Illuminating Oxford Street!

I can’t believe I’m about to use the “C” word already but here goes nothing…  the tradition of lights at Christmas time came about in the 17th century.  This was way before we had electricity, so the only way to do this back then was to use real candles which were attached to dried out Christmas trees – very pretty, but elf (ha!) and safety wouldn’t be too happy about that these days!

Nowadays, with the use of electricity and the health and safety people hot on our heels we have come on leaps and bounds with our festive decorations.  As we have seen in more recent years not only our houses, but our streets have also been adorned with illuminations, and the turning on of the Christmas lights is a sure sign that Christmas is on its merry way!   Our beloved Oxford Street – just around the corner from Davis Brown estate agents in W1, had its lights turned on 2 weeks ago by Kylie Minogue no less.  Christmas lights first adorned Oxford Street in 1959; 5 years after Regent Street’s light went on.  Due to recession they were turned off between 1967-78, and since 1981 celebrities have been invited to join in the annual ceremony. The first celebrity to turn on the lights was in fact the Venezuelan born Miss World Pilin Leon, and since then other (sometimes questionable) celebs have been involved.  Richard Branson in 1993, Anita Dobson in ‘86 (Den and Ange storyline was big at the time..),  Jessie J in 2013, Spice Girls in 1996 and old crooner Cliff Richard in 1990.  And just to make you feel old, 10 years ago it was those fresh faced boys from the Green Isle – Westlife.

Davis Brown Estate Agents and Commercial Agents will be adding to the festivities of W1 with our very own decorations, so feel free to pop along to 1 Margaret Street for some Christmas cheer!

Christmas Ox Street

 

A history of London’s iconic mansions blocks from Davis Brown Estate Agents in W1

Period mansions blocks in central London define period block living at its best and in honour of these stunning apartment blocks, Davis Brown Estate Agents in W1 look at some of these beautiful mansion blocks and their rather intriguing histories.

The majority of mansions blocks were built during the Victorian era to service the high demand of the rich wanting to live in London. They were practical and compact, whilst providing luxury and grandeur in the city centre. As all estate agents should know, these blocks were traditionally red brick Victorian or neo-Georgian in style, these mansions blocks brought a new breed of housing to areas such as Marylebone and Fitzrovia. The industrial revolution, urbanisation and a dramatic increase in the population meant that town houses were harder to come by. Therefore apartments that were typically associated with the poor were built to target the middle and upper classes and provide a solution to the housing shortage. The need for efficient space meant that architects, developers and chartered surveyors in W1 were forced to think about building property in a new way. Logistical issues such as water supply, drainage and housing of servants were new problems, previously not associated with the accommodation of the wealthy. However, generous funding and investments solved many of the problems and the first mansion block, Albert Hall Mansions, was built in 1876 to the design of Norman Shaw. The red brick, detailed stone frontage and iron railed balconies became the template for mansion blocks in London all the way through until the First World War when building was halted.

Chenies Street Chambers was built in 1889, and its sister building, York Street Chambers in 1891.  Revolutionary for their time, Agnes Garrett and her sister Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson were directors of the Ladies Dwellings Company which aimed at accommodating professional women at an affordable price.  The building comprised flats of two to four rooms, designed to be self-contained, however there were communal areas for cooking, cleaning and washing.  This was the first time that accommodation had been created for the sole purpose of housing educated, working women and marked a turn in the feminist movement.  Previous famous residents include Ethel and Bessie Charles, the first female members of the Royal Institute of British Architects who actually ran their business from York Street Chambers.  The success of the Ladies Dwellings Company inspired campaigns such as the Married Woman’s Property Act which pushed to secure property rights for middle class women.  Who knew that Chenies Street and York Street Chambers were so steeped in feminist history?!

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Bickenhall Mansions was built in 1869 by W.H.Scrymgeour and is characterised by its red brick exterior and tall gables. As estate agents in W1, we have a wealth of experience in both selling and renting within Bickenhall Mansions. The beautiful property was once the home of the British Special Operations Executive, an arm of the intelligence services during World War II. Originally based in Baker Street, the Special Operations Executive grew to such an extent, that Winston Churchill took over Bickenhall Mansions, along with many other mansion blocks to provide space for the ever growing intelligence team.

