Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Moving On (Or Not Moving On)… Piers Court Hammers Down At £3.2 Million (But Will Troublesome Tenants Actually Leave)

As Evelyn Waugh’s former home sells at auction for £3.16 million against asking price of £2.5 million, we ask: “Will the new owners be able to get the £250 per year pesky tenants to do some moving on and vacate this Georgian gem?”

Whilst a Grade II* listed cottage featured recently in The Steeple Times that had been offered for the extraordinarily low sum of £1 hammered down for £257,000 at auction this week, the home of Brideshead Revisited and Scoop author Evelyn Waugh between 1937 and 1956 achieved 26% more than its estimate and went for £3.16 million on Thursday.

 

Having been offered at a sum of £2.5 million plus in spite of having tenants in-situ who refused entry for viewings even, Piers Court at Stinchcombe in Gloucestershire attracted significant interest and after our article made it into the pages of The Guardian and the Daily Mail even.

 

In the days after our feature and the days before the Allsop conducted auction, current occupants Cheshire born alleged “Evelyn Waugh super fan” Helen Lawton and her Lebanese “businessman” partner Bechara Madi were deemed “Hyacinth Bucket” type figures and “neighbours from hell.” The extraordinarily odd pair have been paying rent of just £5 per week or £250 per year to live in the 8-bedroomed Georgian manor house and were briefly directors of a company named Winston’s House Limited, which was the ultimate owner of the property.

 

Speaking to MailOnline prior to the auction, “former London financier” Madi – who lives in the house supposedly on a “rolling six month tenancy” and whose partner is a “friend” of the ultimate “person of significant control” of Winston’s House Limited, controversial ex-BBC executive Jason Blain – raged:

 

“It’s our home, for the short term and for the long term. We will be putting our Christmas tree and decorations up in the next few days. We are going nowhere.”

 

“You have to ask why they are selling the house for £1 million less than its market value in a low-end auction just before Christmas.”

 

“We are not tenants, we have a major share in the house and have put in hundreds of thousands of pounds of our own money. If you look at Companies House accounts you will see we have put money into the company that owns the property.”

 

“We love it here and have put a lot into the house since we came here. I’m a city boy so I have gardeners come in but I’m learning as I go along.”

 

“We have spent a lot of our own money on the upkeep of the house, it’s our home and we have no plans to move.”

 

“I don’t want to get into details but the conduct of the bank and receivers has been very aggressive. There’s something more than just simply the bank wanting to be paid but I don’t know what it is.”

 

“The house is owned by the company in which we are shareholders. The company isn’t selling it, the receivers are but it’s a little more complicated than that.”

 

Of the couple, an unnamed “villager” added: “I’ve never seen him once, but she does a bit of shopping in Dursley. I wouldn’t want their heating bills, that’s for sure.” Clearly, the pair are anything but equivalents of BBC Radio 4’s The Archers’ Linda Snell in terms of their participation in local antics.

 

Bizarrely, in a most curious twist, we can today reveal that “investment manager” Bechara Madi became a director of a company named Piers Court Capital Limited – based at 65 Cadogan Square, London, SW1X 0DY – on 29th November 2010 – nine years before Jason Blain purchased Evelyn Waugh’s onetime home. Even earlier, on 5th March 1996, he became a director of Piers Court Holdings.

 

Separately, in a move clearly designed to distract from the truth of their clear involvement with this property dating back to their formation of a company named after it in 2010, Lawton told The Guardian that she “claims to be friends with Waugh’s family” and that “she was planning a party to bring together many of his relatives at the house.”

 

Going further, the paper reported:

 

“Duncan McLaren, of the Evelyn Waugh Society, writing of a chance meeting with Lawton in 2019 while walking along a public footpath through the grounds of the house, said: ‘In recent weeks she has been very excited to learn about the Evelyn Waugh associations of her new home.’”

 

“He said they had a conversation in which Lawton said she knew Septimus Waugh, the author’s seventh child, and there was a plan to bring Septimus’s former nanny, who was then in her 90s, from Northumberland to the house for a day. It is not known if the visit happened.”

 

“McLaren wrote: ‘Helen also knows Alexander Waugh, Evelyn’s grandson, and has other plans to bring Evelyn Waugh activities to the house.’”

