By Susie Mesure
The 18th-century shipbuilder John Randall would have looked out of the rear windows of his house in Rotherhithe to see the bustling river Thames of Georgian London. The six-bedroom Grade II-listed house, which is on the market for £4.75mn, was built for Randall in 1743, when the Rotherhithe riverfront was a centre for shipbuilding and repair.
Of the same view today, current owner Keith Day says, “It’s like looking at downtown Manhattan,” referring to the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf on the opposite side of the river. The area where the house stands on the river’s south bank is a tranquil, primarily residential part of south-east London. There is an ecological park just across the road from the property.
The house was later named Nelson House after Admiral Lord Nelson, following his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Day says he took a gamble buying the property: “It was being used by the adjoining [Hilton] hotel as a conference centre. But I thought I’d take the risk and seek permission for residential use.” There was “ghastly blue corporate carpet” everywhere and the walls were covered in woodchip paper. The original doors were hidden behind hardboard and all the panelling had gone.
There was asbestos throughout the house and Edwardian fireplaces rather than Georgian ones. “I had all the asbestos stripped out and I’ve put in iron Georgian grates and marble fireplaces from Chesneys,” says Day, who was able to draw on experience from previous restoration projects, including Grade I-listed Wolterton Hall in Norfolk. He says the biggest challenge here was the local council: “I came across photographs in the local archive office of the building as it had been in the 1940s, with a weatherboarded extension. I tried to get permission to put the extension back, so I could install bathrooms [that] wouldn’t affect the architecture of the house, but in the end I gave up.”
Day restored the original internal shutters on the windows at the front of the house, which features Doric columns (main picture, above) and overlooks the park. He also added matching shutters to the rear of the property, including to the five large sash windows of the drawing room. He restored the cornicing and built four new bathrooms. “I’ve done it up to look like a Spitalfields house but not in such deliberately drab Georgian colours. It’s a very friendly house, like a country house in town,” Day says. An octagonal cupola opens out to a roof terrace and there is a small, paved back garden. He is selling so he can spend more time living with his partner in Norfolk, where he is restoring another property.
Two minutes’ walk away is a pier that has regular boat services to Westminster upriver and a ferry to Canary Wharf opposite. Day says, “I often think it’s like living in Venice and getting the vaporetto to go shopping — even if I am going to Waitrose.”