Monday, July 01, 2024

Tower House

Tower House
The Tower House, built by William Burges.

Wandering through the Holland Park district of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, you will find this Victorian era house, with a cylindrical tower and conical roof. It is distinct from the others houses on this street and really catches the eye.

William Burges purchased the leasehold to the land in 1875, from the Earl of Ilchester, and began designing the Tower House as his own private residence. By 1878 the exterior and much of the interior were completed, but decoration, furniture and furnishings were still being designed up until his death in 1881.

It is a red brick building with dressing of Bath stone and Cumbrian green roof slates and was Grade I listed in 1949. 

It has a basement with a kitchen and other utility rooms, while the ground floor has the hall, dining room, drawing room and library. The first floor has the main bedroom, guest room, bathroom and an armoury. The staircase is built into the cylindrical tower.

Tower House
A late Victorian townhouse, with a tower.

Following his death, Richard Popplewell Pullan, Burges's brother-in-law, inherited the lease. Pullan would go on to complete some of Burges's projects. The author, Colonel T.H. Minshall then purchased the lease, before selling it on to Colonel E.R.B. Graham, in 1933.

Following Mrs Graham's death, in 1962, the remaining two-year lease on the house was passed to their dear friend John Betjeman. Unfortunately, John Betjeman left the house, in the same year, owing to the cost of restoration work once the lease expired. The house would remain empty falling into neglect and suffering from vandalism.

Following a January 1965 survey, that found the house to be full of dry rot with decaying exterior stonework, pigeons roosting in the attic and, due to the left of lead from the roof, water entering the building, the Historic Building Council obtained a preservation order on the house. This allowed Lady Jane Turnbull, who had purchased the lease, to begin renovations with help from the Historic Buildings Council and Greater London Council.

Tower House
The Tower House.

Lady Jane Turnbull sold the lease, in 1969, and ownership passed to the actor Richard Harris, who outbid Liberace. Richard Harris would insist that the house was haunted by the ghosts of children, who, he believed had lived at an orphanage that once stood on the site. I can find no record of an orphanage near here. Using Burges's original drawings, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Richard Harris employed the original decorators to restore the interior.

In 1972 Richard Harris put the house up for sale and both David Bowie and Jimmy Page bid on the property, with Jimmy Page winning the battle. As of 2024 Jimmy Page still lives in the house.

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