 

Ms Lawton and Mr Madi, it seems, are not averse to a bit of legal action. In the summer of 2016, they were involved in a court case concerning another six flats at 65 Cadogan Square in the tony district of Knightsbridge, London. It was disclosed in evidence that Madi had supposedly sent nearly 5,000 emails over 2,009 days to a property management firm as well as “somewhat vitriolic letters” also.

 

In spite of the duo producing over 600 pages of documents and claiming “instances of intimidation” as well as criminality, “harassment and incitement,” the tribunal’s decided that “it is not in our finding just and convenient to make that order.”

 

Now, given Piers Court has clearly and most definitely been sold and has a new owner, it remains to be seen whether another bout of legal rumblings will follow involving both Lawton and Madi.

 

Editor’s Note – Unlike as is the case in many publications, this article was NOT sponsored or supported by a third-party.

 

Piers Court auction
Piers Court hammered down at Allsop’s 15th December 2022 auction for £3,160,000 after a series of last minute bidding online. The property’s new owner has yet to reveal themselves.
Cottage
Meanwhile, High Heath Cottage, also known as ‘Mutton Castle,’ went for £257,000 in spite of its £1 “plus fees” guide price.
Daily Mail
On 27th January 1989, after it was sold for £1.25 million, the house featured in the ‘Daily Mail’ and was described as “gold bricks and mortar.”
Piers Court noisy motorway
The prime problem with Evelyn Waugh’s former home is supposedly that it is blighted by noise from the M5 motorway. A leading property commentator told ‘The Steeple Times’: “On a grey winter’s day, the noise is excruciating. It’s not so bad in the summer, but the reason that it took so long to sell Piers Court in 2019 was because of the constant roar of traffic. Who’d want to pay £3 million to have to go to bed with ear plugs?” Clearly, on Thursday, someone did.
Bechara Madi
Creepy… Bizarre busy bee Bechara Madi pictured lurking at the gates and in the grounds of the place he currently is still calling ‘home’ this week. Will he and his partner be there for Christmas? Quite likely. Will they be there after New Year? Likely not.
Jason Blain
Controller of Winston’s Court Limited, which counted Piers Court as its primary asset, Jason Blain with producer Deborah Schindler in Toronto in 2009. Mr Blain is best known for having racked up a colossal £1.2 million bill at the ritzy Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge that he got taken to court over recently. The ex-BBC executive has yet to offer comment with regard to the legal wranglings concerning the Georgian Gloucestershire gem once home to Evelyn Waugh and as to whether he’ll accept his chums Bechara Madi and Helen Lawton will willingly be moving on.
Evelyn Waugh
Evelyn Waugh will be unlikely turning in his grave over this week’s developments. He came to loathe and detest living in the Grade II* listed manor house after being pestered there by a ‘Daily Express’ journalist.

The Names & Numbers – Piers Court, Wooton Road, Stinchcombe, Near Dusley, Gloucestershire, GL6 6QE, United Kingdom

15th December 2022 – Sold for £3.16 million ($3.84 million, €3.62 million or درهم14.09 million), a sum 26% higher than estimate and a sum 9% higher than it sold for in April 2019.

15th December 2022 – Auctioned with a price guide of offers in excess of £2.5 million ($3.1 million, €2.9 million or درهم11.2 million) by Allsop and Knight Frank, a sum 30% lower than The Move Market valuation and 14% lower than the 2019 sale price.

4th December 2022 – Featured in The Mail on Sunday in the gossip column penned by Emily Prescott. She mused:

“After being forced to pay a £704,000 [which eventually amounted to £1.2 million with interest] five-star hotel bill he ran up during an eight-month stay, former BBC executive Jason Blain is maybe keen to free some cash – and is selling his £2.5 million Gloucestershire home.”

“But those who fancy the six-bedroom property once owned by Evelyn Waugh are going to have to trust their instincts – and pictures of it taken back in 2018 – as no one is allowed to view the house in person before they buy it. Not even agents Knight Frank have seen the property since Mr Blain, who worked in business development at the Beeb, bought it in 2019.”

“Earlier this year he was ordered to pay the huge bill at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hyde Park after a planned six-night penthouse stay lasted months.”

