50 Charles Street

50 Charles Street:
A Mansion with a Rich History

I recently reviewed on CabbieBlog The Story of Mayfair by Peter Wetherell which chronicles this famous enclave of London from the 1660s to the present day – and beyond. This Guest Post by Mariana Sarceda tells of a Mayfair property being offered by Wetherell’s with a long history and links with one of the 20th century’s leading fashion designers.

[W]hen it comes to prestigious and stylish residences in central London there is one Mayfair property which stands out. Price and location may be hallmarks of exceptional and in-demand property in the UK capital. Yet, for the truly elite and discerning London property buyer, history and design can be what really makes a new residence standout. And that can make a property priceless.

50 Charles Street is one of these international monuments.

Designer Real Estate in the City
This magnificent mansion could one day reside in the history books somewhere in between ‘number 10’, and Sherlock Holmes’ 221b Baker Street. 50 Charles Street was originally built in 1721-52. This architectural work was undertaken by prominent master builder John Philips, and his partner George Shakespear. Other work by Philips includes the original Battersea Bridge, interior joinery at Christ Church Library. He was eventually elevated to the position of Carpenter to His Majesty’s Board of Works. Since then it has been used as a luxury residential building, converted to chic commercial law offices, and back into a residential home.


This Ambassadorial Grade II listed property was in the process of being renovated for fashion designer Gianni Versace. In 1997 when the home was 70 per cent finished, and just four days after signing the agreement to take Versace Group public, Gianni was shot in front of his Miami Beach home in Florida.

The Epitome of Fashionable Property
In addition to his Florida home, Gianni Versace’s real estate collection included a townhome on Fifth Avenue in New York, Villa Le Fontanelle on Lake Como and a downtown Milan residence in Italy.

Versace’s Ocean Drive residence in Miami ‘Casa Casuarina’ was once listed for $125 million. A photography spread by Forbes magazine highlights just how beautiful and fascinating 50 Charles would likely have been if the master designer had it finished.

Top model, friend of the Versace family, and Miami real estate expert Kaya Wittenburg is one of the few that have been invited to dine with the Versace’s in their homes in the past. Kaya notes the immaculate and meticulous planning and attention to the very finest details. Together this flair for design and the master craftsmanship of Philips are sure to blend into an opulent residence worthy of royalty.

Peter Wetherell, the Chief Executive of Wetherell estate agents in Mayfair describes the luxury prime central London home as a “striking fusion between traditional and contemporary, with space to entertain on a large scale.”

50 Charles Street presents a classic brick front, glass conservatory in the rear with 30 foot ceiling, carved marble fireplace, private lift, and much more.

Who will be this Home’s Next Owner?
After Versace died, the home was quietly sold to a business man. It is now back on the market. However, not only is 50 Charles located in the most expensive city in the world, it is also located in the most expensive prime neighborhood in London’s Mayfair. At a museum worthy 5,756 square feet this house is even larger than the largest penthouse in London’s SE1. In fact, it is over 1,100 square feet larger than the three story penthouse at Benbow House close to the Globe Theatre.

The next owner could be a wealthy heir from overseas, a tech billionaire, fashion mogul desiring to be close to the heart of the world’s financial markets, or an art collector. Perhaps even an ultra-wealthy estate agent needing a pad worthy of their position. Whomever it is, they will certainly claim their own place in the history books.

Barmy Bus Tours

The proliferation of buses in London of late has been the cause of much of the capital’s congestion. Outside the rush hour, especially during the evening, great convoys of these empty red monsters convey nothing but air.

At least some of these leviathans have been put to novel use. These tours offer an insight into what makes our capital city so distinctive, the guides boast diverse interests and expertise.

Afternoon Tea Tours

Combining two English icons, the red Routemaster and traditional cream tea. For one-and-a- half hours you are driven around much of the London tourist sights: London Eye, Houses of Parliament; Piccadilly Circus, nothing unusual you might claim, but while London passes by your window you are served scones, sandwiches and tea whilst seated at your table resplendent with a crisp white linen tablecloth.


Afternoon Tea Bus Tour 12.30 and 15.00 from Northumberland Avenue

Ghost Tours

In a city as ancient it’s hardly surprising that reports of a supernatural nature have been reported. Whether real or imagined this tour takes you by night (naturally apparitions don’t appear in daylight). The black gothic themed funeral bus, as it was in a previous reincarnation, takes you on a 75-minute experience full of stories many of which should be taken with a high degree of scepticism.


