Three great houses of Highgate, their Russian owners and sanctions

Athlone House in Highgate, by Hampstead Heath

Athlone House in Highgate, by Hampstead Heath - Credit: Simon Crow

With sanctions being issued against wealthy supporters of President Putin, the owners of property in some of London's most desirable neighbourhoods are coming under scrutiny.

Three historic estates in Highgate in particular are owned by high-profile Russian tycoons.

Witanhurst

Witanhurst in Highgate

Witanhurst in Highgate - Credit: Nigel Sutton

At the top of Highgate West Hill is Witanhurst, said to be the second largest private residence in London after Buckingham Palace.

The original estate dates from 1774, with the current house built around 1920 for soap magnate Sir Arthur Crosfield.

From the 1970s, Witanhurst was owned by various Kuwaiti shell companies, the eventual owner being revealed as a cousin of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

From 2002 to 2004, the house was used as the location for the BBC’s Fame Academy talent show.

Most Read

It was sold in 2007 by the Assads to a British property developer who then sold it, in 2008, to the family of the Russian billionaire Andrey Guryev through an offshore company called Safran Holdings, for £50 million.

The company has since been transferred to the company Boradge, based in the British Virgin Islands. According to a Times investigation, no money is thought to have changed hands and planning documents have since been lodged by a company linked to the Guryev family.

Now believed to be London’s most expensive house, valued at £300 million, the mansion has 65 rooms spread across three floors, including 25 bedrooms. One of the largest is the ballroom, measuring 70 feet long and 20 feet high.

Guryev is said to be worth $6 billion. He has not faced any sanctions but his son, also Andrey Guryev, has been sanctioned by the EU.

Beechwood House

Beechwood House, Hampstead Lane, Highgate

Beechwood House, Hampstead Lane, Highgate - Credit: Nigel Sutton

There is another large, hidden house in Highgate, but not on the grand scale that is Witanhurst.

You may not be aware of Beechwood House, although you may have noticed its unremarkable entrance on Hampstead Lane.

Built in 1840, the house is set in 11 acres of the former Fitzroy House, overlooking Kenwood House, and also with a large lake at the far end of the estate.

In 2008, Alisher Usmanov, an Uzbek businessman and Russian Oligarch, today worth an estimated $18 billion, purchased Beechwood House for £48 million.

Usmanov sold his major shareholding in Arsenal Football Club in 2018. Everton, another club where he had interests, recently suspended its links with him.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Usmanov has been sanctioned by the UK, the EU and the US. The UK government said he has "close links to the Kremlin". 

Athlone House in Highgate, by Hampstead Heath

Athlone House in Highgate, by Hampstead Heath - Credit: Simon Crow

Athlone House

Athlone House is located on high ground between Beechwood House and Kenwood House.

Originally known as Caen Wood Towers, the house was built around 1870 for MP Edward Brooke. It was then owned, in turn, by several industrialists before being requisitioned during WWII to become the RAF Intelligence School. It operated under the guise of an RAF convalescence hospital, remaining an official secret until 2005. 

In 1951, the site became a real convalescent home, under the Middlesex Hospital, and was renamed Athlone House in 1955. 

The house was then sold in 2006 to a Kuwaiti businessman family for a reported £16 million. Planners repeatedly denied the Kuwaiti family’s request to build a new mansion in its place, after they were opposed by 5,000 people including Monty Python legend and Highgate resident Terry Gilliam.

The current owner and Russian oligarch, Mikhail Fridman, purchased Athlone House in 2016 for £65 million. With extensive business interests, Fridman’s net worth is reportedly $15 billion. He made his fortune under Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin.

Athlone House is now Fridman’s main home. “I am good at making money but not at spending it, so I don’t have cars, houses, boats and other things,” he once told the Ham&High.

Fridman is now subject to sanctions by the UK and the EU, which said he "supported actions or policies which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine".

Athlone House in Highgate, by Hampstead Heath

Athlone House in Highgate, by Hampstead Heath - Credit: Simon Crow