After various legal battles it seems that Mentmore Towers, one of the finest country houses in the UK may be for sale. Part of the property empire of Simon Halabi, who was declared bankrupt in April 2010, it was bought with the intention of turning it into six-star country hotel with the ‘In and Out Club’ as the London clubhouse. The plans were thwarted by the global financial crisis which not only reduced the market for such a venture but also the financing. Now with the recent £150m sale of Halabi’s prime London West End estate, which included the ‘In and Out Club’, putting Mentmore on the market is the next logical stage of the disposals.
The grade-I listed Mentmore Towers was built between 1852-54 for Baron Mayer de Rothschild as one of several country houses built for the Rothschild family in the area. Designed by Joseph Paxton, architect of Crystal Palace, the neo-Renaissance house was inspired by the Elizabethan ‘Prodigy’ houses such as Wollaton Hall in Nottinghamshire. Inherited by the Baron’s wife and then his daughter, it then passed to her husband, the Earl of Rosebery, following her early death. It remained in the Rosebery family until the death of the sixth Earl in 1973 when the then Government stupidly turned down the offer of the house and world-class collections in lieu of death duties, triggering one of the finest country house sales of the 20th-century. The house plus 81-acres was then sold in 1977 for £220,000 to the Transcendental Meditation foundation as a meditation centre, who cared for the house until it was sold in 1997 to Simon Halabi. Since then little work has been done on the house and there have long been fears for its condition with English Heritage placing it on the ‘At Risk’ register.
The house is now apparently being quietly offered for sale, by as yet unknown estate agents, for around £16m – but no details on how much land would be included. At that price, the house would be a bargain on square footage basis alone – but it would require a huge financial commitment from the new owner to not only restore the house but maintain it in the future, ideally as a family home. The Rothschild’s have remained very much involved with the estate so perhaps this is their opportunity to bring it back into the family – although with Sir Evelyn de Rothschild living at nearby Ascott House perhaps Nat Rothschild, the incredibly successful hedge fund manager said to be worth around £300m, might like to take a look?
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.
Simon Halabi’s original plan was to develop a super-luxury, six-star club experience with members enjoying country facilities at Mentmore Towers, in Buckinghamshire, with a London base at the In and Out Club on Piccadilly. However, the recent global crisis seemed to put the plans on hold and concerns had been raised (including in comments on earlier blog post: ‘Simon Halabi and Mentmore Towers’ – 17 July) as to whether sufficient maintenence was being undertaken at both locations.
The master plan appears to have now been changed with the news that the In and Out Club has been put up for sale. Included in the deal are various neighbouring buildings which give the potential for the sale to raise up to £250m. It’s not known what Mr Halabi’s plans are but one can only hope that the money raised will benefit Mentmore Towers, preserving and protecting this important country house.
The Times (‘Halabi may have to sell-up to pay loan‘ – 16 July 2009) is reporting that Simon Halabi, the multi-millionare businessman, may have to sell part of his London property portfolio to satisfy bond holders after the value of the properties dropped by nearly half, breaching the loan-to-value ratio of the bond secured against it. In 1997, Halabi bought the Grade-I listed Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire, formerly one of the Rothschild banking family’s most famous and impressive houses, with the intention of converting it into a luxury hotel. It’s not known how far work on that project has progressed but the grand chateau-style house, which also starred in the film ‘Batman Begins’ as Bruce Wayne’s house, is just too important to be forgotten so I hope that his other issues don’t impact on the work being undertaken as part of that project.