Buyers flock to Wren's old nest for a view of history

Heritage for sale: Contents of house where architect oversaw building of St Paul's to be auctioned
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The Independent Online
JOHN McKIE

It started life as a brothel, then became a coffee house and later a coal merchant's. It was next door to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and is mentioned in Samuel Pepys' diary for June 1660. However, it is perhaps best known as the house where Sir Christopher Wren reputedly stayed while keeping watch on the building of St Paul's Cathedral over the river.

Now tourists can view the contents of 49 Bankside, Southwark, also known as Cardinal's Wharf, for themselves. The 553-lot collection, largely comprising 17th and 18th century pieces, is to be auctioned on 13 September by Sotheby's in Bond Street, and is expected to fetch between pounds 150,000 and pounds 200,000.

Cardinal's Wharf was part of "Southwark stews", where of cockpits, bull- and bear-baiting and theatres co-existed.

The three-floor house, one of the oldest on the banks of the Thames, has already been sold by Nick Savage, a businessman, for more than the pounds 545,000 guide price. The buyer, an unnamed English architect, will have a clear view of St Paul's. The building last underwent major renovation, including a new facade, in about 1700. Panelling installed then is still in place.

Mr Savage has already given one of the most valuable lots, a painting of St Sebastian, to the Aids charity Crusaid. Its value is thought to be pounds 8,000.

"The previous owner of the picture died of Aids and I thought it would be a nice gesture," he said.

Details of the house's sale were advertised on the Internet. Mr Savage said: "We had to put it on the Net because so many people wanted to see the house. If they'd all walked through it, it would have collapsed."

Contents also include a rare pair of Charles II oak cabinets dating from 1685, (valued between pounds 4,000 and pounds 6,000), a collection of four George III candlesticks and a painted chair believed to have belonged to John Milton, each priced at between pounds 3,000 and pounds 5,000.

Viewing for the public at Cardinal's Wharf is restricted to tickets holders next Wednesday and Thursday. There will be unlimited viewing at Sotheby's New Bond Street Galleries.

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