|Architectural style||neo-classic Californian|
|Location||Windlesham, Surrey, England|
|Size||58 acres (230,000 m2)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||John B. Scholz|
|Number of rooms||103 rooms|
Updown Court (grid reference SU944641) is a Californian style residence situated in the village of Windlesham in Surrey, England. The 103-room mansion has 58 acres (230,000 m2) of landscaped gardens and private woodland. It was, in 2005, the most expensive private home on the market anywhere in the world, having been listed for sale with estate agencies Savills and Hamptons International for in excess of £70 million (US$138 million).
The original Updown Court was built in 1924 in the Queen Anne style and featured eight bedrooms, four sitting rooms, four bathrooms, a single swimming pool, and sat in 12 acres of grounds. Between 1962 and 1976 the property was home to Major General Sir Philip Ward, his wife Pamela and their four children, and during their ownership the gardens were open to the public to enjoy the spectacular woodland and roses. In 1977 Updown Court was acquired from the Wards by His Highness Prince Sami Gayed of Egypt.
In October 1987, the estate agency Knight Frank and Rutley were instructed to market the property for sale. On the morning after The Great Storm of 1987 (16 October), Antony Wardell, the agent, drove to the property to measure it up. Upon arriving, he discovered that during the storm the property had been destroyed by fire. Trees felled by the storm had brought down power lines, causing an explosion in the house and starting a fire. When Surrey Fire and Rescue Service had tried to reach Updown Court, they found their way blocked by more fallen trees and were unable to reach the house, which as a result was totally destroyed.
In the 1990s the ruined property was sold to Heatherside Property Holdings Limited, a consortium registered in the British Virgin Islands by Martin Burrow of Hamptons International. A redevelopment of the site was masterminded consultant engineer Anthony Pearce and designed by John B. Scholz, an Arizona-based architect.
Construction started in 1998 and in August 1999, rumours surfaced that the property (still under construction), was to be bought by Hollywood actor; Bruce Willis. Other potential buyers who were rumoured to be connected with the property included Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, then Crown Prince of Dubai, and the Tengku Mahkota of Pahang; Tengku Abdullah.
2001 Customs Raid
On 19 July 2001, HM Customs and Excise launched a raid on the property in connection with money laundering. Customs officers were joined by Surrey Police and members of the National Crime Squad for the dawn raid. The raid came a day after HMCE had launched a High Court action and obtained an order allowing them to appointed a risk consultancy company to take over the running of the project as joint receivers and managers. Anthony Pearce was charged with using the proceeds of crime to buy and develop the property. He was also charged with a second offence relating to the purchase of a yacht and was remanded on conditional bail until 2 August 2001. Another man was released on bail and two others were freed without charge.
First Receivership, Purchase by Leslie Allen-Vercoe and Further Redevelopment
Heatherside was put into the hands of an administrative receiver, Vivian Bairstow of Begbies Traynor. In 2002 Bairstow instructed FPDSavills and Knight Frank, to sell Updown Court to recover the company's assets and pay back creditors, who included an overseas lender. The guide price for the sale was £15 million and bids closed on 10 July 2002. A developer, Leslie Allen-Vercoe completed the purchase of the unfinished shell for £13 million (the approximate 2009 equivalent of £20 million) in January 2003. A planned further £30 million was to be spent finishing and redeveloping the property and the project was mainly funded by loans from the Irish Nationwide Building Society, who had loaned money to the previous developers; Heatherside Property Holdings. Allen-Vercoe engaged British architects Eades Hotwani, to replace John Scholz, and hired Italian craftsmen to lay the marble tiles and mosaics which adorned the interior of the property.
The structure of the deal Allen-Vercoe struck with INBS was structured in a way which only came to light when the property was placed in receivership a few years later. The bank provided the money required for the project c.£50 million, and it was agreed with INBS that if the completed project was sold for a profit, this would be split with 33.3% going to INBS and the remaining two-thirds going to Allen-Vercoe himself. If the property was sold at a loss, Allen-Vercoe would not be personally liable for any part of that loss.
In 2005, the property was completed and placed on the market for sale with Savills and Hamptons International. A leather-bound brochure, which in an effort to discourage timewasters, cost interested parties £500 to purchase, was produced and it is said that Savills were happy to arrange for prospective buyers to be driven to Updown Court in a Rolls Royce or flown in by helicopter for a viewing. Viewings, due to the size of the property, are said to have takend in excess of two and a half hours. In light of the buoyant property market at the time and a huge amount of press coverage, Allen-Veroe boasted in a 2005 interview that "it will be gone in six months. We've already had interest from buyers from Russia and the Middle East. And three Chinese called to inquire just this morning".
