What’s to happen to Mentmore Towers?

Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire (Image: wikipedia)

Running  a country house is always going to require a certain level of wealth with larger houses easily costing six figures a year in basic running costs and maintenance.  When funds are lacking it can be the house which shows the physical consequences as it becomes difficult to fund the ongoing care. Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire is one of the largest and impressive houses in the UK and the latest reports that its owner, Simon Halabi, has been declared bankrupt raise some worrying concerns about the future of this grand house.

The grade-I listed Mentmore Towers (known locally and to staff as just ‘Mentmore’) was originally built between 1852-54 by Baron Mayer de Rothschild of the famous banking family.  Designed by Joseph Paxton (of Crystal Palace fame) the neo-Renaissance style echoed houses as Wollaton Hall in Nottinghamshire and following Sir Charles Barry’s work at Highclere Castle in 1838.  The interiors are considered to be some of the finest Victorian designs and workmanship in the country.

Mr Halabi’s original plan was to convert Mentmore into a six-star country club with a London equivalent based at the ‘In and Out’ Club on Piccadilly which was also part of his property empire.  The global financial crises appeared to put these plans on hold before the collapse in property values caused a default on the bond secured on these properties which led to the bankruptcy.  Both properties are on the English Heritage ‘Buildings at Risk’ Register – indeed, Mentmore has been on for over 8 years with particular concern about the elegant stonework and the roofs with the danger of serious leaks increasing with each month goes by.  An earlier story on this blog (‘Simon Halabi and Mentmore Towers‘) produced a series of comments that indicated that a lack of maintenance was already taking it’s toll on the house.

So what’s to happen next?  Although Mr Halabi’s fortune is much reduced it is expected that the sale of various properties from his White Tower property empire will cover the £56m required to clear the debt which led to bankruptcy.  Ownership of Mentmore is also thought to be obscured through a web of companies but, if the report in The Times is correct, it is likely to be last property Mr Halabi would want to sell as his young son Samuel who tragically drowned in France is buried on the estate.  Hopefully, the bankruptcy will provide the opportunity for Mr Halabi to re-organise his empire, free up some capital and undertake not only the urgent basic repairs but also secure the long-term future of one of the most important country houses in the UK.

More details: ‘Hunt for Simon Halabi after tycoon is made bankrupt‘ [The Times]

3 thoughts on “What’s to happen to Mentmore Towers?

  1. Is sweet April 6, 2010 / 11:14

    Some of us have been predicting the demise through bankruptcy of Mr Halabi for several years if not virtually a decade. His was perhaps one of the most spectacular falls but it may be that his own personal position will still be pretty comfortable, compared to others, wherever he is. Mentmore was owned through a single project vehicle off shore and the ultimate ownership is uncertain.

    Unfortunately during his temporary rise Halabi rode roughshod over many people and organisations. Some chose to take legal action,including Aukett Fitzroy Robinson and Packman Lucas. Others walked away. There were at least five firms of architects employed over time on the Mentmore hotel project. Many of those keen to take on work on Mentmore and other projects rued the day.

    Halabi’s tale has something of the Citizen Kane about it, and the unfortunate and early death of his long awaited son at his chateau in the south of France, and later burial at Mentmore, has all the qualities of a gothic tragedy.

    Lord Rosebery during his tenure of Mentmore also buried a beloved Derby winner in the woods there.

    Personally I feel that it’s very unlikely that a hotel project will ever happen now at Mentmore. It’s possible that the acquisition will have been at least part funded by a bank, or other financial institution, and with Halabi bankrupt the vultures will be circling. If he were to come back to the project just how credible will he be?

    Are the local authority and EH actively involved in monitoring the condition of Mentmore and his other listed assets? There are clear implications for the funders in terms of safeguarding the values of their loanbooks. It is known that Halabi was funded by the Bradford and Bingley on one project, and they are owned by the good old British taxpayer.

    Further developments awaited with interest, but don’t expect a rush.

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