A property within the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building on Wandsworth Common has gone on sale on SellMyhome.co.uk for £2,950,000. Boasting four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a games room, high ceilings and a private resident’s garden, the gothic property is both stunning and spacious - but the true character of the flat lies in its extensive and colourful history. Flat 24 is the largest in the building, and was once owned by a member of Duran Duran in 1981 – the same year the iconic 80s band released their eponymous debut album and and their controversial single 'Girls on Film' reached number five in the UK charts.
With Queen Elizabeth laying the foundation stone in 1857, the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building was completed in 1859 – with money coming from Prince Albert’s Royal Patriotic Fund – acting as an asylum for girls orphaned during the Crimean War. The scale and ambition of the building was illustrated by some of the revolutionary design techniques utilised during its build; the cast iron windows and decorative lead work being prefabricated offsite.
Originally with no heating, the orphans endured a torrid existence and had to pump water from the underground rainwater system in the rear of the building. Following the tragic death of one of the orphans - Charlotte Jane Bennette - in 1862, the cloisters of the North and South courtyards of the building are said to still be haunted by her wandering ghost.
During the First World War the building became a hospital for injured service men. When the War ended it returned to being an orphanage until 1938, when children were evacuated to escape the bombings of London during World War Two. Once they were evacuated, the building was then later used as a clearing, detention and interrogation centre for MI6.
The building hosted many iconic and historically important interrogators, including the Dutch Colonel Oreste Pinto, commonly known the ‘Spy Catcher’. Pinto worked for MI5 for the counter-espionage service and was in charge of interrogating refugees coming over from Britain, through the Netherlands, Scandinavia and French allied lines, in order to catch those who had been trained as spies. In four years he interviewed over 30,000 immigrants, and it was also reported that Deputy Fuhrer, Rudolf Hess, was held and questioned at the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, when he came over to Britain for an alleged Peace Mission.
Following the Second World War, the building became a teaching training college – being bought by the London County Council in 1952 – it then became Honeywell Secondary Mixed School in 1957, until 1974 when it fell into disrepair and was closed.
With the building now empty, it was severely vandalised with lead from the roofs and water tanks stolen, and feral pigeons running amock. The building was subsequently marked for demolition, but after it secured Grade II listed status after campaigning from the Victorian and Wandsworth Societies, it was saved and put on sale in 1980, by Greater London Council. The Royal Victoria Patriotic Building was bought for £1 by the South of the Border Holdings with the agreement that they would fully restore the fabric of the building.
Shortly before the formal handover of the property, the main hall was destroyed by arsonists. The intricate hammer beam ceiling was devastated in the attack, but has since been fully restored from a photographic survey that had been carried out just two weeks before the fire. The total restoration of the building took six years. In 1985, a commendation was awarded by the Civic Trust for the restored hall ceiling, and the complete restoration won the Europa Nostra Order of Merit in 1987.
The current vendor Rob Burnett had estate agents queuing up around Wandsworth Common to list the building, but chose SellMyHome.co.uk because the online estate agent could save him a potential £60,000. The aforementioned online agent also afforded would-be-buyers the chance to view the property using the Virtual Walkthrough function.
Rob said: “It has been a privilege to live in an historic building which has been so many things in the history of the country. It has its own statue of St George slaying the dragon, reputed to be the largest outdoor statue of St George in England, and it was built at a time when the British Empire was at its most prominent.
“Many local people have fond memories of being at school here, and the building falling into disrepair as the new Spencer Park school was built next door on what is now 'Windmill Green'.
“The eighties brought the building back to life and it must have been a wild and crazy time with musicians and artists - as well as more mainstream types - hanging around the place.
“We have really enjoyed having a bar and restaurant downstairs and have become friendly with its owner, Mark. We have also engaged with the residents' association and manage the re-planting of the residents courtyard every year, making it a calm, restful place for residential and commercial tenants to enjoy.
“Our children who were all teenagers when we moved in, have found it a welcoming and flexible place to have their friends to visit and stay.
“We have hosted many parties for various celebrations, both in the flat and downstairs in 'The Goth' and in the residents courtyard. Having a hundred people over for a few quiet drinks in the flat (and then a couple of loud ones..) is totally possible.
“The atmosphere inside the flat changes with the seasons because you are treetop level, and the light is constantly changing from one month to the next. The space is huge and flexible, there is a lot of storage, though people moving from a traditional house may need to adjust their approach to 'stuff'.
“In summary, it looks and feels spacious in the main living areas, and at the same time, everyone has their own space to retreat to if they want.”
To view the full property details and to take the Virtual Walkthrough of this historic building, click here.