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Former Battle of Britain command post now £2.4m penthouse

[NEW YORK] Steeped in British history dating back more than 600 years and surrounded by 57 acres of manicured parkland, Bentley Priory was once the royal residence of Dowager Queen Adelaide, consort of King William IV, and command headquarters of the Royal Air Force during World War II.

Redeveloped a decade ago, the penthouse apartment is up for sale for only the second time, at the asking price of £2.4 million (S$4.21 million).

The luxury penthouse is named the Dowding Suite after Sir Hugh Dowding, the chief air marshal who directed RAF operations from the location during the Battle of Britain in 1940. (If you need to bone up on your history, the Bentley Priory Museum—dedicated to the battle—occupies the ground and basement floors of the mansion house.)

"Dowding had his operation room there and could stand on the terrace and see the planes coming back during battles," Douglas Sleaper, listing agent at Savills Plc, says of the Historic England-listed property.

Entered via the second floor of the renovated mansion/country house complex, the three-bedroom, three-bath, 2,285-square-foot apartment is arranged over three floors with the master suite occupying the uppermost level. The penthouse's terraces (there are three) offer sweeping views of the city skyline, including landmarks such as the London Eye, BT Tower, and the Shard. The unit comes with four parking spaces—two underground and two outdoor—as well as a 24-hour concierge.

The property sits amid larger and lesser-priced homes in Stanmore, Middlesex County, about 12 miles as the crow flies from central London, roughly an hour's drive or Tube ride. A freestanding, five-bedroom abode in the area can be had for the same price, though it lacks the history and views —and the two full-size World War II fighter planes (a Spitfire and a Hurricane) on the front lawn.

Bentley Priory has had many lives. The property dates to the 15th century, when it was the site of a monastery, though no structures from the period remain. King Henry VIII gave the land to Robert Needham and William Sacheverell in 1546 before it was sold in 1775 to James Duberly, then sold again to the Honorable John Hamilton, the ninth Earl of Abercorn, in 1778. Hamilton employed noted neoclassical architect Sir John Soane whose best-known work is the Bank of England. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert became frequent visitors when Dowager Queen Adelaide took residence in 1848.

Nearly 40 years later, in 1885, Frederick Gordon of Metropole fame turned it into a hotel—and built a private railway to serve it—but it didn't last. From 1908 through 1924 it was used as a girls' school before the RAF Fighter Command took over the property in 1936. Following a devastating fire in 1979, the queen mother championed the restoration of the mansion house, though the work was hastily done and not particularly sympathetic to the original Soane design.

British developer City & Country undertook the most recent refurbishment and remodel, carving out eight apartments and the museum, with additional freestanding houses subsequently developed within the grounds.

The Dowding Suite has since been sold only once, in a private sale to the current owners, who wish to remain anonymous. They had an apartment in the mansion complex at the time it was finished, says Savills' Mr Sleaper, and immediately put it on the market to move on up.

UK house prices fell in July for the first time in seven months, according to a property report by website Rightmove. Prices nationwide were down 0.1 per cent from the previous month, while London saw a price drop of 0.5 per cent. Coming off a three-decade boom, prices have been tempered amid slow economic growth and Brexit uncertainty.

In contrast, realtor Foxtons lists the average sold price in Middlesex as having increased 7.18 per cent over the previous year, with the February average home sale price in the area at £475,443.


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