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Notes on the Geography of The United Kingdom: London 8: Residential

we have yet to look at homes. We'll fix that right now.

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Living on the grand scale: Charlton House was built near Greenwich between 1607-1612 by Adam Newton and remained a residence until World War I, when it became a hospital and was then sold to the Greenwich Borough Council. John Evelyn described it as "one of the most noble in the world, for city, river, ships, meadows, hill, woods and all other amenities." Long ago it was swallowed by the city that has grown around it. Sign of the times: it's available for weddings.

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The view from the bedroom. Not your average London backyard.

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An inside staircase.

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Decorative support.

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Padding downstairs in the morning, you might pet this fellow. Now see the movie version, the eyes following you as you pass unaware.

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Closer to town but equally remote from most lives, this is Apsley House, or No. 1 London. It was built in the 1770s by Robert Adam for Lord Apsley. The Marquess Wellesley bought it in 1807 and sold it in 1820 to his younger brother, the Duke of Wellington.

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Each year on June 18th, the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the duke held a commemorative banquet in this 90-foot-long hall. He had many full sets of china from which to choose. He also thought it prudent to fit the windows with heavy iron shutters for protection against the Londoners who did not like his politics and told him so by throwing or in fact trying to throw rocks through those windows.

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Such houses were too much for all but the wealthiest. Here we've descended a notch to the townhouses around Berkeley Square, which was laid out in 1698.

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One of the more elegantly proportioned townhouses was built in the 1740s by William Kent for Lady Isabella Finch. The modest facade offers no hint of the grand Baroque staircase and salon within, which Pevsner calls "the grandest drawing room of any C18 private house in London." It's now a club.

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Nearby, the impressive house to which Clive of India retired and in which, in 1774, he cut his throat.

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Lots of famous occupants, if you're inclined to that sort of thing. In the 1870s Anthony Trollope lived here, at 39 Montague Square. Some readers are still very fond of his doorstops.

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One fashionable street, Cheyne Walk, has the good fortune to front on the Thames, though a busy road runs between.

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The rear view of No. 11. After a long and productive career as a senior irrigation engineer in India and Egypt, Colin Scott-Moncrieff retired to this house. Today it would be completely out of reach of a person of comparable means.

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For homebuyers who can't afford riverfront property, a park may have to do. In this case it's Bedford Square, completed in 1786 and now rimmed by houses converted to office space. Pevsner calls it "the most handsome of London squares, preserved completely on all sides." He laments the extra paving laid down in the 1970s around the circular green--calls it "meaningless."

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The other side.

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The central building has a pediment on a five-bay building; on both sides, three-bay buildings are trimmed only with color around the doors.

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The largest of these parks was Regent's.

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The park itself has no access by the public. You need a key to enter, and keys are restricted to nearby residents who must pay for that key.

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So much for passersby. Even people with keys may lose them if rules aren't obeyed.

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And they can't enter any old time.

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Around the perimeter, a massive residential block might well pass for an expensive penitentiary.

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On the back side, there's a further rank of less prestigious homes.

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On the opposite site of that back street street, there's a side street that runs in an arc through a subdivision called Park Village West. It's yet another of John Nash's ideas and was begun in 1824, after most of the terraces or row houses around the park were finished.

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The show piece is No. 12, with an octagonal tower porch.

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Another house in the same group is gabled and suitably shrouded in greenery, though the immaculate paint job cancels out what might otherwise by an overtone of the macabre.

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At least the houses here are varied in form, if not color.

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The same can't be said for the many, many blocks of terrace houses like this one of the sort that Ruskin called "the ne plus ultra of ugliness in street architecture." George Gilbert Scott agreed.

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Here there are only a few grudging concessions to appearance: simulated rusticated stone, a fanlight, a bit of color on the door. Perhaps someone will have a kind word about the tall windows on the first floor, though traffic noise goes some way to spoil the light.

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London is full of these blocks.

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Plenty of famous Londoners have put up with them.

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We can explore one set of terrace homes on Gloucester Terrace, near Paddington.

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Behind the houses a tunnel leads to the mews.

