A little bit of art history in SW16

Park Hill House was once the home of the founder of the Tate Gallery. Cheryl Markosky finds that it has been now been converted into several houses and apartments, set in beautiful grounds which boast a folly, a grotto and a pond.
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The Independent Online

Before Tate Modern, before even Tate Britain, the very first Tate Gallery was in Streatham. The eponymous sugar magnate, Sir Henry Tate, bought the magnificent Park Hill House, opposite Streatham Common, in 1874, and there he housed his growing collection of British art. The whole house, including the art gallery, is now a series of grand apartments and houses that are up for sale.

The original Tate Gallery that first gave wall space to John Everett Millais' "Ophelia" and John William Waterhouse's "The Lady of Shallot" has been converted into a five-bedroom house by Barratt Homes. Now called, rather more prosaically, 12 Sir Henry Tate Mews, it is the pick of the properties in the house and is on offer at £1.5m, probably less than the price of a Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece. Set in six acres of gardens, the mansion was built by eminent London merchant William Leaf in the 1830s. Tate lived in it for 25 years, making numerous improvements. He bought the existing Tate Gallery site on Millbank to house his expanding collection in the 1890s. (In the light of Charles Saatchi's recent move of his art collection to the old GLC building, it seems there is a penchant for art patrons to display their beneficence on the banks of the Thames.)

After Tate's widow's death in 1919, Park Hill House became the Convent of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, taking in "disadvantaged women" and for the next 80 years remained in an untouched time-warp. The refurbishment of the Grade II-listed building began in 1999. The development is split between developers CPS, who have created eight luxury apartments out of the main house and Gatehouse, and Barratt Homes's 26 new town houses around the old coaching yard, as well as the Gallery. Any prospective purchaser who might be a little wary of Streatham's slightly rougher elements will be reassured that the whole development is accessed through electronically controlled entrance gates opposite Streatham Common.

The conversion of the main house took place under the watchful eye of English Heritage and the Streatham Society. A flight of marble steps, protected by a pair of crouching stone lions, leads up to the main entrance, which is embellished by paired Ionic columns. Original Georgian fireplaces, bookcases, friezes and wall panels add to the elegant atmosphere.

Number 12 is centred on the original 36ft by 12ft billiard room, illuminated by the magnificent original glass clerestory, or skylight, which runs the length of the room. The prototype Tate Gallery has been made into a double-height living room with a mezzanine floor reached by a spiral staircase. An art lover might even think of hanging his own collection beneath the ornate friezes and giant candelabra.

As well as all that Georgian splendour, the three-storey house has a fully fitted designer kitchen complete with polished granite worktops - ideal perhaps for Nigella, who could cohabit with her new art-guru amour Charles Saatchi? Though giving up Eaton Square for Streatham might be a bit of a tall order, even for the edgiest of art aficionados. Barratt's Clive Fenton has no such doubts: "Streatham was fashionable in Victorian times and all the attributes that made it so then are being recognised today. Quality like this in such a convenient inner-London area transcends the vagaries of postcodes."

For those with a more ecclesiastical bent, the 1939 chapel has been turned into three four-bedroom town houses, one of which boasts an indoor swimming pool, with prices starting at £725,000. Apartments in the main house range from £595,000 to £995,000.

As befits a grand manor house, the entrance is guarded by a gatehouse, now called The Lodge. The Leaf family crest which appears over the door reads, "Folium non Defluet," meaning "The leaf does not fall." The word "charming" has been attached to the refurbished two-bedroom home by estate agents Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward who are selling it. The euphemism is really code for "has very small rooms". At £395,000, it is the smallest and cheapest property on site.

One of the main features of the site is the setting. The six acres of private parkland contain several surprises: a 25ft octagonal folly (the only one in south London); a Garden of Gethsemane grotto, complete with a statue of the crucified Christ; and a pond, which, it is claimed, is the largest body of water in Streatham - an assertion not easy to refute. Some of the grounds are sectioned off for the private use of individual owners, while most can be enjoyed by other residents in the development. "Not surprisingly, we have found a high demand from successful professional family people who want to blend the commuting convenience with room to breathe," says Fenton. S

The big decision for buyers is whether to live in the original mansion house with a view over the grounds, folly and pond, or take one of the new Barratt town houses and observe Georgian grandeur through the sitting-room window. Jennifer Jones and Laurie Giblin decided to go the second route.

According to Jones, 45, who works in the National Health Service, "It's like an oasis in the middle of London. When you come home after a hard day at work, it is wonderful being able to go for a walk in the grounds that are lovely and quiet. When we first moved in, the rhododendrons were out and it looked really beautiful." Jones says she was attracted to the way the new town houses have been built with an eye to classical proportions. "We liked the size of the rooms and the high ceilings, which give a feeling of spaciousness," she says. "The town houses we had seen elsewhere were generally smaller and we felt this was a good design." They paid £480,000 for their house, using Barratt's part-exchange service, with Laurie trading in her previous property and Jennifer selling hers privately.

Like most Londoners, they need good transport links, so the four rail stations within walking distance - Streatham, Streatham Common, Streatham Hill and West Norwood - and many bus services were key to their decision to buy.

The Gallery House, Barratt Homes, 020-8669 6666. Five apartments and The Gatehouse are available through Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, 020-8769 8744