Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Million…no wait, Billionaire’s row. What’s with those Saudi Sheiks anyway?

September 21, 2010 · 2 Comments

After visiting Hamstead Heath with a friend from London, she took me down Bishop’s Avenue which she claimed to be the most expensive street in London. Bishops Avenue is in Hampstead, a wealthy areaof Northern London. On it are some of the largest, and strangest, houses in London. After doing a bit of research I found out that the Avenue is known not necessarily for being London’s most expensive residential road (though it is in the top three) but it certainly has the largest number of huge, empty houses

The attraction of owning a house on this road is purely prestige. The neighborhood is a fifteen minute drive from central London, can have a garden of a couple of acres, and is only thirty minutes from London Luton airport, the obvious choice for owners of private jets. There are plenty of other wealthy areas of London, the 16th most expensive city to live in as of 2009 (3rd in 2008, according to the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2009/jul/07/global-economy-economics). Arguably, none of the other wealthy neighborhoods or streets carry with them the same nouveau riche implications that Bishops does.

There’s the famous Kensington Palace Gardens street , owned and leased by the Crown and with gates at either end, it is currently the most expensive road per square foot in London.


However, Bishops Avenue lays claim to the highest concentration of giant, super-expensive houses. It has another distinction: it is here that the Saudi royal family bought seven homes in the early 1990s when they thought that Sadam Hussein would invade their country (see below Times article). All of those houses are now unoccupied as are a huge proportion of the mansions on Bishops Avenue. In fact, they are occupied so rarely that owners sometimes find squatters inhabiting their homes when they stop by once every five years or so.

As a piece in the times points out, these houses are owned not by people for whom money is no object but by those for whom it is the only object (Times). People who have purchased these houses are interested in the status which comes with owning a piece of property whose exact monetary value is frankly beside the point.

When it was purchased in 2004 and renamed the Royal Mansion, the $50 million Toprak Mansion, held the distinct honor of the most expensive new house ever sold in London. It now has giant gold lettering across the top of the columns proclaiming its new name for all to see.



Britain’s richest man, Lakshmi Mittal, also owns a house here which he has been unable to sell. Instead, he has offered to rent it for the paltry sum of 10,000 pounds-a-week.


There are many remarkable, and shocking, things about the culture of opulence which these houses represent. I’ll leave you with this from the Times:

“I heard a story, a parable even, about this pocket of north London. It takes place in the plant room of a new-built mansion – where else? – and concerns a certain country’s richest man, whose identity I promised to conceal for fear of my informant’s social (and, perhaps, actual) death. This man and his wife had not lived in their house for long – one of the world’s most expensive – when the heating systems began to go awry. Now, when you live in a 20,000-square-foot house and the plumbing’s playing up, you call someone fast. The engineer arrived promptly, went down to the plant room and looked at the series of mechanical control panels that monitor the byzantine complex of boilers and water tanks and filters. And they were all to cock. Someone had been messing around with them. He asked around the staff, but nobody knew anything about it. Eventually the owner’s wife admitted, rather sheepishly, that she had been in the room and had tried to adjust the settings. Why, asked the engineer. Her reply tells you everything you need to know about this odd little world. “I was worried about the heating bills,” she said.”




Categories: 2010 Daniel

2 responses so far ↓

  •   patrickmr // Sep 21st 2010 at 04:11

    I wonder what Kate White would have to say about all this in terms of class mobility- how could the purchase of one of these houses NOT be an attempt to be recognized as high class?

  •   patrickmr // Sep 21st 2010 at 04:37

    Make that Kate Fox.

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