A £25 million Westminster house that was the scene of all things scandalous
On Tuesday, the great and the good gathered to celebrate the life of the late Leon Brittan (1939 – 2015), a former Home Secretary who died without allegations of his supposed involvement in the VIP abuse scandal being brought to court. That the current Home Secretary, Theresa May, allowed this to occur – conveniently thus avoiding the airing of a scandal during the run-up to the recent election campaign – is shocking but then, politics and scandal have always gone hand-in-hand. The tale of the former occupants of Mulberry House in Westminster’s Smith Square provides example of a very different kind of scandal and now that residence is for sale for the extraordinary sum of £25 million ($38.5 million or €35.3 million).
Originally built to the designs of Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869 – 1944) in 1911, 11,720 square foot, Grade II listed Mulberry House was first the home of a Liberal MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer The Rt. Hon. Reginald McKenna (1863 – 1943) but then was sold to Henry Mond MP, 2nd Baron Melchett (1898 – 1949).
Melchett, a Zionist financier and politician best known for living in ménage à trois with his “show stopping beauty” South African artist wife Gwen Wilson, Lady Melchett (1899 – 1982) and the writer Gilbert Cannan (1884 – 1955), substantially altered Mulberry House after commissioning the architect Darcy Bradell to makeover the “distinctly dated” rooms. Part of the work included a bronze relief and companion firebasket by the sculptor Charles Sargent Jagger (1885 – 1934) titled ‘Scandal’ in homage to the relationship between the Melchetts and Cannan. The relief depicted a “guilty couple standing naked before outraged onlookers who peer at them with hands raised in horror” whilst the firebasket features “two snarling cats hiding behind female masks… signifying the ‘double-face’ and ‘cattiness’ of society gossip”.
Subsequently removed from the property when Lady Melchett moved to Belgrave Square, the relief and firebasket were bought by the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2009 for £85,000 ($131,000 or €120,000) and are now displayed in the Dorothy and Michael Hintze Sculpture Galleries. Mulberry House, meanwhile, like many grand houses of that era, subsequently became offices but reverted to residential usage in 2006 after a full-scale renovation.
Just as occured in era of Lord and Lady Melchett’s residence, a number of alterations have been made to the house in recent years by the present owner. These include the addition of a grand, elliptical stone staircase and a gym and spa on the fourth floor and now this “miniature palace” (as it was once called by The Daily News) includes not only a 37’5” drawing room but also a panelled library and a travertine stone clad dining room. There are seven bedroom suites and staff accommodation and ideally for politicians, the property is within the Westminster division bell.
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