Most property viewings are perfunctory, business-like affairs. But not Dr Robert Smith’s who was told the house belonged to a war hero when he viewed this three bedroom flat 17 years ago.
Aberdeen Place, St John’s Wood, £2m
The seller said the house once belonged to Wing Commander Guy Gibson, who commanded the Dambusters raid in 1943, which led to him being awarded the Victoria Cross a year later. Smith, a modern history buff and a self-confessed Winston Churchill fan, was initially dubious about the claims, but excited by the prospect. “It tickled my fancy quite a lot,” he says. “To live in the house of a serious hero is quite something.”
Once moved in, he bought a Gibson biography and saw that he had in fact lived in Aberdeen Place in north west London. Built around 1920, the property was divided up into two, so Smith wrote to Churchill College, Cambridge, to see if there was a letter of condolence from the Bulldog to Gibson’s wife, Eve.
As it happened, there was and it was addressed to the bottom two floors of the house, where Smith lives today. He paid £5 for a copy of it, sent it to English Heritage to prove it was Gibson’s house and was duly awarded a Blue Plaque six years later for his efforts. “When taxis come round to the house, I get so many cabbies saying, ‘that’s what you call a real Blue Plaque.’”
Today, the copy of the letter is displayed in the entrance hall for visitors to peruse. But the house also featured in the RAF’s 70th anniversary celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall this week. “So I suppose we’ll know whether the Dambusters connection works next week,” says Smith.
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It’s only been on the market for three weeks, but its historic provenance has already generated a fair bit of interest. The living quarters include a newly refurbished kitchen, a sitting room with 10ft high ceilings and ornate cornicing – where Gibson is thought to have written Enemy Coast Ahead – and a modern conservatory.
The lower floor has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a back garden that can also be accessed from the upper floor. Smith, a cancer surgeon, has also built a private consecrated Anglican chapel that he uses for contemplative prayer.
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