The life of a property developer is rarely glamorous. But for 15 weeks in 2014, Gary Halkyard rubbed shoulders with the great and the good of the British film industry and it was all down to a run-down mansion he'd acquired two years previously.
Midway through restoring Rush Grove House in Woolwich, Oscar-nominated director Mike Leigh decided the location was perfect for his biopic of JMW Turner and he wasn’t shy about suggesting some interior suggestions of his own.
“As soon as he saw the house, he fell in love with it,” says Halkyard. “The previous family who lived here loved a bit of pink carpet and flocked wallpaper. They asked whether they could take it up and I said absolutely. So there were just the original floorboards left and they aged them so they'd look like they would in Turner's day.”
Soon afterwards, the back of the house overlooking the grounds was transformed into the gallery the painter built in Harley Street and actor Timothy Spall was drafted in to harumph and stare moodily at canvas. Set in nearly four acres of grounds with its own boating lake named Mulgrave Pond, cinema-goers would never have guessed the Grade-II Listed Georgian property was around the corner from Woolwich barracks.
Built in 1816, it was bought by the Admiralty and the reservoir was later adapted to serve steam engines at the Arsenal. It was sold off by the Ministry of Defence in 1984 when they decided it was surplus to requirements and a large Indian family bought it, before full-time developer Halkyard bought it in April 2012.
Working closely with the council's conservation team, he set about clearing up the grounds, restocking the lake with carp and tench, and bringing the house into the 21st century. In total, the renovation cost him over £1m and was, at times, “a complete and utter nightmare”, according to Halkyard.
"I've brought it back"
“We've done work on the conservatory, there's a new roof, new floors all the way through, the windows have been refurbished, new kitchens, new central heating systems. There aren't many original features unfortunately because, where the property had been left empty, people had come in and ripped some of them out. So I've put in some fireplaces, some marbling and the hardwood flooring, so I like to think I've brought it back to the way the house would have been before the MoD sold it off.”
Finding a single buyer for all 8,000sqft of the mansion was a daunting prospect, so Halkyard has split it into two – a 4,600sqft, six-bedroom house and a 2,860sqft, four-bedroom house. The grounds will also be split between the new owners, but Halkyard will be back to tend to the gardens and make sure the fish are adapting to their new home. “I've enjoyed it, but through maintaining the lake, I'll also get the benefit of visiting and taking care of everything.”
The six-bedroom house is on sale for £2.95m; the four-bedroom house is on sale for £1.89m.
Foxtons Blackheath, 020 8432 7200