The Ghost Bus Tours 19.30 and 21.00 from Northumberland Avenue

Harry Potter Tour

Somebody had to do it, yes your favourite apprentice wizard takes you to places in London featured in his stories, but you will need to be au fait with the novels. A three-hour mini coach tour of all the London plot locations. Walk through the wall at Platform 9¾ or walk in the footsteps of Rubeus Hagrid with opportunity (naturally!) to buy the merchandise at the end of the tour.


Harry Potter Bus Tours of London from Temple tube station see website for tour times and dates

London Spy Tours

With the tag line ‘take a ride on our discretely disguised open top tour bus’ this irresistible tour claims to guide you to the dark and dangerous world of intelligence gathering. It’s all a bit hush-hush, but apparently you meet on route number SP1.


London Spy Tours from Aldwych on Sundays 11.30

National Trust Routemaster Bus Tours

Known for stately homes and cream teas the Trust is also involved in preserving the best of modernity. They worked with Aviva Heritage Fleet to restore RMC 1453 the first ever Routemaster coach back to its original condition and green livery. At this time of year they offer tours of London in the vehicle conducted by knowledgeable guides. The limited number of tours this year can be found at the National Trust website.


National Trust Routemaster Bus Tours from Festival Village Southbank Centre Saturdays

A pilgrim returned

Nestled in a Kent valley is one of the most romantic houses to be found near London.

Situated just outside the M25 near the charmingly named hamlet of Ivy Hatch, this substantial property is virtually unseen from the road.

Ightham Mote (pronounced “Item Moot”) is a rare example of a medieval moated manor house that the National Trust has spent 10 years and £10 million restoring.

[Y]ou approach Ightham by walking down a steep slope which gives the opportunity to see the building from above, an experience unique in my experience.

Walking over the moat via a small bridge takes you into the enclosed courtyard. The first thing you notice is the only Grade I listed dog kennel in England standing over 6ft high it was constructed for a female St. Bernard called Dido in 1880.


First built in 1320 with few changes to the main structure after completion of the quadrangle and chapel in the 16th century Ightham Mote has been owned by medieval knights, courtiers to Henry VIII and high society Victorians.

This remarkable survivor of medieval architecture was by 1951 in a poor condition when James Colyer-Fergusson inherited the house and because of lack of finances he was left no option but to sell the house and auction most of the contents.

A sale took place in October and lasted three days. It was suggested that the house be demolished to harvest the lead on the roofs, or be divided into flats. Three local men banded together to save the house purely for love of it and paid £5,500 for the freehold, confident that some other, richer, benefactor would emerge.

The house would find its benefactor in what is probably the most endearing story of this remarkable building.

American businessman, Charles Henry Robinson of Portland Maine had seen the house as a younger man on a cycling holiday and returned in 1953 older, and richer, with the intention of buying it, but changed his mind on the journey home.

Amongst family papers in Portland was found the ’Letter of Withdrawal’, a letter drafted on the Queen Mary liner by Robinson as he was returning home stating that he had changed his mind about buying Ightham Mote. However, because the ship’s Post Office was closed, the letter was never sent, and Robinson reconsidered and sent an offer for the house. The letter is now in the Ightham Mote library.

Robinson, a bachelor, lived at Ightham until his death and using what funds he could spare managed to keep the building barely habitable, but at least it was safe from developers.

In the Mote’s crypt there is a memorial plaque, with the inscription ‘A Pilgrim Returned’. Robinson’s grandmother, Emily Cobb, was descended, via two different lines, from those who had sailed on the Mayflower.

A collection with interesting detail of how Ightham Mote looked before restoration can be found here. The restoration, which has for me been fascinating to monitor the progress; not that any of the work is immediately visible can be seen in a Time Team documentary [below] and the house has a small exhibition demonstrating the methods used in the restoration.


Dog kennel at Ightham Mote by Oast House Archive CC BY-SA 2.0
Main Picture: ©The South side of Ightham Mote from my own collection.

The London Grill: Boris Johnson

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.


[B]oris Johnson was born in 1964. He was a trainee reporter for The Times, subsequently working at The Daily Telegraph, where he became assistant editor. He was editor of The Spectator for six years up to 2005. He has also published a number of works of fiction and non-fiction, most recently The Life of London. In 2001 Boris Johnson was elected MP for Henley-on-Thames. He was been Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party and held shadow government posts for the arts and higher education. He resigned as an MP shortly after becoming Mayor of London in May 2008. During his first term, he banned alcohol on public transport and oversaw the 2012 London Olympic Games, in 2012, he was re-elected as Mayor. On 12th September 2014, Johnson was adopted as the Conservative Party candidate for MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in the 2015 general election.

