1779 to 1832: The Wyndham family
The house was first owned by Lord Henry Wyndham and his beautiful wife, Arundel. The couple exerted considerable influence in Parliament and also possessed estates in Wiltshire, Monmouth, and Wales. Upon the death of Henry, the house was bequeathed to his eldest son, Joseph, who, along with his beloved brother, broke all manner of endurance records whilst scaling Mount Etna. Even to this day, the Royal Geographical Society honors the brothers as "the most courageous explorers of their time".
The house was then passed to Joseph’s son James and then on to the Hon Mrs Wyndham and Sir William Dalling, baronet. Sir William’s father had been Governor of Jamaica and he himself was high-ranking general in the army.
1832 to 1844: The Holroyd family
In 1832, the house was acquired by the Holroyd family, headed by the Earl of Sheffield. The 2nd Earl, whose father was the patron and friend of the historian Edward Gibbon, was the first to take charge. His son, Henry North Holroyd, the 3rd Earl of Sheffield, was born in the house and subsequently lived a colorful life there. Henry was soon made a peer and then immersed himself in the world of cricket. At the tender age of 23 he became a member of the MMC, the Presidency of which he declined several times. He did however become the President of the Sussex County Cricket Club, which was, in those days, a position of enormous responsibility.
The Holroyds were a very well connected family and often had influential guests to stay. For a period after 1835, for instance, lord Charles Townsend, an immensely wealthy gentleman and Grand Master of the Freemasonic Lodges, inhabited the premises. Many residents have since chanced a glimpse of Lord Charles ’ghost drifting down the main staircase clad in Templar robes!
1844 to 1848
In 1844 the house was bought by Sir Richard Bulkeley Philips, first baronet, whose real name was Grant. At the time of his residence, he sat in Parliament for Haverford West and was the proud owner of Picton Castle in Pembrokeshire.
1848 to 1893: The Nevill family
In 1848, 33 Portland Place was bought by the extremely wealthy Reverend William Nevill, the 4th Earl of Abergavenny. Although he owned over eighteen ecclesiastical dwellings, he was also a deeply spiritual man and served as Vicar of Frant in Kent for many years. Upon his death, the house was passed to his son, William the 5th Earl and 1st Marquis, who also held the title Lord Lieutenant of Sussex, a county in which he owned fifty thousand acres.
In fact , as a testimonial to the wealth of William Nevill, he gave the house to his sister, Lady Isabel, as a wedding present. She married the hugely popular Reverand Edward Vesey Bligh, son of the 6th Earl of Darnley.
Lived in the house, and was a relative of
the Earl of Abergavenny
1893 to 1925
The Blighs sold the property to a certain Baron James Blyth, a millionaire who had founded the famous gin distillers, W.A. Gilbey & Sons. He was one of the most interesting characters every to have lived at number 33 Portland Place.
James Blyth was a complex man and, like many of his kind, he oftentimes loop-holed the law for the ‘greater good’. For instance, there is speculation that in 1907 he bribed a corrupt Member of Lloyd George’s cabinet for a Knighthood. Whatever the case, the title gave Blyth the credibility to engage in several philanthropic ventures – viniculture and agriculture, the fiscal and commercial policy of the British Empire, cheap postal and telegraph services, as well as homes for orphans and the British Empire League.
He was stereotypical ‘man who made husbands jealous’, since, as one historian notes, "Blyth exuded a powerful presence, which made men tremble and women easy prey!"
Ironically, Baron James Blyth, although a fun loving partygoer by heart, probably invested more into the upkeep of 33 Portland Place than any of the previous owners. Apart form general maintenance work, he built a remarkable Victorian extension, which included a stained glass billiard room. He also introduced some ingenious innovations such as a hydraulic wall, which separated the dining room from the music room. The ambitious design, which still exists in its original form, was powered by a water pump system concealed in the basement.
In 1892 Baron Blyth installed the drainage system which is currently still in use today, taking all the waste from the house trough a network of drains underneath the building. The original plans for this drainage system can be found in the archive photo section of this website.
Baron James Blyth passed away on February 8th 1925. His funeral was attended by an international ensemble of key figures thus re-enforcing the consensus that one of the nations great entertainers would be sorely missed.
||James Blyth, 1st Baron BLYTH 1841-1925 (Agriculturalist)
Photograph by: Sir Benjamin Stone
1909 Platinum Print
Collection: National Portrait Gallery
1925 to 1954
The house subsequently found its way into the hands of, Reginald Ernest Bickerton, also lived there. The Bickertons added substantially to the top two floors and carried out major work there between 1925-1931 including the installation of further pantries and bathrooms. The copies of the original plans for the work carried out at this time can be found in the photo archives section of this website. Reginald Bickerton made his fortune writing many interesting works, arguably his most famous concerning blindness resulting from burns caused by exposure to mustard gas during the First World War. He passed away in 1949 and records show that his wife remained in the house until 1958.
||BICKERTON, Colonal Reginald ERNEST 1870-1949 (Agriculturalist)
Photograph by: Lafayette
11th Nov 1927
Origin: Pinewood Studios via Victoria and Albert Museum.
Collection: National Portrait Gallery
1954 to 1998
The property was occupied and used as the embassy for the Government of Sierra Leone.
Diplomats including the Deputy High Commissioner and members of a Sierra Leone Parliament including President Kabbah used the Edwardian apartments on the top 2 floors of the house on an occasional basis as residential accommodation when they visited London. These apartments were used throughout the late 50s and 60s.
After this time, however, the number of diplomatic staff at the embassy began to be reduced and the apartments were left empty for over 30 years. Sierra Leone suffered several financial crises and eventually a coup. During the coup and civil war that followed in Sierra Leone the elected government was exiled and no funds were available to run the London High Commission.
The embassy at 33 Portland Place was allowed to fall into substantial disrepair and the majority of the building became unusable and derelict. It was during this coup that an unusual step was taken by the formal High Commissioner Professor Foray. Professor Foray approached a British entrepreneur Edward Davenport for finance to assist the running of the embassy. The transaction that followed was clouded with unproven allegations of bribery and corruption.
The disputes were, however, all settled and from 1999 the building had a new owner, a company backed by Edward Davenport and plans were put in place to restore the property to a grand residence.