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Here, huddled in what amounts to a back alley, homes have been carved from what previously were carriage houses. In exchange for accepting a humble station, residents are blessed with relative quiet.

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Here's another peek, this time Radnor Mews, entered through this tunnel.

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Almost a village street, even though it's in the interior of a block.

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In this case, the houses on the exterior street have been replaced by an apartment building facing Gloucester Square.

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Another view.

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And here--fanfare, please--is the front side of the apartment building. I'll take the mews, please.

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The apartment building faces a park. Ah, Nature!

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Makes you feel safer, doesn't it?

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One more example of row housing.

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And the corresponding mews, with one swapped out for a modern building.

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Let's look at some big apartment buildings. Here's a very stylish 1935 Deco block, Dorset House, in Marylebone.

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Pevsner wasn't impressed, but Jones and Woodward, in (1983) say that it creates "an optimistic 1930s image of modern urban life."

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Prices in 2012? How about one bedroom flat, 572 square feet, in good order, 390,000 pounds.

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A more massive example, Parkview Residence, at 219 Baker Street. Sorry, there's no park in sight. Rent? A four-bedroom apartment on the eighth floor was only 2,900 pounds a week, early 2012.

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The building used to be Abbey House and was built in 1932. It was vacated in 2005 and remodeled.

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The emblem makes sense: this was the home of the Abbey Road Building Society, later Abbey National. The website of its Parkview reincarnation makes no mention of this, or of the fact that the address of the previous tenant overlapped that of Sherlock Holmes. A lot of mail addressed to him arrived here, and perhaps the new owners don't want the hassle.

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Grim? This is the Barbican Estate with three tall but by no means cheap apartment buildings on a site cleared by the blitz. Pevsner write that there is "nothing quite like the barbican estate in all British architecture" (1:281). He means that it combines giant buildings separated by parks and free of traffic, which is confined largely to tunnels. It's the program of Le Corbusier, of course. When built, the towers were the tallest in Europe. There are only three flats on any one of the 43 or 44 stories.

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The estate also contains lower buildings like this one, "massive far beyond utility" in Pevsner's words. The architects were Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, and they worked here for over a quarter century. A plan had been solicited in 1955 and calling for accommodation for 200 people per acre. Construction began in 1963, and a decade later there were 2113 flats for 6,500 people. The plan called for the apartments to be rented; in fact, most were sold. The prices aren't cheap.

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Some will praise the view.

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Others will prefer the pool, though Pevsner thinks that "none of this is for the faint-hearted" (1:283).

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If you like the Barbican, of course, you'll love The Heron.

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But if you like the Heron, and can afford it, you might just be drawn back to the river and, if not to Cheyne Walk, then to The AlbionRiverside, designed (again) by Norman Foster and crew. Three-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor, water side: 2.45 million pounds.

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Too rich? Try these apartments on Warwick Crescent. You'd never know it, but the views pretty good.

For price details, try http://houseprices.landregistry.gov.uk/sold-prices/Montagu+Square,+london

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See?

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Course, you have to look the right way. Either that, or learn to learn the A40.

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Then there's this, the most expensive apartment building in London, developed by the Candy Brothers with Qatari funding. Advertised as One Hyde Park, the building offers one-bedroom apartments starting at six million pounds. For that, you get armored glass and a ton of respect, plus a Lamborghini dealership on the ground floor.

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The copper fins keep out prying eyes.

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We've trotted a few blocks down Glebe Place, not for these terraces but something around the corner.

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There's an old school behind the wall. It's most recently been the Jamahuriya School.

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It's hard to see the thing.

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Anyway, it's doomed, marked for replacement by something even pricier than One Hyde Park. It will be The Glebe, marketed as London's most expensive apartment building.

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Yes, a few plain-vanilla highrises have made their way into the city. Here's The Quandrangle on Norfolk Crescent. It's just a few blocks from Paddinton Station. You can get a two-bedroom flat on the fourth floor for 1.1 million pounds. No: it hasn't been touched since it was built, so you'll probably want to shell out a bit more on updates.


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