It might appear to some as a vapid puff of ‘vanity publishing’, but this sumptuous volume tells an absorbing story spread over 300 years of property management in one of the most famous and fashionable districts of anywhere in the world. Cadogan owns 93 acres of London, a smallholding compared to the Grosvenor Estates, which has 300 acres, mostly in the dark blue squares on the Monopoly board, worth at least £10 billion, and the Crown Estates, which spans 265 acres, worth, who knows, anything in excess of £6 billion. The Cadogan story really takes off with the appearance of Sir Hans Sloane. He was a physician, a botanist, an entrepreneur and an avid collector of plants, curiosities and antiquities. Sloane himself imported the bark of the Peruvian tree Cinchona as a cure for malaria, and the active ingredient, quinine, is still used to save millions of lives. He also imported cocoa, from which he made hot chocolate and a small fortune. From its beginnings in 1673, Chelsea Physic Garden was run by the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries, where they grew their medicinal herbs, to the time when he bought the Manor of Chelsea in 1712 for £7000, which included the four acre Garden, and, by way of thanks to the Apothecaries who had trained him as botanist, he rented the four acre site to them in perpetuity for the modest sum of five pounds per annum. Sloane had no sons, but one of his daughters Elizabeth married into the Cadogan family, while her older sister Sarah married George Stanley, represented today by the Sloane Stanley Estate, another Chelsea landowner, particularly along the King’s and Fulham Roads.
After Sloane died in 1753, at the remarkable age of 92, his collection of books and manuscripts, prints and drawings, coins, antiquities, mathematical instruments and specimens of plants and animals, were sold to the nation for £20,000, a tiny fraction of their true worth. Most of these formed the nucleus of what is now the British Museum. John Julius Norwich, who wrote the history at the beginning of the book, omits to mention that the remainder of his collection formed the basis for the Natural History Museum. The two sisters continued to lease and develop land stretching from Knightsbridge down to just south of what is now Sloane Square, with the help of a young architect Henry Holland, and a landscape gardener, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The text continues down a conventional ‘historical’ path, with a plethora of names and dates, taking in the building of the Embankment and sewers by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, and the arrest of Oscar Wilde in the Cadogan Hotel for ‘acts of gross indecency’. The story of ‘Chelsea in Two World Wars’ is ably told by John Simpson, the world affairs editor at the BBC, with some extraordinary photos and graphics from the archives. Other chapters include those featuring retail, the Chelsea Flower Show, fashion on the King’s Road, architecture, the arts and a glimpse into the future role of the Cadogan Estate by Viscount Chelsea. He lists the achievemnets of his father, the eighth Earl Cadogan, who succeeded to the title and inherited the estate in 1997. including the establishment of Cadogan Hall, the development of Duke of York Square and the Saatchi Gallery, as well as his discreet philanthropy.
Cadogan is freeholder of both Harvey Nichols, which pays £3.5 million a year in rent on its 30-year lease, and Peter Jones, which pays a fixed rent of just £6,000 a year in perpetuity, which must rankle a tad, but probably not as much as the five pounds that the Physic Garden cheerfully hands over each year to the Estate.