It is one of Britain's finest Regency homes, with views from its Grade I-listed windows that look out over the English Channel. The sixth Duke of Devonshire used the property as his seaside residence for 30 years and King Edward VII often visited his daughter, Princess Louise, there and her husband, the Duke of Fife.
Yet now, Fife House in Lewes Crescent, Brighton, is home to a set of tenants with decidedly less illustrious backgrounds – a dozen squatters.
Neighbours said up to 12 people moved in three weeks ago and have taken over the building, which was fitted inside by the royal architect and decorator Thomas Cubitt and John Gregory Crace. The six-bedroom property in Regency square was home to the sixth Duke of Devonshire from 1828 until 1858. It was refurbished in 1848 by architects who worked on Brighton's Royal Pavilion for the Prince Regent.
Princess Louise and her husband bought the property in 1896 and named it Fife House. The king visited regularly and stayed there while convalescing in 1908. The princess had a lavatory fitted for him with a columned porcelain pan and mahogany cistern which is still there. Neighbours in the grand Brighton street have, over the years, included the founders of Roedean school, a Lord Chancellor and various actors, film producers and impresarios.
The home boasts a Portland stone staircase, a magnificent weather indicator hanging in the main hall, two wine cellars and a belvedere balcony.
The multimillionaire Patrick Naughton, who owns and co-founded the communications company TelecomOne, paid £3.4m for the house in 2002.
The estate agents Strutt and Parker said the property had been empty for months, since being repossessed, but refused to say from whom it had been repossessed. It was recently sold to new, anonymous owners for £1.75m.
The squatters appear to value the the house's heritage, placing a notice on the porch stating they are aware of the historic importance of the property and will not damage it.
"We did not break anything when we entered and we have not damaged anything since," it says. "We have video and photographic evidence to prove this. We will respect and care for this property."
A second notice, titled a legal warning under section six of the Criminal Law Act 1977, says they will prosecute anyone who threatens violence against them. And they add that to evict them, they will need to be issued with a claim in the county court or the High Court or to have a written statement or certificate served on them.
One squatter, who declined to be named, said the high cost of renting in Brighton and Hove had led him to share a home in Fife House. "We're just normal people."
A neighbour said: "They look like scruffy students with combat trousers and baggy jumpers with holes in. But they're very polite and well-spoken. They seem like your typical middle-class dropouts. Their parents are probably doctors and architects."
A next-door neighbour, Roger Carr, said: "I must say that they have been well behaved. They are very pleasant to me but I think it's a great shame that such a beautiful, historic house has been squatted in and I hope they will be removed fairly quickly.
"I have no complaints about their behaviour. There have been no mad parties, no noise, nothing. I believe they have been here about three weeks and I think there are up to a dozen people in there.
"It was, and I hope still is, a beautifully well-preserved house. It is one of the nicest places in Brighton and one of the nicest Regency squares in the country, I think."
A Sussex Police spokesman said: "We have been alerted to the fact that there are squatters in this place but we have not had cause to visit at the moment. Legal proceedings have to be undertaken by the property owners. It is a civil matter."
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