December 2022 – Valued on the The Move Market website at a high price of £3.59 million ($4.40 million, €4.17 million or درهم16.15 million).

19th August 2022 – A Notice to Quit was served on Helen Lawton and Bechara Madi and “such notice was affixed to the property gate on the 22nd August 2022.”

15th June 2022 – Tammy Wilkins and Victoria Liddell appointed as receivers and managers of insolvency of Winston’s House Limited.

31st March 2021 – Filed accounts for Winston’s House Limited valued “investment property” Piers Court at £3.5 million ($4.3 million, €4 million or درهم15.6 million) and stated that £1.4 million ($1.7 million, €1.6 million or درهم6.2 million) was owed by the company to creditors at that time.

13th to 26th March 2021 – Charges against Winston’s House Limited are listed and remain “outstanding” still today from bankers C. Hoare & Co. and B.I.G. Finance Limited.

June 2020 – The then “owners” of Piers Court submitted text to Stinchcombe Parish Council for publication on their website. In it, they complained of members of the public causing “damage” and committing “blatant trespass” on the property. They moaned about “unpicked dog fouling” and announced they’d installed signs across the property telling walkers where they could and could not go.

They added: “The owners are close friends with Evelyn Waugh’s family, in particular with Septimus (Evelyn’s youngest son) who vividly remembers his early childhood at Piers Court and who is currently assisting the new owners.  Given that it is the 75th anniversary of the publication of Brideshead Revisited (which was written at Piers Court), the owners will be inviting some of the Waugh family to Piers Court to mark the occasion.”

15th April 2019 – Sold for £2.9 million ($3.6 million, €3.4 million or درهم13 million). Jason Hector Blain, a former BBC executive, took a loan of £2.1 million ($2.6 million, €2.4 million or درهم9.4 million) to fund the purchase. He formed a company named Winston’s House Limited on 27th March 2019 in which he had “significant control” to control this. It counted Lee Bushell, Philip Bushell, Helen Lawton and Bechara Habib Madi as directors. The Bushells subsequently resigned as directors on 16th October 2019 whilst Ms Lawton and Mr Madi were directors only between 27th March and 15th April 2019.

According to the Daily Express:

“Ms Lawton had wanted the house for 25 years and eventually acquired it with the help of millionaire Jason Blain, a former BBC boss. She pays just £250 a year rent to live at the eight-bedroom property and considers herself its custodian. She and her partner, Lebanese businessman Bechara Madi, 60, claim to have paid a £300,000 deposit.”

“But the house, which sits in 23 acres, was auctioned off on Thursday after creditors called in a £2.1million loan they made to Mr Blain. Ms Lawton claims she and Mr Madi are victims of ‘legalised theft.’ They insist there is no formal sale until contracts are exchanged and are now planning their next move.”

May 2018 – The property is again placed for sale for £3 million ($3.7 million, €3.5 million or درهم13.5 million) with Knight Frank. Lauded by realtor Rupert Sturgis as “one of the most beautiful houses in Gloucestershire.”

2004 – Piers Court is again offered for sale at a price unknown. At that time House & Heritage revealed: “Under a previous owner, the library where Waugh wrote was shipped, piece by piece, to Texas, where it was supposed to be reconstructed as a museum but is still in packing cases.”

January 1989 – Sold for £1.25 million ($1.52 million, €1.43 million or درهم5.57 million).

1983 – Sold for £300,000 ($364,000, €344,000 or درهم1.3 million) by the Gadsden family to a Mr Lee via an investment company named Halcyon Holdings.

October 1956 – The Waughs moved out of Piers Court. Of the property, “breeder of Guernsey cattle and ponies” Mrs Gadsden later remarked:

“When I bought the place, it was in a virtually derelict state.”

“The beautiful stables were overgrown and battered, and the gardens were a jungle.”

“I don’t think Evelyn Waugh had much a green thumb. He put lots of statues about, but didn’t like flowers and shrubs.”

“It’s a marvellous house and we were extremely happy there. But, when I sold, I was in my early eighties and it was just too big.”

16th July 1956 – The EvelynWaugh.org website recounts:

“The Waughs entertained Mrs Gadsden for lunch. The future owner of Piers Court was most accommodating, agreeing to take over cows and peasants, if required. However, she baulked at inheriting the statue of Rafael that was in the front garden at Piers Court.”

