Kensington Palace Gardens
Coordinates: Kensington Palace Gardens is a street in west central London with some of the most expensive property in the world. It was the location of the London Cage, the British government MI19 centre used during the Second World War and the Cold War.
A tree-lined avenue half a mile long in the heart of embassy land, Kensington Palace Gardens is often cited as the "most exclusive address" in London, according to real estate agency Knight Frank. It is one of the most expensive residential streets in the world, and has long been known as "Billionaires Row", due to the extreme wealth of its private residents, although in fact the majority of its current occupants are either national embassies or ambassadorial residences. As of mid-2012, current market prices for a property on the street average over £122 million.
The road was originally called The Queen's Road and was renamed Kensington Palace Gardens around 1870 when plane trees were planted in the avenue. It was built from the 1840s onwards, on part of the grounds of Kensington Palace and the freehold still belongs to the Crown Estate. The palace, which is the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Duke and Duchess of Kent, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, fronts the southern part of the street on the eastern side. The houses at the northern end are mostly Italianate, while those at the southern end are mostly in the Queen Anne style. For much of the 20th century a large proportion of the houses were occupied by embassies and ambassadors' residences. Some still are, but others have been renovated by the Crown Estate and sold to private buyers on long leases. One of these was bought in 2004 by the Indian steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, who in 2008 was listed by Forbes magazine as the fourth richest man in the world. The sale was widely misreported at £70 million, before accurate figures were available from HM Land Registry, where records state that on 30 June 2004, 18-19 Kensington Palace Gardens, along with three mews houses at the rear of the property, sold for £57,145,967.
Formerly, this house was owned by Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One racing boss. On 8 October 2001, he purchased the house from Iranian property developer David Khalili for £50 million. This was substantially less than the asking price of £85 million when it was placed on the market by Savills in spring 2001. However, it was reported that Ecclestone's wife, Slavica, never liked the 55,000-square-foot (5,100 m2), 18-bedroom mansion so they never moved in.
Khalili spent three years and more than £20 million turning the two houses into one, building a swimming pool and indulging in his taste for marble floors and pillars (with marble from the same quarry as that used for the Taj Mahal).
No 8 was used as an interrogation centre for German POWs during and after World War II and was known as the London Cage. The house was demolished in 1961 and replaced by a glass-and-steel block of four apartments designed by Richard Seifert and completed in 1964. Flat 3 was on the market in 2006 as a three-bedroom apartment designed by international architect David Chipperfield, valued at a minimum of £13.25 million through Knight Frank, which sold in March 2007 for £10.29m.
Due to the presence of likely terrorist targets — embassies etc., including those of Russia and Israel — both ends of the street have armed police checkpoints (Diplomatic Protection Group officers) with crash barriers as well as the original wrought-iron gates. This has the side effect of leading to extremely low traffic volumes for a central London street. Some of the buildings sometimes also have barriers to keep vehicles at a distance.
The street is lit by very dim Victorian gaslight-style streetlights.
Current occupiers and residents include:
East side of Kensington Palace Gardens:
- 1–3 — Demolished. Now a coach park on Bayswater Road.
- 4–5 — Embassy of Russia — consular department
- 6–7 — Embassy of Russia — chancery
- 8 — Block of 4 private apartments built in 1961–4, each on two floors. Past residents include Carole and Neville Conrad (Flat 3, 1996–2007) and reportedly Michael Grade as a child.
- 9 — Official residence of the High Commissioner from India
- 10 — Jonathan Hunt, founder of Foxtons, bought in 2005 for £14m, with plans for an underground extension under the back garden.
- 11 — Official residence of the Ambassador of France
- 12 — Saudi royal family - possibly Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, who may also own 5 Palace Green.
- 12a — Embassy of Nepal. Built in 1863–5 by architect James Murray and gifted to the Nepalese in 1937 in appreciation of the Gurkhas. Rumoured in April 2013 as being considered for sale for £100m to £180m.
- 13 — Official residence of the Ambassador of Russia
- 14 — Official residence of the Ambassador of Finland
- 15 — Leonard Blavatnik (Double plot) Building completed in 1855 and first occupied by the Victorian merchant and philanthropist George Moore who moved in with his first wife Eliza Moore née Ray in 1856.
- 15b — Leonard Blavatnik
West side of Kensington Palace Gardens:
- 15a — Leonard Blavatnik. Renting while the renovations of 15 and 15b are completed.
- 17 — Roman Abramovich. Said to have been bought in August 2011 for £90 million from hedge-fund manager Pierre Lagrange.
- 18–19 — Lakshmi Mittal, , Bird's eye view
Previous occupants: Baron de Reuter, founder of the news agency in the 1850s; John Leech, Punch artist; The de Rothschild family (early 1900s); The Free Poles (1939–45); David Khalili, dealer in Islamic art (1995–2001); Bernie Ecclestone, Formula 1 chief (2001–2004).
- 20 — Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei. The number eight can be seen on the roof, symbolizing the phrase Ba Shi Fa Cai ("the number eight brings prosperity").
- 21 — Embassy of Lebanon
- 22 — Official residence of the Ambassador of Kuwait
- 23 — Official residence of the Ambassador of Japan
- 24 — Official residence of the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia
- 1 — 1 Palace Green, built by architect Philip Webb in 1870 for George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle. Divided into apartments in 1957. Current residents: Nik Holford and others
- 2 — Embassy of Israel
- 3 — Residence of the late Hasib Sabbagh.
- 4 — Embassy of Romania
- 5 — Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd of Saudi Arabia (who may also own 12 Kensington Palace Gardens). Offered for sale for £100 million in July 2013.
- 6 — Noam Gottesman, hedge-fund trader. Said to have now been sold to Lakshmi Mittal for £117 million, for the use of his son Aditya. Sale said to have later fallen through. In 2013 Mittal was reported to be seeking a buyer for the house for £120 million.
- 8 — Tamara Ecclestone. Bought in 2011 for £45 million, with a further £18 million spent on renovations.
- 9a — Former Embassy of the Philippines. Sold to Lakshmi Mittal for £70 million in 2008, for his daughter Vanisha.
- 10 — Official residence of the Ambassador of Norway.
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- Planning decisions for Palace Green and Kensington Palace Gardens, 2000–2008
- Even £200m can't buy a house here, The Sunday Times, 14 May 2008
- Mira Bar-Hillel, The secrets of London's £2.5 billion street, Evening Standard, 10 June 2010
- Stuart Blakely, The Renovation Game: Kensington Palace Gardens, 15 January 2010