This Former British Torpedo Facility Is Now a $9 Million Mansion
In the early days of the Cold War, the British Admiralty built a torpedo testing facility in the middle of Bushy Park, a royal park outside London. The facility had a 150-foot-wide pool reinforced with 4-foot-thick concrete blast walls, in which scientists spun torpedoes at the end of a metal arm.
Eventually, the site was decommissioned and handed back to the Crown, at which point it sat unused until 2000, when a developer purchased the property, demolished most of the facility, and in 2004 turned part of the curved pool walls into a private home and filled in the rest with a lawn and landscaping. The project was almost complete, at which point “he left it to stand and rot,” said Zena Holloway, an underwater photographer who purchased the house in 2011 with her husband, Patrick, a property developer. After moving in, the couple spent four years turning the house into a livable residence and then put it on the market in 2015 for £6.75 million ($8.8 million).
Renovating the property wasn’t without its highs and lows. “We moved in straightaway,” Holloway said. “It had a kitchen that was already sort of serviceable. The ice in the freezer was 10 years old, but it still worked.” That said, “when we switched on the oven all the circuits blew, and then the fire alarm went off and we didn’t have a code for it,” she said. “There was a catalog of ‘oh my God’ moments.”
The couple also discovered elements from the building’s wartime past. In the house’s subbasement, which Holloway describes as “a kind of vast bat-cave,” she discovered a hole in the wall. Her husband climbed in with a flashlight and then promptly disappeared into what turned out to be an immense, potentially endless tunnel. “He crawled and crawled and crawled, and at one point he got to—we think—under the neighbor’s house,” Holloway said. “I think there were all these tunnels as an escape plan for the prime minister.” (The tunnel is now closed.)
There were other quirks, too. “Because the house is circular, you can suddenly find yourself hearing something you shouldn’t be hearing” from the other end of the house, she said. “It’s really odd.”
Despite the house’s idiosyncrasies, or perhaps because of them, its interior, which covers some 9,880 square feet, manages to be both spacious and intimate. The ground level is designed as an open-plan living area with a large kitchen, living room, and office. The floor above contains the house’s six bedrooms, and the basement has a large lounge area filled with pillows. The floor below (that of the mystery tunnel) is an area that Holloway calls “bizarre”—and the couple never quite found a use for it. It would, she said, “make the most amazing swimming pool for somebody. Or perhaps someone would want a climbing facility, or a shooting range, or a massive wine cellar.”
Outside there’s a sunken area, which provides natural light in the basement and which Holloway’s children use to play basketball. There’s also a connected, two-car garage.
The house sits on 1.3 acres of land and has the added benefit of being inside Bushy Park, which is still owned by the Crown. “The park is this vast, massive area of green space with a population of deer, which roam freely,” Holloway said. “We’re still in London, but it’s like living in the country.” Waterloo station is about a 40-minute commute by train.
Holloway, who professes to love the house, said they’re moving for both practical reasons—she’d really like a pool to use for her photography—and whimsy. “My husband wants to design-slash-build a house from the ground up,” she explained.
Holloway anticipates the process will take some time. “We didn’t expect a quick sell,” she said. “It’s so unusual—you need the right person.”
The house is listed by Luke Ellwood and Peter Norgrove of Knight Frank.