St Mary's Mansions

St Mary
St Mary
St Mary

We know St Mary’s Mansions

The late 19th century was perhaps the mansion block’s finest hour, with many opulent and majestic developments colouring the city landscape. St Mary’s Mansions provided the perfect evidence that this new concept in accommodation was fast winning over the doubting middle classes.

An advertisement in 1899 describes a St Mary’s Mansions flat as a ‘most conveniently planned ground floor flat comprising hall, dining room, drawing room, three bedrooms and bath’. Another in 1905 highlights ‘an exceptionally light, airy, seven room unfurnished flat’ with ‘passenger, service and coal lifts, electric light, telephone installation, bathroom (hot & cold), bookshelves and cupboards fitted’, and only five minutes from Marble Arch. A later property survey described St Mary’s Mansions as: ‘Nine blocks of modern self-contained flats with electric light installed throughout.  In Blocks 2, 6 and 7 hydraulic passenger lifts are installed. The buildings are all of modern construction and are up to date in all respects’. What was there not to like?

Even the rents seemed appealing. Back in 1907 you could have yourself an entrance floor flat with four bedrooms, two large receptions, bath and ‘domestic offices’, all yours for the princely sum of 4½ guineas a week (approximately £280 in today’s money).

But as time went on, St Mary’s Mansions found that it couldn’t escape the seemingly inexorable destiny of all leasehold/rental property – the rent dispute. In the 1960s some residents were keen on contemporary ‘improvements’, with one commenting in a 1968 rent assessment report that ‘these flats are aged and lofty so that the cost of decorations for which the tenants are liable are higher than the average’. However, landlord Metropolitan Properties Limited agreed that the flats had large rooms, this made them spacious, and furthermore, they were well provided for, with four porters and a supervisor.

Another complaint about the ‘sinking feeling’ in the lifts got a less considered response. The Panel chairman’s sarcastic riposte held that ‘a sinking feeling is natural when a lift goes down and the problem would only exist if this feeling occurred when the lifts went up!’

Complaints continued into the 70s, often fuelled by proposed rent increases and a perceived drop in amenities. Vandalism, a lack of heating, accusations of no porter service, no hot water, poor lighting, and an unsafe lift – all disputed by the landlord unsurprisingly – all seemed a far cry from the halcyon days of the late Victorian era.

And yet fast forward twenty years to the 90s and what do we find? A St Mary’s Mansions flat featured in the illustrious Home and Gardens magazine, the pride of its architect owners.

For them, the charm of their mansion block flat lay in ‘the extraordinary amount of space it offers’ and that it gave them ‘the best of both worlds, a generous accommodation with a closeness to the centre of London’. The couple considered that ‘the nineteenth century builder had done a remarkably skilful job with the twists and turns of the plan so that light comes pouring in from almost every angle, giving a great sense of space.’

It just goes to show that St Mary’s Mansions was built to last – and to this day still delights its residents more than a century later.

The Property Ombudsman