Take a look
For the first time, London’s main West End squares have been classified according to rateable value (open market rental value).
Berkeley Square (£72.49 RV/sq ft)
Famous for its plane trees and that endlessly chirping nightingale (has anyone called Environmental Health?), the 1,017,713 sqft Berkeley Square used to be principally residential but these days there’s just one residential block. Perhaps the 18th-century square’s most notorious residents were the Maggs Brothers, booksellers (of Maggs Brothers Antiquarian Booksellers) who reportedly bought the penis of Napoleon Bonaparte. The site of the booksellers is considered to be haunted. The pound’s probably worth the same as it was then so as long as they’re paying, who’s bothered? Aviva’s offices command the highest RV/sq ft at £93.12.
St James’s Square (£72.09 RV/sq ft)
Perhaps London’s grandest, St James’s Square is surrounded by one of the highest concentrations of listed buildings in England. It was built in 1660 after the restoration of Charles II and was home to seven dukes and seven earls during the 1720s. A statue of William III was erected in 1807. The HQs of large corporations now surround the square but St James Property Investment premises steal the show at £100.91 RV/sq ft.
Portman Square (£71.90 RV/sq ft)
Portman Square in Marylebone was built by Henry William Portman and his son Edward in 1764. It’s now part of the Portman Estate, which comprises 110 acres of London land. Rumour has it that in the 19th century sick children were lowered over the railings of Portman Square for some fresh air away from the cloying fog. Famous resident Alexander Hamilton (d. 1852) had himself mummified after his death. Supposedly, he didn’t fit into his especially imported sarcophagus so his feet had to be chopped off. We haven’t calculated the rateable value of his tomb but if you put in a mezzanine it could make a decent modern London family residence. Rateable values in Portman Square rock up to a whopping £90.90 RV/sq ft.
Leicester Square (£68.69 RV/sq ft)
Until the end of the 17th Century, Leicester Square was a popular place for duelling. An early map also suggests that it was also a popular place for drying clothes with women laying the clothing out while cows grazed nearby. The square was considerably refurbished for the 2012 Olympics, a project which cost more than £15m to complete. Next time you’re tucking into your Yates’ burger, have a think at the £122.21 RV/sq ft your chair is sitting in.
Hanover Square (£59.50 RV/sq ft)
Now home to Vogue’s London office, Hanover Square was named after King George I, elector of Hanover. The Square is home to Regency London’s most fashionable church, St George’s, which boasted Handel as one of its parishioners and played host to the weddings of architect John Nash and entertainer Joseph Grimaldi. The square’s bronze statue of William Pitt the Younger was erected in 1831, surviving an attempt by Reform Bill agitators to tear it down at its unveiling.
Manchester Square (£57.46 RV/sq ft)
Despite being one of better-preserved Georgian squares in central London, perhaps its most iconic image is the one on the cover of the Beatles’ 1963 album Please Please Me, which shows the band looking over the stairwell of EMI’s London HQ, which at the time was situated at No. 20. Dozens of enduring musical pictures have been taken against the front of the building over the years.
Grosvenor Square (£47.25 RV/sq ft)
This square needs little introduction. Although it was actually designed as an oval, it’s the Daddy of all the squares and home to the Duke of Westminster’s Mayfair property, from whose surname it takes its title. During WWII, the square was home to Eisenhower’s military headquarters, earning it the nickname “Eisenhower Platz”. In the early 1940s, like many of London’s squares, the iron railings were removed to support the war effort.
Soho Square (£43.41 RV/sq ft)
“Hear them down in Soho Square, dropping aitches everywhere,” goes the song from the musical My Fair Lady. Not so many aitches being dropped these days, with it being one of the most desirable places to live in town. The square dates back to 1681 and was originally called King Square after Charles II, whose statue stands there. In the late 1700s and early 1800s the square housed the infamous “high-class” White House Brothel, known for its lavishly decorated rooms.
Trafalgar Square (£41.15 RV/sq ft)
Trafalgar Square is perhaps most famous for Nelson’s Column, 17 bus routes and considerably fewer pigeons than there used to be, thanks to 2003’s mayoral efforts. Shops and premises under Trafalgar Square Management’s ownership have a higher rateable value than the Queen’s properties, at £51.75 RV/sq ft, compared with £33.29.
Cavendish Square (£38.81 RV/sq ft)
Now home to the Royal College of Nursing, Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith lived at 20 Cavendish Square for eight years. The square was also home to the capital’s first blue plaque, awarded to Lord Byron’s birthplace on Holles St in 1867 (however, this was later destroyed). Surprisingly, John Lewis’s rateable value here is lower (£19.20 RV/sq ft) than The King’s Fund (£49.44).
Shape of things to come?
Mark Bruno, UK MD of Datscha, the prop tech platform which reveals the most comprehensive data on the ultimate owners of UK commercial property says, “Business rates remains a predominant issue in the West End, further effects of which are expected after the 2017’s rates are released in the spring. Unfortunately, we will continue to see an exodus of independent leisure businesses which have dotted squares and streets of the West End for generations. They simply cannot afford the rents and rates like they once could. On the other hand, the success of some of the larger chains (think Cote, Bills, Byron, for example, among many others) and their larger procurement power, has allowed these chains to occupy top spots on the West End’s squares and surrounding streets. These fast-growth leisure businesses are attractive to freeholders as they’re able to make long term rent commitments. Our hope though is that freehold owners of these iconic squares will find a compromise by keeping independent businesses (occupiers) to preserve the soul of the West End rather than become a generic gentrified high street.”