main areas in Belgravia and Mayfair reaching as far as Oxford Street to the north and Victoria station to the south, with a huge amount in between. There are also substantial property holdings in the rest of the UK and overseas in the US, Canada, the Far East and Europe. As a landlord, the Estate is no slouch and last year sued one of its most famous tenants - the Laura Ashley clothing chain - that had mysteriously forgotten to pay the rent on its flagship store in Oxford Street. The matter was settled with a cheque just short of £200,000 being handed over to the Estate. The Grosvenor Estate is headed by the Duke of Westminster, Britain's wealthiest landlord and third- richest man.
He is considered to be extremely benevolent by the majority of his tenants and, in 1990, he fought Westminster Council over the definition of the phrase 'working class' contained in a 1937 lease of seven of his blocks of flats. The council wanted to be able to sell the flats to allcomers whereas the lease stipulated that the 500-plus properties should be let or sold to the 'working classes'. Apparently the Duke felt strongly that the working classes should be able to reside in central London. He was less enamoured by the Leasehold Reform Act of 1993, which enables leaseholders to buy their freeholds, and resigned the Tory whip in the House of Lords in protest.
The Earl of Cadogan
Areas: Sloane Square, Knightsbridge, Chelsea
Near neighbour to the Grosvenor is the Cadogan Estate headed by the Earl of Cadogan, which is neither as rich, nor quite so benevolent as Grosvenor. It owns much of Sloane Square, the freehold to Peter Jones and a lot of private residential housing around the Fulham Road. In total the Estate's residential portfolio runs to around 90 acres and includes a good bit of Knightsbridge, including the recently acquired £75 million freehold of Harvey Nichols. In 1996 the American-born former soft-porn actress and ex-girlfriend of Prince Andrew, Koo Stark had the rent on her Knightsbridge property doubled overnight by the Cadogan. And there was little redress. It owns the Royal Court Theatre and chunks of the King's Road as far down as World's End. The Earl of Cadogan is known for his eccentricity and once banned the Sloane Square branch of WH Smith from selling lottery tickets. Recently he was berated by a group of angry tenants in Cadogan Square who were sick and tired of topless sunbathers in the communal gardens. His riposte - 'Nude sunbathing is to be encouraged.'
Areas: Holland Park and parts of Kensington
Much of Holland Park and the surrounding area is owned by the Ilchester Estate, which in turn is owned and controlled by the twice-married keen huntswoman Charlotte Townshend. Residents include Michael Winner and pop star Bryan Ferry, but the landlady is largely absent, preferring to leave the management of the Estate to others. She spends much of her time in Dorset, where she is joint master of the Cattistock Hunt. The Ilchester also owns large areas of the West Country, including the Fleet and Chesil Beach. Her support for the fox-hunting lobby was such that in 1999 she wrote to Baroness Young, chairperson of English Nature, cancelling an agreement to turn the beach into a nature reserve because of the Government's 'astonishing and highly misguided proposal to ban hunting on English soil'. Some observers say that she would not be opposed to the formation of a Holland Park foxhound pack. Not one of the great benevolent landladies but few complaints either.
The Portman family
Areas: Portman Square, Baker Street and areas north toward St John's Wood
Head east along Bayswater Road from Holland Park Avenue and you eventually reach Marble Arch, which is the beginning of the enclave that belongs to the Portman family. Not surprisingly they own Portman Square which is home to the Jockey Club, and the less stuffy Home House, which was the residence of Samuel Courtauld and the original site of the art collection now housed at the Courtauld Institute in Somerset House. Much of the area surrounding Portman Square remains residential and the Portman Estate owns and manages large plots to the north of Mayfair running down to the Marylebone Road, Regent's Park Road and on. Most famously the Estate owns the headquarters of Marks & Spencer in Baker Street. With the riches accrued in London, the family bequeathed their local hunt in Blandford Forum, Dorset (unsurprisingly called the Portman), kennels, stabling and two houses. As London landlords there are few complaints from residents.
Besides the big four there are other significant landlords. Ilchester Estates, the Gunter Estate and the Freshwater family all have huge central London property holdings.
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