A £26 million residence with connections to rock, royalty and rectors
Built in the early 1500s, The Old Rectory is Wimbledon’s oldest house. Standing in grounds of 2.5 acres, this 16,200 square foot property was once described by a biographer of Sir Henry Cecil as being “not luxurious, but adequate” but now once again it finds itself in an entirely different league.
Priced at £26,000,000, it is almost certainly one of the most expensive homes to ever come to the market in Wimbledon and whoever moves there next will undoubtedly be either an oligarch, an A-list personality or a top achieving business person.
The purchaser will follow in the footsteps of a fascinating array of historically important residents, the first of whom was Henry VIII (1491 – 1547). The King took up residence in 1547 in the months prior to his death and is said, as he was so bloated, to have been unable to climb the stairs to his sleeping chambers. His bed was relocated to the great hall of the house and here he slept next to the fire. Historical research recounts that, with a brewhouse, beer and wine cellars, a coal cellar, meat room, buttery and two dairy rooms, this was a “house fit for a king.”
Henry VIII gave The Old Rectory, which was originally called The Parsonage House, to his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr (1512 – 1548). Preferring a residence in Chelsea, Parr left and the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral took possession. A lease was sold to Sir William Cecil (1520 – 1598), later Lord Burgley, and the manor then passed to his son Thomas Cecil (1542 – 1623), the 1st Earl of Exeter.
In 1639, Charles I (1600 – 1649) bought the entire manor and gave it to Queen Henrietta Maria (1609 – 1669) but with the era of Comwell, The Old Rectory found itself occupied by General John Lambert (1619 – 1684). Shortly after, when a grander house was built next door, the property became first a laundry house and then servant accommodation and gradually fell into decline.
The Old Rectory passed next to Sir Theodore Janssen (1658 – 1748) in 1720. This French-born English financier, who was said to be worth the staggering sum of £250,000 at the time of his purchase of the house, was a founder member of the Bank of English but later disgraced for his part in the South Sea Bubble. He was expelled from the House of Commons and with his ruination, The Old Rectory saw yet another chapter of abandonment.
By 1802, the house was described as an “uninhabited” ruin. A speculator credited with developing “modern Wimbledon” named John Augustus Beaumont bought it and restored and extended it but when it was sold to a Samuel Wilson in 1882 for £6,000, an era of truly comprehensive upgrades was to begin. Wilson added a pebble-dashed two-storey drawing room wing, carved oak doors and installed English, Flemish and Italian chimneypieces.
The next owner was a marine engineer named Matthias Jacobs who had been responsible for the construction of tunnels in Paris and New York. After having purchased The Old Rectory in 1909, he commissioned his brother to add a new single storey billiards room, a service wing and a study extension to mask the medieval chapel of the house. Jacobs sold up in 1923 to a Thomas Lethaby, who fitted oak paneling from Chantry House in Newark and a plaster ceiling based on the one at Knole House, Kent.
In 1953, the eminent London surgeon and cardiologist, Lord Brock FRCS, FRCP (1903 – 1980), took possession of The Old Rectory after having paid £13,750 for it. Brock is credited as on of the pioneers of modern open heart surgery and also founded the Lord Brock Memorial Trust that to this day funds the museum he founded, The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret in Southwark, SE1.
Following the death of his first wife Germaine Louise Ladavèze, Brock sold to an Iraqi entrepreneur and philanthropist named Basil Faidhi in 1978. Faidhi had fled Iraq for Britain and though he spent vast sums restoring the house with assistance from English Heritage, he also created a basement discotheque for his daughter, Nina, and a bar. Aside from bringing the house into the “yuppie era,” Faidhi also commissioned a historian named Richard Milward MA to write a history of the building in 1992 entitled: The Rectory – Wimbledon’s Oldest House.
The Queen lead vocalist and anti-badger cull campaigner Brian May CBE purchased The Old Rectory in 1994 for £4,000,000 with the intention of living there with the Eastenders actress Anita Dobson.
Dobson, who didn’t marry May until 2008, had other ideas and refused to move in. It was suggested that she preferred a smaller house the pair occupied in Kensington and, at the time, a friend commented:
“[May] begged her to move into the new house so they can make a fresh start. Nobody can believe that Anita doesn’t want to be the lady of this fabulous house. But Brian says he can’t get through to her.”
As a result, May never properly moved into The Old Rectory and eventually decided to sell. In 2006, it achieved a record price of £16,000,000 and in the ensuing years, an Italian architect-owner named Antonella Carminati and her husband have lavished time and money on further restorations with the help of Sir Donald Insall CBE’s Insall Associates firm of architects.
New fittings have been installed throughout and substantial extensions to the house have included a new kitchen and breakfast room with garaging beneath. The couple have demolished an early 20th century porch and an “unsightly” oak conservatory, remodeled the billiards room as a drawing room and removed a “bilious” blue swimming pool from the east lawn.
Now featuring 12,882 square foot of accommodation in the main house and 3,320 square foot of additional accommodation, The Old Rectory has been planned to include 8 reception rooms; a vast kitchen with La Cornue appliances and an adjoining breakfast room; master bedroom suite with two dressing rooms, his and her bathrooms and a sitting room and 7 further bedrooms.
Outside, the gardens feature an original medieval fig tree trail, shaded paths, lawns and a large pond as well as garaging for six cars. Planning permission for an indoor swimming pool complex has also been granted and ample staff accommodation is provided above one of the garages and in the gate lodge.
Given the now limited financial resources of the traditional religious houses of Britain, will it be rock, royalty or new money that next takes possession of The Old Rectory? The historians of Wimbledon will undoubtedly be watching.
The Old Rectory, 82 Church Road, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5AA is for sale through the Wimbledon office of Knight Frank. For more information call: +44 (0) 20 8946 0026.