So what is available to modern day buyers or renters? We are currently marketing a stunning three bedroom apartment in Bickenhall Mansions.  Its double reception room is designed for entertaining…a substantial difference to its use in World War II!  For more details on the property, click here.

At Davis Brown, we have also had many flats in period mansion buildings in Marylebone, W1 and Fitzrovia.  We recently let a stunning apartment in Melcombe Regis Court, just off Marylebone High Street which was full of character and period features. To get in touch about renting a property in a period mansion block, speak to either Emma or Sarah-Jane in the Residential team.

Davis Brown’s summary of the UK’s Residential property market in September/ October 2015

Davis Brown are a firm of qualified chartered surveyors in the heart of London; we take great pride in having our fingers on the pulse of the latest news from the UK residential property market. As such please find below our brief summary of the Residential Market Outlook 2015 from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

As per our last update (August/ September) the shortage of stock in the residential property market is still prevalent, with the lowest number of new instructions received in the period for three decades. This imbalance in supply and demand, continues to drive the residential house prices up. However, 68% of the nationwide surveyors interviewed, felt that the prices were at a fair or below fair value point, which would suggest that on a national scale the market still has ample room to grow. The residential property market in London was the only area to buck this trend, with 59% of those surveyed stating that properties were overvalued.

The number of agreed residential sales has grown at the fastest rate since May 2014 and is mirrored by an eighteen month high in terms of nationwide mortgage approvals. Despite these statistics the RICS has re-evaluated its transactions forecast from 1.25 m to 1.2m to take into account the lack of stock on the residential property market.

There are a number of explanations for the decline in new instructions; with the continued lack of financial stability, perhaps, being the most endemic. Another factor over the course of the year was the difficulty that many buyers had when trying to secure mortgages. The South East has seen the least number of new instructions, with many home owners opting to renovate or extend their existing properties in a bid to avoid the growing cost involved with selling and buying properties. The RICS has also put forward the interesting theory, that the stock shortage problem is self-perpetuating. In that people are opting not to put their properties up for sale, as there is a distinct lack of choice for them in terms of purchasing their next property. It would be safe to assume that is it a combination of these factors that explain the situation. To move forward and encourage new instructions, the market and economy need to offer sellers a sense of security and the ability to generate a return on their investments.

For more information about residential properties in London, contact Davis Brown – qualified chartered surveyors and estate agents in Fitzrovia.

Guy Fawkes & Gunpowder!

The Palace of Westminster – or the Houses of Parliament as we know it, is one of the most glorious buildings in London. With a pretty impressive history too. It spans 900 years from the Anglo Saxons to the present.  Westminster Hall is the oldest building on the parliamentary estate dating back to the 11th century.  It was built by William II between 1097 – 1099 and was the largest hall in England at the time. Decisions made in its corridors of power have shaped Britain’s history.

GUYFAWKES

The Palace was remodelled and extended by various royal residents up until the 1500s when a fire struck and gutted the chambers of King Henry VIII who lived there at the time, after this the royals moved out the lawyers moved in! Naturally, this became the place for anyone with an axe to grind to come and stage their protests here, in more recent times these include flour-bombing Tony Blair and rooftop sit ins dressed as super heroes.   And (as we at Davis Brown estate agents in W1 like to be relevant) this is what Guy Fawkes and his cronies tried to do.  In a nutshell here’s what happened…. when Protestant King James I came to power laws were made against Catholics and they could only practise their religion in secret.  A group of Catholic men found these laws rather unfair and in revenge plotted to assassinate the King.  Guy however was not the main man but a chap called Robert Catesby was.  They hatched a plan which involved leasing an unused room beneath the House of Lords where they were to lay gunpowder and blow up parliament and the King.  Mr Fawkes’ job was to keep watch over the barrels of gunpowder and to light the fuse, but the plan was foiled when he was discovered by soldiers; he was arrested and executed along with his gang.  In celebration of his survival King James ordered that the people of England should have a big bonfire on November 5th, and as we all know this tradition holds to this day.  So when you’re ooo-ing and ahhh-ing this evening at all the pretty fireworks you will now know the history of why we celebrate November 5th!

Haunted Houses

I couldn’t let Halloween pass without giving you something to get goosebumps over, and since we are Estate Agents in W1 and are all about buildings, let me give you the heads up on some of London’s most haunted.

