The Cabinet Reshuffle: Another victim of Dorneywood curse: Stephen Ward traces an unhappy history of grace and favour

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ARGUABLY, Norman Lamont is a victim not so much of the recession as of the curse of Dorneywood.

When he first became Chancellor, his wife Rosemary was said to have been miffed that he did not get the grace and favour country house which is in the personal gift of the Prime Minister, and traditionally goes to a senior member of the Cabinet (aside from the Foreign Secretary, who gets Chevening).

Then a year ago John Major, anxious to make the point that he had faith in his Chancellor, gave him the use of the property, with its six bedrooms, 14 reception rooms, Whistler murals, 214 acres and staff, all provided by a generous endowment in the 1950s from Courtauld Thomson, a businessman.

Out went Kenneth Baker, who had been there since becoming Home Secretary in November 1990, but had by now lost his seat in the Cabinet. Before that Sir Geoffrey Howe had insisted on the house as his price for agreeing to be deputy Prime Minister when he was ousted as Foreign Secretary (and Chevening) in August 1989.

Sir Geoffrey's move had deposed another Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, who had been there only 18 months, and later, like Sir Geoffrey, left the Government under a cloud.

It seemed likely last night that Mr Lamont, like Nigel Lawson, would be allowed one last summer with the fake books on either side of the fireplace, and the barn converted into a squash court and billiard room, before having to give way.

But his removal from 11 Downing Street was summary, and in his sudden pressing need for a London home it seemed he had been saved by the late arrival of his long-predicted economic recovery.

His own four-bedroomed Victorian terraced house close to Notting Hill Gate, west London, has apparently failed to attract a long- term tenant since he evicted a freelance sex-therapist in 1991, costing the taxpayer pounds 4,000 in legal fees.

In March, a family visiting London was about to move in, then was told that it could not have it after all. It remained officially still on the market, but yesterday the letting agents, Knight Frank and Rutley, refused to comment. 'You'll have to ask Mr Lamont if it's still on the market,' an employee at the Kensington offices said.

The house itself was evidently unlived in, furnished but dusty and with peeling paint. Neighbours said no one had been there for some time. A sticker on the door requests mini-cab firms and other distributors of circulars to desist. To reinforce the point there is no letterbox.