Emma Wells

For sale: the London home of Britain’s only assassinated Prime Minister

For sale: the London home of Britain's only assassinated Prime Minister
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With its elaborate castellated pediment, arched and oriel bay widows, three round towers and snowy-white stucco façade, Hunter’s Lodge, in affluent Belsize Park, is anything but your average North West London home. Throw into the mix 500 years of history, the untimely demise of a British prime minister, scandalous royal shindigs and a recent, lavish three-year-restoration project providing a basement spa, glass-walled champagne cellar and cigar room, and this Georgian gothic revival castle makes for all-round drama.

Forming part of what is now known as Belsize Village, off leafy Belsize Lane, in NW3, the present, fantastical incarnation of Hunter’s Lodge was built in 1812, on the site of an earlier property once belonging to the grand 15th-century Belsize House estate, a gift from Henry VIII to the Dean of Westminster in the 1540s. Owned by Westminster Abbey until 1808 (and demolished in the 1850s), the manor house was to have a roll call of illustrious names associated with it, with the original lodge used to house guests visiting the estate. In the 17thcentury, the buildings were leased by Katherine, Countess of Chesterfield (lady-in-waiting to King Charles II’s wife, Catherine of Braganza), then her two sons and various descendants.

Between 1704 to 1740, the estate became a byword for excess, when it was hired by entrepreneur Charles Povey for wild parties (in 1721 the Prince of Wales and his wife, Caroline, apparently pitched up), offering gambling, deer-hunting and that dubious aristocratic past-time, footman-racing. An earlier guest at the lodge, diarist Samuel Pepys, wrote of the craze of racing one’s footmen against those in the service of rival grandees.

Fast forward to 1798, and lawyer and Tory MP for Northampton Spencer Perceval took over the lease for 10 years, using the lodge as a retreat to write his speeches for Parliament. In 1809 Perceval became PM, but three years later was to suffer the ignominy of being the only British PM to be assassinated: he was shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons by John Bellingham, a Liverpool merchant with a grudge.

The Lodge as it used to appear when Spencer Perceval lived there

In 1808 the lodge house was bought by wealthy City of London merchant William Tate – part of the Tate & Lyle dynasty – who promptly knocked it down and commissioned architect Joseph Parkinson (best known for his work on Magdalen College, Oxford) to design a new house. Hunter’s Lodge as we know it today, then, is the result of a serpentine series of royal, political, social and aesthetic mores.

'Architecturally, Hunter’s Lodge is totally unique – unassuming when you look at it from the outside if you are on the street, and surprisingly zen from the inside,' says its present owner, who shares the grade II listed home with his wife – they don’t want to give their names, but have backgrounds in finance, technology and design – and their two children. 'When we bought it in 2008, it hadn’t been updated for more than 30 years, but it had such a magical feel, as if you really are in a castle or hunting lodge. We purchased it during the global financial market downturn and the Lehman Brothers crisis, so it was a turbulent time, but we felt the property had huge potential.'

Whatever effect the recession may have had, the family has clearly cut no corners in facilitating the three-year transformation of Hunter’s Lodge from historical footnote to fantasy family home.

The home gym and spa in the basement

Today, the house has about 8,000 sq ft of living space and six bedrooms, with its original Georgian three-storey staircase, with carved wooden balustrades and ebonised timber handrail, still in situ. There are several lofty-ceilinged reception rooms, a 14-seater formal dining room and library, as well as games, cinema and cocktail rooms, all with an avant-garde interiors scheme that has brought the lodge impressively into the 21st-century.

The bespoke kitchen, for example, designed by Chippenham-based McCarron & Company, sits within an airy, light-flooded glass pavilion, with black granite worktops and bronze and dark-veined marble finishes providing the perfect counterfoil. The reception rooms have light oyster-coloured timber flooring, marble fireplaces and feature windows, all with views onto the secluded rear gardens.

The family kitchen at Hunter's Lodge

 It was all these different spaces, the owner says, that allowed the family to escape each other when they needed to during successive lockdowns.

The family, however, is now looking for more space to house their ever-growing design, furniture and art collections, and have put Hunter’s Lodge on the market for £17.5m. Advice for its next owners? 'Just enjoy a very special house. We have loved every minute of living here.'