“I wasn’t around in 1953!” quips Jonathan Hewlett, Chairman of The Private Office, when asked to compare prime property in London today and 70 years ago, at the time of Elizabeth II’s coronation. But Savills was – so we begin by considering which parts of the capital were “prime” back then. In 1953, the most desirable areas were “Mayfair, St James’s, Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Kensington and parts of Chelsea. SW10 and South Kensington would have been slightly edgy,” says Hewlett, using a word that in 1953 was just starting to acquire its current meaning. Notting Hill – where property today is so desirable – would have been off most buyers’ radar during this era, while Marylebone was yet to acquire the buzzy glamour we associate with it today.
London also looked very different 70 years ago. St Paul’s was still the tallest building in the city – so no starchitects’ skyscrapers, nor the residential towers that have sprung up lately everywhere from Vauxhall to Shoreditch. Instead, picture housing stock largely made up of Georgian and Victorian townhouses, as well as 20th-century mansion blocks – and, behind the bunting and flags, quite a few bombsites, like so many missing teeth on central streets and squares.