Maxwell home sold - with tenant: Tycoon's widow may stay at Headington another six years

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The Independent Online
HEADINGTON Hill Hall, former home of the late Robert Maxwell, has been sold for a rumoured pounds 5m - but with a catch. Betty Maxwell, the tycoon's widow, could be a sitting tenant there for another six years, writes Tom Stevenson.

Oxford Brookes University (formerly the Polytechnic) has acquired the head lease on the estate and its 14 acres of parkland, with 84 years to run. The 53-room house, however, comes with a sub-lease, held by Mrs Maxwell, which runs until 1999. The freehold is owned by Oxford City Council.

A spokesman for the university said negotiations were under way with Mrs Maxwell, who has lived in the south of France since shortly after the death of her husband. She has little financial incentive to leave as she pays only pounds 2,350 a year, having negotiated a pounds 10,000-a-year rent for the whole estate in 1959.

Maxwell used to call the 140-year-old building 'the grandest council house in Britain'. Despite its grandeur, the residential wing of the house was deemed to be worth between pounds 68,000 and pounds 88,000 when it was valued for this year's council tax.

Two other sub-leases are at present owned by Pergamon Press, the publishing house, which occupies 50,000 sq ft of offices in the grounds. A break clause means that Pergamon will move out next May, allowing at least some of the university's planned move to go ahead.

As well as views over the dreaming spires of Oxford, the hall boasts a swimming pool, enough garden for a helicopter to land and a tennis court. There is a stained glass window depicting Samson, thought to be modelled on Maxwell himself.

Inside, facilities are rather less grand since an auction at Sotheby's sold pounds 500,000 worth of furniture, pictures and a - no doubt low mileage - exercise bike.

(Photograph omitted)