Memories of growing up in Hampstead's Heath House mansion

Jenny King lived at Heath House as a teenager

Jenny King lived at Heath House as a teenager - Credit: Philip Halling (cc-by-sa/2.0)/Jenny King

"You could see six counties on a good, clear day."

Living in Heath House, the remarkable mansion on the edge of Hampstead Heath, was a "wonderful experience", Jenny King told this newspaper. 

The property remains covered in scaffolding and bears a developer's signs (declaring it "Heath Park"), but it was a different story in the 1970s.

Jenny, now a psychologist, lived there during her teenage years. Her father Peter, who owned the film industry publication Screen International, bought the property in 1971 for £140,000. 

In 1977, the Ham&High's Heathman's Diary covered the sale of Heath House

In 1977, the Ham&High's Heathman's Diary covered the sale of Heath House - Credit: Jenny King/Ham&High

Heath House was built in 1790 by the Hoare family. Sir Samuel Hoare - with William Wilberforce - was among those to push for the abolition of slavery, and the pair are said to have had key discussions about the abolition bill in the house's gardens overlooking the Heath. 

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Since Jenny's father sold the property in 1977, it was owned first by developer John Sunley and then the Saudi royal family, but it has been empty for more than two decades.

She told the Ham&High about spending an adolescence perched on the edge of the Heath, saying her father "had always been determined to have that house".

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"It was billed as the 'highest house in London, and the grandest house in London'," she said.

Jenny King, who lived in Heath House as a teenager

Jenny King, who lived in Heath House as a teenager - Credit: Jenny King

The family, she said, loved the house, with its gardens, the roof terrace and and a cavernous basement.

"The thing we really loved were the views from the roof terrace," she said. "You could see six counties on a good, clear day. 

"I was 15 when we moved to Heath House, so I spent my teenage years there. It was a bit like living in a goldfish bowl on the edge of the Heath."

Heath House was, Jenny said, a wonderful venue for house parties, though sometimes uninvited visitors came by.

"We had a wonderful basement that was great for teenage parties - though they eventually got gatecrashed. We had a games room, a music room.

"It was so beautifully preserved at that time."

In the 1960s and 1970s, Heath House's future was a regular fixture in the Ham&High's old 'Heathman's Diary' column. 

When Peter King sold up in 1977, the Heathman wrote: "Heath House, Hampstead, which has the notable distinction of being the highest house in London, has been sold, but not to a Middle-Eastern prince or an oil sheikh."

The columnist went on to remind readers that, bought by Mr Sunley, the home could "now be described as the most expensive private property in London bought by an Englishman".

Mr Sunley only owned Heath House for a little over a year, selling up to a Saudi Arabian family who, within a month, had the property on the market again for what the Evening Standard then described as an "optimistic" £2m. 

In the years following, the house has changed ownership several times, but spent much of the last two decades empty.

Heath House in April 2021

Heath House in April 2021 - Credit: Polly Hancock

Heath House is currently owned by developer Consero, which had a bid to convert it into six flats blocked in 2017. After a Heath and Hampstead Society campaign in 2016, the house was swathed in scaffolding to protect its Grade II*-listed facade. 

For Jenny though, it was a wonderful home to grow up in.

As well as her father's connection to the film industry, Jenny's grandfather, Samuel King, was one of the cinema moguls behind the Shipman and King business. When the family moved into Heath House a small cinema room was installed.

An old estate agent's advert - from Chestertons in the late 1970s - shows the oak-panelled drawing room and a grand sitting room with a series of imposing bookshelves. 

It describes the property as "an exceptionally high-quality house of period architecture", and highlighted the "fully-equipped private cinema" with "quadrophonic sound". 

Jenny said: "What's really sad from my point of view is to see how decrepit the building appears.

"I can still imagine what my old bedroom was like, the lovely small cinema my father built..."

An 1970s Chestertons estate agent's advert for Heath House

An 1970s Chestertons estate agent's advert for Heath House - Credit: Chestertons/Jenny King

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