Let’s start with the Spaniards Inn on the edge of Hampstead Heath – built in 1585 it’s a quaint, oak-panelled pub with a pretty garden.  The story goes that two men fought a dual over a woman, one man was killed and he was buried in the garden and his ghost is said to haunt the pub.  Dick Turpin the highwayman was said to be a regular here and his ghost has been seen standing by the road outside the pub, as well as some of his victims.  Visitors to the pub have occasionally reported that they have felt like they were being grabbed – by an invisible source, but perhaps they might have had just one too many…

Apparently several ghosts have taken up residence at the Tower of London which dates back to 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest;  James I’s cousin Arabella Stuart being the most famous of all.  She was imprisoned in the Tower and said to be murdered, so have your wits about you in the Queen’s House where she is said to stay, I’m sure she’s not a happy ghost…Ann Boleyn was executed here too and there have been sightings of her headless body strolling the Tower’s corridors.   And let’s not forget the mysterious White Lady – she’s said to haunt the White Tower, standing at the window waving to children opposite – so if you want to see your kids scared out of their skins, this is the place to take them!

Handel’s House Museum in Mayfair is dedicated to the works of George Frederic Handel who lived here in Brook Street from 1723 to his death 1759.  There have been sightings here of a ghostly figure of a woman and the strong lingering smell of perfume.  Jimi Hendrix lived next door and is said to have seen her in the 60s.  Again perhaps one too many?

Somewhere that isn’t exactly haunted but might be a sort of creepy place to visit this weekend is the Hunterian Museum in Holborn.  It’s packed full of specimens within jars such as preserved monkey heads and deformed bodies, a prime example pictured here. And more. But be warned – this is very much NOT for the squeamish!

And at 1 Margaret Street, Davis Brown Estate Agents W1, if you want to pop in and visit us, I promise you won’t find anything too ghoulish!

 

 

Halloween’s Haunted Room at The Langham

Just moments’ walk from Davis Brown estate agents offices in W1 is the beautiful Langham Hotel in Portland Place. This stunning Victorian building is one of London’s famous landmarks, and remains one of the places to stay in the city centre.  What many do not know is that The Langham is also home to residents of a rather spooky nature! Halloween is just a few weeks away and so we thought we would investigate the history of The Langham a little more, and share our findings with you.

Designed by John Giles and completed in 1865, The Langham was designed in the style of a Florentine Palace.  Giles’ design was picked from a competition and rumour has it that the total cost of the build ended up at £300,000! Opened on the 16th June by the Prince of Wales, at the time The Langham was both the largest and most modern Hotel in London, even featuring the first hydraulic lift in England.

Famous guests such as Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde were regular visitors, and Arthur Conan Doyle even set some of his books such as A Scandal in Bohemia in The Langham.  The hotel has even been awarded a blue plaque for its famous customers, in particular the meeting of Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph Marshall Stoddart at The Langham in August 1889. 

Following heavy damage during World War II and BBC ownership, The Langham underwent a four year restoration starting in 1987 to the cost of £100 million and proudly re-opened in 1991, returned to its former glory.  

The Langham remains true to its origins as one of London’s most prestigious hotels, despite rumours of hauntings paranormal activity.  During the BBC’s occupation of the hotel, it was suggested that up to five ghosts stalk the halls of the Langham Hotel.  Reports feature a European Nobleman who allegedly fell to his death from an upper storey room, walking through walls and doors before a sudden drop in temperature and a gust of cold air.  Perhaps the most famous of The Langham’s apparitions is located in the famous Room 333!  This hotel room is said to be one of the most haunted in London – legend has it that the room is home to the ghost of a Victorian Doctor who murdered his wife before killing himself during their honeymoon.  A BBC reporter claims he woke in the middle of the night to a bright white ball of light at the end of his bed.  The light grew into a ghostly image of a man in Victorian nightclothes, with severed legs below the knee.  The BBC reporter ran to retrieve a colleague, and when they both returned, the apparition was still there before fading into thin air.  However, the third floor is also haunted by a butler who stalks the corridors at night, frightening staff and guests alike. Famously in July 2014, England Cricketers Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes were so terrified during the night whilst staying on the third floor that they demanded to be moved to another room!

