Nobody knows who commissioned the grand renovation and restoration program of the immense Witanhurst property in London. And this is bothering a lot of people, because many don’t agree with what’s going on at the site. So what is going on there?
The first thing you need to know is that this imposing Georgian mansion was originally built back in 1774 and was known as Parkfield residence. At the end of the 19th century, stockbroker Walter Scrimgeour bought the property for himself and his family (wife and eight children) and turned it into a sought-after place for masked balls, attended only by the most important figures of the time.
In 1913 however, the family left Parkfield and Sir Arthur Crosfield bought it. He was a Liberal Member of Parliament and the owner of Joseph Crosfield & Sons, a big manufacturer of soap and candles which he sold in 1911 (this is where the money for the property came from). Together with his wife, he tuned Parkfield into a 40,000 square-foot palace and renamed it Witanhurst (“witan” meaning a parliament and “hurst” a wooden hill).
He invested £1 million (approximately £20 million today) in the reconstruction, adding walnut wall panels, oak flooring and gold leaf accents throughout the mansion. Very important personalities of the time often came to visit Witanhurst, including some royal names like George VI, Princess Alice Countess of Athlone, Princess Ingrid of Sweden and Princess Juliana of Holland.
Unfortunately, a great tragedy came upon the Crosfield family, when Sir Arthur Crosfield died after having lost an important mining venture in Greece. His wife continued to hold extravagant soirees, but only for a short while, because she eventually ran out of financial resources and found herself forced to split the property into apartments. She intended to give the house to the nation and turn it into a glamorous residence for visiting dignitaries, but the plan failed.
Later (in 1971), the estate was sold to a company called Pamilion Properties for £1.3 million. This purchase marked the beginning of the property’s decay. The next thirty years brought different mysterious owners and developers to Witanhurst, but none of them did anything serious in restoring the mansion to its original glory.
Lately however, some very interesting things have been happening at Witanhurst. Cranes and bulldozers are currently making big changes on the property and people in London don’t exactly approve of what’s going on. They wanted the mansion to be preserved and renovated, but the did not want to see it change so dramatically. The bold renovation plan includes a massive underground extension of the mansion and the construction of an “orangery”, a new Georgian-style building.
Even without the extension, the mansion was the second largest private residence, after Buckingham Palace, but with these great changes, it will almost double its size, becoming only 2,000 sq. ft. smaller than the palace. It will boast 65 rooms, of which 25 will be bedrooms and 12 will be luxuriously appointed bathrooms. There will also be a Grand Ballroom in the residence and numerous luxe amenities on the underground levels. A few examples include the 70-foot swimming pool, the cinema suite, the massage parlor, the hairdressing salon, the sauna and the 25-car garage.
Suspected of being behind this project was Yelena Baturina, the billionaire wife of Moscow’s former mayor who once built a school for her two daughters, only because she hadn’t found one that she could deem satisfactory. However, the richest woman in Russia declined having bought Witanhurst and even started legal proceeding against a newspaper who claimed the property was hers.
Very interestingly, not even Robert Adam, the architect behind the huge project, knows who he is working for. He only gets instructions from a web of companies and advisors that are very good at keeping the owner’s identity a secret. The only thing that we do know about the owner is that it is a “wealthy European family looking for a permanent base in London”, according to the construction team. Maybe at the housewarming party we will finally find out who is the opulent personality behind Witanhurst.