Sultan pays record £40m for park lodge

Sale continues trend of London's grandest buildings being transformed f rom institutions to homes for the super-rich
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St John's Lodge in Regent's Park, London, once home to staff of Bedford College, is believed to have been sold to the Brunei royal family for £40m, the highest sum paid for a single private house. It is the latest in a long line of the capital's g randest buildings to be transformed from an institution into a private palace.

The house now joins its Regent Park neighbours Grove House and The Holme, Beechwood in Hampstead, Bridgewater House in St James and Aberconway House in Mayfair in the ever-growing super league of private London property. The next house expected to join the list is the Old Rectory in Chelsea, which is priced at £25m.

St John's Lodge, which sits in two acres of land at the centre of the park, was bought by the development company Messila House for £9m in 1987. Since then the company has been transforming it from an administrative building into one of the most spectacular properties in London.

The house is best known for the dramatic murals on the walls of the principal rooms, which were commissioned by the Marquis of Bute at the end of the last century. The central hall is decorated with a tableau depicting the four ages of man, interspersed with heraldic shields.

This is one of many original features of the house being restored under the eye of English Heritage and the Crown Estates, who own the freehold. Work on the house is expected to be completed next spring.

As well as restoring the property, the developers have almost doubled it in size. Taking the main house and the secondary house, which could be used as staff or guest accommodation, it has 35,000 square feet of living space.

Many of the deals agreed at this price level are done on a government to government - often Arab to Arab - basis, with the Crown Estates the only British party involved. At the beginning of this year the Crown sold the leases of two former embassies housed in one building in Kensington Palace Gardens, west London, for a figure believed to be around £30m.

These super-rich buyers are looking for secure houses in the centre of London which reflect their international status and are large enough to take their retinue of staff. For the world's wealthiest people that can mean not just a butler, housekeeper, cook, maids, gardeners and secretary, but two chauffeurs and even two pilots.

At £40m the house is worth more than four times as much as Gunnerside in North Yorkshire, the most expensive country estate to be sold this year. It is even beyond the reach of the latest National Lottery winner.