Here at Davis Brown we offer short let stays in The Langham, from hotel rooms, to fully furnished apartments.  You can even request a room on the third floor…and dare we suggest Room 333 itself?! If you are a bit of a ghost seeker, then let us set you up at The Langham over Halloween.  Alternatively, if you are simply looking for a little luxury in the city centre then please do not hesitate to ask and we can send you our full list of properties within The Langham Hotel.

If you are looking for short let properties in Marylebone, Fitzrovia, Covent Garden and W1, contact Davis Brown for more information. 

 

Friday’s Fitzrovia Facts!

We always have our Chartered Surveyor/Estate Agent ears to the ground when it comes to all things interesting around and about our city, taking an extra special interest in our very own hood of Fitzrovia, W1. So here are few little known facts for you to ponder over this weekend, and you never know – these facts may win you a pub quiz one day..

The Newman Arms on Rathbone Street features in two of George Orwell’s novels – Nineteen Eighty Four and Keep the Aspidistra Flying. It also made an appearance in Michael Powell’s horror film Peeping Tom.   Pies feature heavily in this pub and by all accounts are pretty tasty fayre but don’t just take my word for it, Fay Maschler – food critic from the London Evening Standard says so too.

Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf lived in the same house (at different times) at 29 Fitzroy Square. We know all the famous faces past and present from this area, and this brings me to offering you a bit of pop culture.   Those of you down with the kids will be interested to hear that Coldplay formed in Ramsey Hall – a university College London accommodation in Maple Street.  Those of you with a love for all things 60s & 70s will be interested to know that the Speakeasy Club aka The Speak was situated just a stone’s throw from Davis Brown’s Estate Agent’s office at 48 Margaret Street – a late night club for the music industry which entertained until the late 70s.  Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Bob Marley all performed here.  And Bob Dylan made his London debut at the King and Queen pub on Foley Street.    Oh to have been a fly on the wall in those heady days!

Fitzrovia 23.10.15

Something for the weekend!

For those of you fond of a bit of spice in your life, I’ll let you into a little secret .. It’s Curry Week this week and if you love a curry but don’t know where to find one let me point you in the direction of Brick Lane in East London.   Brick Lane is home to some of the best curry houses outside of India and is a real must for any foodie.  Curry – you’ll be surprised to hear is not the main focus of this blog but it does lead me nicely to an interesting exhibition at an interesting space, and being Estate Agents in W1 we love all things interesting, especially when it comes to spaces and buildings!  The Truman Brewery is the interesting space part.  It’s East London’s premier hub for all things creative – including galleries, markets, independent shops and restaurants.

It started life as a brewery (obviously) in 1666 when Brick Lane was flanked by fields, and was set up by brewer Joseph Truman. It’s had its rise, it’s had its fall and more recently it’s had its renewal.  The rise lasted over 250 years based on the success of the beers, pubs and it’s community spirit.  It closed in 1989 but was reborn in 2010 when 2 beer enthusiasts gave it a new lease of life based on the principles it was founded on – great beers and pub culture.

The interesting exhibition part is The Other Art Fair and it’s happening here until Sunday 18th, which gives yet another excuse to head to Brick Lane. As well as guest artists, there will be immersive theatre, live music and an all-important G&T bar.

So you’re sorted for food, history and culture this weekend – don’t mention it!

Truman

Diary Of A First Time Buyer

Viewings

I started looking at properties in local newspapers and on portals such as Rightmove and OnTheMarket at the beginning of the year.  I knew I wasn’t quite ready to buy, but I felt that it was important to start to get a feel for local prices and find out what I was realistically going to be able afford both to buy and maintain.  I signed up to a couple of local estate agents in Fitzrovia, which was the area I was looking in.

My initial searches did not return much and I soon went back to the drawing board to have a think.  I realised that my criteria was too precise.  Firstly, I had only signed up to a couple of estate agents in Fitzrovia which is such a small area.  I soon realised that to maximise the number of properties being sent to me, I had to sign up to estate agents in surrounding areas such as W1 and Covent Garden.  I also started to understand the difference between asking price, and achieved price! I had set my search budget at the maximum I wanted to pay, as opposed to slightly over, with a view to actually purchasing the property at a lower price.