What’s your secret London tip?
I would urge Londoners and tourists alike to seek out and enjoy a full English breakfast at one of the amazing family run so-called ‘greasy spoon’ cafes that have existed in this city for generations.

What’s your secret London place?
In the midst of the London’s vast treasure trove of attractions is one of our less well-known gems. Across the river from City Hall, is the most wonderfully preserved stretch of Roman wall. Dating back to around 200 AD, it is a fantastic opportunity to marvel at the ingenuity of our Roman forebears, who built Londinium and helped shape the city we see today.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
It is a modern tragedy that so many of our young people are struggling to get a foothold in the jobs market and are drifting into crime. We need more youth opportunities and improved literacy levels in our schools, so that they are equipped to compete in the global market, which will help them to succeed in life and aspire to a better future.

What’s your favourite building?

What’s your most hated building?
Standing derelict for more than 20 years, the Granary Building threatened to be a blight on an area in central London that is amidst an amazing transformation. It has now undergone a spectacular reincarnation from a barren building, to a university for the arts. It has become a fantastic focus to the regeneration of the King Cross area, matching my own vision for the city.

What’s the best view in London?
The view from my office window. The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the City, Canary Wharf and the giant treble clef that is the Orbit visitor attraction in the Olympic Park. There’s no better view in the world.

What’s your personal London landmark?
The most iconic new landmark of modern times is the Shard of Glass. This huge engineering feat, rising confidently up to the heavens, is a symbol of how London is powering its way out of the global recession.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Johnson’s Life of London, it contains a number of historical characters whom I greatly admire.

What’s your favourite restaurant?
London is a fabulous destination for gourmands, with more than 50 Michelin-starred chefs working at some of the best restaurants in world. It is quite literally a cornucopia, with delicious food from across the globe to tantalise all taste buds.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
A bracing walk in the winter cold or an early morning jog in Highbury Fields is a perfect way to start your day. Followed by a visit to the British Museum, it’s a wonderful Mecca offering an unparalleled collection of historic artefacts and gems.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.

The Little Black Cabs

It is always interesting to get an understanding of what tourists think of black cabs. Here American author Anne Flint who describes England is her favourite place to explore has written a Guest Post about her experiences.

The little black cabs (or Americans would call them taxis) are quintessential to London in the same way the double decker buses, red postal boxes and red telephone boxes are.

[I]f you have never taken a ride in one, it should be on your bucket list. After being crammed into the back of the typical American car, you will wonder at the leg room. Your luggage fits in there with you (not the trunk or boot, as the British would call it) and you can stretch your legs all the way across the floor and still not reach the front seat.

But here is the most amazing thing about them. London cabbies go through a gruelling training system called The Knowledge. This can take up to 4½ years to complete. Yes, it is like getting a college degree and they do this by going around on a bike. It requires learning over 25,000 streets, points of interest, hospitals, hotels, rail stations, historic sites, and the list goes on and on. About 70% of those who try do not complete the course. An interesting video can be found about The Knowledge on YouTube here.

When you step into a black cab you can rest assured that not only will your driver instantly recognize your destination, but that he (or she) will know the quickest route; factoring in time of day and other considerations. If you like, they’ll even be able to point out landmarks like theatres, embassies and public buildings along the way.

So, all that said, these wonderfully trained cabbies are under attack by a new business called Uber. Uber’s model is run using computers/GPS and can be booked via your phone. They are selling this as an efficient model to their customers. There might be an argument for this but here is what you will miss if you choose this option. Uber drivers do not know the city at all and they do not know alternative routes when there are traffic problems, construction or an accident blocking the road. I suspect that GPS will eventually overcome these issues and provide alternative routes, but you still will not ride in a Black Cab and will not be chatted up by friendly driver who knows just about everything you can imagine about London. There is something else to consider. Cabbies must go through rigorous safety and background checks, and Uber drivers do not.


Fettigrew Hall The Biography of a House by Anne Flint

After the devastating death of her husband, Megan Redford returns to England, where she was raised. In London she meets Andrew, who tells her she looks just like his long lost girlfriend Meghan. As she travels, she finds and explores a deserted Tudor mansion and she becomes unaccountably obsessed with it. She arranges to purchase and restore the house and learns the locals think the house is haunted . . .