Wealth floods upwards as the very rich get richer

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Some of Britain's richest families are getting even richer from the boom in central London property prices, latest accounts for their private companies show.

A 17.5 per cent rise in property prices in Mayfair in the past 12 months has taken the worth of the area's main landlord, the Duke of Westminster, to over pounds 2bn. The Duke's Grosvenor Estates company owns 300 acres in Mayfair and neighbouring Belgravia. The most recent accounts for the family firm, filed at Companies House, are for 1995 and do not reflect the current surge.

Nevertheless, they still show a 16 per cent rise in assets, to pounds 918m. The accounts show the company made a dividend pay-out of pounds 2.4m in 1995.

With his art treasures and other properties in Britain and abroad, Gerald, the 45-year old 6th Duke, is worth more than pounds 2bn, making him the richest Briton living in this country.

But the Cheshire-based Duke's riches are still a long way short of that of Joseph Lewis, thought to be the wealthiest Briton anywhere in the world. The publicity-shy "Joe" Lewis, who lives in the Bahamas, has amassed a global empire of shareholdings - including a pounds 40m stake in Glasgow Rangers, nearly 30 per cent of Christie's and a large slice of Union, a merchant bank - properties, restaurants, art treasures, which add up to more than pounds 3bn.

Other landed families are also reaping the benefit of soaring central London property values. The Cadogan family, headed by the Earl of Cadogan and his son, Viscount Chelsea, own much of SW3 and SW7. A family house in these post-codes now costs pounds 1.2m.

Viscount Chelsea, who effectively runs the family firm, the Cadogan Group, has disposed of all the peripheral businesses, including a theme park, to concentrate on property. At the same time, the accounts show, Cadogan Group has increased its borrowings, from pounds 61m to pounds 129m, to be able to snap up more properties in its part of town, primarily 90 acres around Sloane Square.

Increasing borrowing is unlikely to worry the Cadogans' bank manager: even in the latest accounts, which are for 1995 before the boom took hold, their company experienced a 34 per cent rise in the value of their portfolio, to pounds 611m.

Slightly further north in London, the property firm belonging to another aristocratic family, the de Waldens, is also experiencing spectacular gains. Howard de Walden Estates, which owns 100 acres around Marylebone, was once run by Lord Howard de Walden and is now controlled by his four daughters. In the last financial year, the company saw profits rise from pounds 511,000 to pounds 6.6m.

Keen to keep up appearances, the de Waldens wrote to tenants in 1996 requiring them to hang net curtains "to protect the estate's elegant character".

While those historic families lucky enough to own large tracts of London are enjoying a renaissance, they have also been joined by some parvenus. Foremost among them is Paul Raymond, who owns much of Soho. Even after he gave himself a 329 per cent pay rise, to pounds 3.7m, latest accounts for his Paul Raymond Organisation show annual profits of pounds 19.5m on turnover of pounds 38.5m.