 

Mrs G: “I don’t want it.”

 

EW: “I’m not selling it to you, I’m giving it away.”

 

Mrs G: “It’s a monstrosity.”

 

EW: “Even the most cursory knowledge of western civilisation would suggest otherwise, Madame.”

 

“In early July, Waugh made the observation in his diary that as he moved about Piers Court, inside and out, nothing annoyed him as it had before. In his mind, it was Mrs Gadsden’s house, not his any more, so he didn’t care if the stone crumbled and the taps dripped and the weeds smothered the flower beds. He would soon be away. Evelyn thought there was a meditation on death to be constructed along these lines.”

June 1956 – Sold by Evelyn Waugh and his wife to a lady named Mrs Gadsden for £9,500 or the equivalent of £188,000 ($231,000, €219,000 or درهم847,000) today.

June 1955 – Piers Court was placed for sale with Knight Frank & Rutley by Evelyn Waugh and his wife for £10,000 or the equivalent of £198,000 ($243,000, €230,000 or درهم892,000) today.

June 1955 – A Daily Express reporter visited the house uninvited. Feeling his privacy had been irreversibly invade, Waugh decided to sell. Of why, he penned: “I felt as if the house had been polluted.”

2nd June 1952 – Given a Grade II* listing by English Heritage and described by German-British architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner CBE FBA (1902 – 1983) as a “dignified and elegant house.”

September 1945 – The Waughs return to live at Piers Court. Of it, in his diaries, he later wrote: “‘It’s the kind of house which takes a lot of living up to.”

Of this, EvelynWaugh.org recounts:

“On Monday, September 10, 1945, a great thing happened. The nuns left Piers Court, where they’d been settled for the duration of the war, and the Waughs moved back into the house. Laura thought everything was perfect while Evelyn – bless his cynicism – detected losses and damage everywhere he looked.”

“In the cellar, Evelyn flushed out four dozen bottles of Dows 1922 and six dozen assorted claret, so things started to look up. Within a week his library was in order. That’s to say he could be sitting at his desk – cigar in hand, glass within reach – and look up from his papers to see a one-time King of England, George the Third, looking down on him from the wall, approving of his subject’s set-up. All was well with Waugh’s world after all.”

“How had the world changed for Evelyn since he had last been in residence in 1939? Mainly in the following ways: Britain and its allies had won the war, but at what cost? A post-war Labour government was in power which meant high taxes on his earnings which were used – much to Waugh’s dismay – to provide Welfare for the masses.”

“He was the author of ‘Brideshead Revisited.’ This had been chosen as Book of the Month in the United States, which meant a £10,000 windfall and an additional £10,000 in royalties to be looked forward to. Moreover, it gave Evelyn an exalted sense of his own importance. ‘If you have laurels, rest on them,’ might have been Waugh’s philosophy at the time. Besides, if he wrote more books in the next few years the income from them would be taxed at 80%.”

“He was the father of four children by now and, for the first time, would have to get used to them being around. Not in the library, of course, that would remain a child-free zone. But he could hardly keep them out of the house as a whole. Not those (Meg and Hattie) that were under school age, and not even those (Bron and Teresa) who were of school age, at least when their schools were closed for the holidays. More kids on the way? That’s how the Roman Catholic Church would have it, so yes. The Haynes’ four-poster had been erected in Evelyn’s bedroom.”

May 1945 – Waugh’s best-known work, Brideshead Revisited, is published.

October 1939 – Rented to a convent school for a year for £600 or the equivalent of £31,000 ($38,000, €36,000 or درهم140,000) today.

May 1938 – Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop is published and gains “universal acclaim.”

January 1937 – Bought for Evelyn Waugh and his second wife, Laura Herbert, by the bride’s grandmother for £3,600 or the equivalent of £194,000 ($238,000, €226,000 or درهم874,000) today.

18th century – The present building was constructed on the site of an earlier 16th century house and incorporates parts of that.

Matthew Steeples
Matthew Steeples
A graduate of the London School of Economics, Matthew Steeples is a writer and marketing consultant. He conceived The Steeple Times as a media arena to fill the void between the Mail Online, The Huffington Post and such organs as the New York Social Diary in 2012.

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