There is a house in Lord North St

Catherine Pepinster reveals an address with a chequered history
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The Independent Online
Forget the car with the personal number plate, the best address in town, or the Rolex watch. The new status symbol is a history of the street where you live - or, better still, your own house, and written by a Cambridge historian.

Baron Sheppard of Didgemere, better known in the business world as Allan Sheppard, former chief executive of the brewing giant GrandMet, has just commissioned a history of his London town house to document its occupants, their parties, guests and travails during the past 150 years.

The five-storey terraced house in Lord North Street, in Westminster's political heartland, is surrounded by houses with histories of intrigue and power-broking. Harold Wilson lived in the street; other current residents include Jonathan Aitken and the Tory chief whip Alastair Goodlad. Lord Sheppard's next-door neighbour is Eurosceptic MP Teresa Gorman.

The proposal that the Cambridge historian Bunny Smedley should write the history of Lord Sheppard's house was made after the completion of her history of Lord North Street itself, which will be launched at a party on Thursday night at the headquarters of the right-wing think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (based at number 2).

But what will make the story of Lord Sheppard's home an even more gripping read is the combination of political history and showbiz anecdotes about the house. Past occupants include a former society hostess, the Marchioness of Ripon, who entertained the social circle of the Liberal Prime Minister Asquith, and the theatrical impresario Binkie Beaumont, whose soirees brought John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Noel Coward, Terence Rattigan, Cecil Beaton and Marilyn Monroe to the gas-lit street, winding between Smith Square and Millbank.

Census returns, electoral registers, letters and biographies have all helped Ms Smedley carry out her detective work on Lord North Street. Built in 1722, its Georgian houses are small - three or four bedrooms - with no gardens and little space for car parking. Such is the demand, however, that these days they change hands for about pounds 750,000.

Lord North Street's early history was not so salubrious. "Although these houses were built for professionals, they did go downhill from 1830 to the end of the century," said Ms Smedley. "There were sometimes 20 people living in one house, and rather a lot of actresses - the ones where you wonder about the term 'actress'."

If the street's early dramas featured members of the oldest profession, those of the second oldest have coloured its life for most of this century.

It was Harold Wilson who put the street on the map, when he moved there soon after losing the 1970 general election. On his return to power in 1974, his wife Mary refused to move back into Downing Street, and instead much of the premier's work was conducted in Lord North Street rather than at Number 10.

Ms Smedley is completing a PhD at Cambridge Unversity.