By the end of 2009, as a result of further loans and accrued interest INBS was owed around £61 million and when, the follow year, INBS was effectively nationalised, its share of the property came to be owned by the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA paid £20million to INBS for the asset.
With running costs when fully staffed of £1.026 million a year and even reduced costs imposed by NAMA running to £60,000 per month, the property needed to start to bring in some sort of income. The property began to be rented out as a filming locations and starred as a Russian Embassy in Series 8, Episode 3 of the BBC series Spooks, doubled as a war-torn Baghdad palace in the film Green Zone, was a backdrop for several Bollywood films, and was the home of Sean and Beverly Lincoln in the Showtime/BBC series Episodes.
Second Receivership and Eventual Sale
By May 2011 the estate had still not been sold and was still on the market at the original price of £70 million. In a bizarre move the price was increased to £75 million in June 2011, before being cut by 30% to £50 million the next month. In August 2011, the property was placed into receivership by NAMA, with CB Richard Ellis acting as receivers. and the following month it was announced that the asking price had been slashed, with the property being priced "in excess of £30m".
Finally, after over six years on the market, in October 2011, it was announced that the property had been sold for £35m by joint agents Knight Frank and Hamptons International to a purchaser, believed to be a foreign businessman, whose identity is unknown.
Set in the centre of 58 acres (230,000 m2) of gardens and mature woodland, Updown Court is entered by a £2 million (3 million USD) heated marble driveway, has 103 rooms. 24 of these are bedrooms, each with its own marble en-suite bathroom. Among other features, it has a fully automated two-lane bowling alley, five swimming pools including an Infinity pool, a squash court, a floodlit tennis court, a wine cellar with a capacity for 3,000 bottles and a panic room. There are 5 acres (20,000 m2) of more than 30 different types of imported Italian marble, expansive terraces, and a customizable cinema with a 50 seat capacity. It also features an underground garage, with granite flooring, that has enough room for eight cars or limousines. The first floor is the main residential area, featuring eight generous bedroom suites, all en-suite. The penthouse floor contains two separate penthouse apartments, each with two bedrooms, reception area, bathroom, kitchen and occupies an entire wing of the property.
Leslie Allen-Vercoe was born in Ashford, Middlesex in 1944. His mother (born 1917), was briefly a model for Vogue and his father, who died from pneumonia shortly before his birth, was a bricklayer. When Leslie was 5, his mother got married for a second time. His step-father was a Customs and Excise officer and the family relocated to Sandown on the Isle of Wight.
He attended Sandown Grammar School until the age of 17. On leaving school when he left without he worked as a projectionist at the local cinema. The young Allen-Veroe then became an estate agent and aged 20, when his boss died, he took out a £2,000 loan from the bank and purchased the business to run the estate agency in his own right. Vercoe lied about his age, as at the time the bank were unwilling to leand to anyone under 21. The business began benefiting from the appeal of the Isle of Wight among those living on the mainland and clients included press baron Lord Beaverbrook. Allen-Vercoe became involved in property development in Germany and by his mid-twenties had married his neighbour, Sue. By the age of 27 however, things had changed and, expecting their first child, the couple were bust and struggling to afford the rent on a bedsit in Earl's Court.
With another mouth to feed, Allen-Vercoe started from scratch again, this time with a £4000 loan from a friend. He was able to grow this business until the property crash of the late 1980s sent him bust for a second time. With his wife having left him, he went East to seek new fortune and working in Oil and Gas with Ministry of Oil and Gas Construction (Zangas), re-established himself. By the time he entered public consciousness with Updown Court, Allen-Vercoe owned 42 private companies in the UK, flew a Jet Ranger helicopter, had assets including forests in Russia, coal mines in Ukraine, land in Latvia and Lithuania and estimated that his net worth was 'safely in excess of £50 million', despite not appearing on any of the many Rich Lists published each year.
Allen-Vercoe has three children from his first marriage; Justine, Emma and Hayden and he currently lives in Surrey with second wife Jenny (his former secretary, whom he bought a Mercedes-Benz SLK for as a wedding present).
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