Once I had increased the number of estate agents I was subscribed to, along with my budget, I started to get lots of emails with a larger and better variety of properties.  It was at this point, that I wanted to start going out and taking a look at the properties.

I shortlisted a selection of apartments, making sure that the list contained properties that I simply liked the look of, ‘sensible’ properties (i.e. good price, good location but without the ‘wow’ factor) and properties that were really over my budget.  I wanted to see things that had varying pro’s and con’s to see whether I could love a sensible property or whether the over budget properties really were worth the money / wait to move.  I met with a string of different estate agents in Fitzrovia, W1 and Covent Garden and viewed a total of 25 properties.

Funnily enough, I had seriously considered offering on a couple of properties when I viewed an apartment that I fell in love with.  It was originally in my ‘sensible’ category and if I am honest I was not particularly excited to take a look around.  I hate to sound cliché but it was a case of love at first sight.  I immediately felt at home in the property and from the moment I walked through the door, I was already visualising my things in the flat.  It was in desperate need of a lick of paint, and a bit of TLC but liveable.  When I had initially begun looking, I had visions of taking on an absolute wreck of a property and making my fortune doing it up.  However, I soon realised that it was going to be rather impossible to work full time and then come home and continue working on a property.

Offer and negotiation

I took some guidance from estate agents in Fitzrovia and W1 on making an offer on a property.  They all suggested that I should offer low which would leave room in my budget for a counter offer and further negotiations.  I did just that and then when a counter offer was put forward, I accepted it and the deal was done! The negotiation for my property was really simple, although I know that this is not always the case so it’s a must to keep your wits about you.

Memorandum of Sale and Exchange

The memorandum of sale was the important bit to get signed after having had the offer accepted.  The estate agents in W1 sent me over both an electronic copy via email, and a hard copy which I was instructed to sign and return, along with my solicitor’s details.  I was lucky enough to have been recommended a solicitor by chartered surveyors in Fitzrovia and so it didn’t take long to complete the memorandum.  However, I took my time to read everything through and seek help for anything I wasn’t sure about.

At this point I also discussed with the vendor, the estate agents in Covent Garden and my solicitor when we could all expect to exchange.  Once we had agreed a date and my solicitor had completed the searches etc., we exchanged contracts and everything went quite quiet! It was a bit unnerving at first as I thought I should be doing something, however I was reassured by the estate agents in W1 that between exchange and completion, there isn’t a lot to do apart from get ready for the move!

Completion

Our completion date was a couple of months later and when the day finally arrived I was so excited.  I was called by the estate agents in Covent Garden who confirmed that they had received the paperwork and were ready to hand me the keys to my new property.  I met up with the vendor and the estate agents in Covent Garden, just to double check everything over and once they left, the property was mine!

 

Our Favourite Buildings…By The Davis Brown Staff!

The very fact we are estate agents means that bricks and mortar are a big part of our lives, we eat sleep and breathe the stuff of course!  We all have our favourite buildings and I’m going to let you into the minds of some of us who work here at Davis Brown estate agents in Fitzrovia.

DB-144 - Lisa WLet’s start with The Shard, designed by Renzo Piano as a spire –like sculpture emerging from the River Thames, housing 87 storeys – modern architecture at its best as is the thinking of our residential property manager Lisa.

DB058-1B - John EdenJohn our graduate surveyor and newest recruit chose 1 Canada Square, this skyscraper in Canary Wharf was the tallest building in the UK from 1990-2010, standing at 770 feet and containing 50 storeys. Then The Shard was built and knocked it off the tallest spot!

DB-190 - Tony HThe Old Palace at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire is a favourite of Tony, one of our Directors.  It was built in 1485 by the Bishop of Ely and was one of the foremost examples of medieval brickwork in the country.  Henry VIII owned it and Elizabeth I spent most of her childhood here.  Steeped in history and exceedingly beautiful it’s easy to see why this would be in the mix!

Our other favourites include 20 Fenchurch Street AKA The Walkie Talkie building, it stands at 525 feet tall making it the 13th tallest in London.  The Natural History Museum – nothing not to love there!  St Pancras Station, the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Palma,  Windsor Castle and the Union Building in Pretoria, South Africa.   As you can see we have diverse tastes – always good for a discussion in the office!