Poetic licence

Famous former residents add value as well as glamour to a property. Belinda Archer reports

A delightful Grade II listed double-fronted Georgian house in the heart of Highgate Village has just gone on sale for the first time in 42 years. It boasts four floors of bright and roomy accommodation, crucial off-street parking, and an impressive collection of celebrity neighbours.

A delightful Grade II listed double-fronted Georgian house in the heart of Highgate Village has just gone on sale for the first time in 42 years. It boasts four floors of bright and roomy accommodation, crucial off-street parking, and an impressive collection of celebrity neighbours.

But perhaps more than this, Moreton House, priced at a not-insignificant £3m by Hampstead estate agents Savills, was once the home of Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Rumour has it that while wandering about the shrubbery in its 143ft south-facing rear garden Coleridge tweaked the final version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He used to sit at his desk in the top floor study and work through the proofs and he is believed to have shared many a happy hour there with fellow Romantic poets Wordsworth and Keats. "Coleridge lived in Moreton House for several years while he was being looked after by an apothecary who was trying to cure his addiction to laudanum," says Simon Edwards, an associate director at Savills.

But how much of the seven-bedroom pile's price tag is for the bricks and mortar, and how much for the fact that it comes with a genuine literary connection? Do famous former residents crank up the value of properties? And what is it like living in a home with a history?

Edwards says: "Famous associations add value, but not necessarily a huge amount. Ultimately people are too savvy and they just care about bricks and mortar and location. They won't buy a property just because of its historical association, unless they are complete fans." He adds that Savills handled the sale of a Bracknell house that was used as Number Four, Privet Drive in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. That was initially planned for an auction sale, but it failed to reach its £240,000 reserve price and ultimately went for a mere £30,000 more than similar properties in the same cul-de-sac.

The science fiction writer Aldous Huxley lived in a house in Hampstead, which was sold a year ago. The family had lived there for many years and it is thought that he penned his 1932 Brave New World there, but this cut no ice with sniffy buyers.

The problem seems to be that London, in particular, is so knee-deep in historic buildings where significant things happened or literary classics were penned or famous people lodged that they are, well, almost 10 a penny.

Blue plaques, however, have real potential to add value. These are awarded at much discretion by English Heritage to mark buildings of historical interest, predominantly in London (where there are more than 760 such plaques), but it does depend on which famous person they are commemorating. Compare the cachet of Nelson, for instance, with some obscure 18th century poet or philanthropist.

"Blue plaques can genuinely add value, but only if it is someone particularly famous. Otherwise it probably makes no difference, other than to make nosey passers-by loiter outside," says Charlie Seligman, an associate director of Savills, Sloane Street.

Interesting pasts can crank up a property's appeal and help it stand out in a saturated buyers' market. The developers Beechcroft have just finished converting Thameside Place, a villa that they believe used to be the home of Lillie Langtry, actress and mistress of Edward VII, and this little nugget of information is finding its way on to all marketing materials.

Agents Cluttons, in Arundel, are similarly making great play of the literary credentials for Bury House, a Grade II-listed West Sussex property in which the author of The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy, resided for the last seven years of his life.

Samantha Cookson, of Hamptons International, agents for Thameside Place, comments: "In our experience, having a famous former owner or resident of any property increases the amount of interest we receive. Many of those viewing have been particularly interested in the historical connection with Lillie Langtry and in the area itself, which is steeped in history."

So if famous former residents don't always raise a property's price, it still must be quite appealing living somewhere with such a unique and special history mustn't it?

Ivor Burt, the current resident of Moreton House, says: "The fact that Coleridge lived here certainly made a difference when we bought.

"We felt we were buying a little piece of literary history. It's rather nice to think of him strolling up and down the garden."

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