Inside London’s Billionaires Row: The cavernous mansion once owned by the Saudi royal family, left to rot, and now home to squatters and dead mice

The Towers. CNN
  • London’s most notorious pocket of luxury real estate is a mile-long road of mansions known as “Billionaires Row.” It has a reputation for money, scandal, murder, and secrecy.
  • The Towers is the largest mansion ont he road, and is now rotten, overgrown, and falling apart.
  • It was once owned by actress Gracie Fields. Saudi royals bought it in 1989, but never seem to have showed up. It has stood derelict for years.
  • This post is part of an interactive Insider series profiling Billionaires Row.

The largest, most secretive, and most imposing property on The Bishops Avenue – known better as London’s Billionaires Row – is The Towers. Even though it is falling apart.

The mansion was one of 10 homes on the road bought by the Saudi royal family in 1989, against a tense geopolitical backdrop that would result in Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War.

The Towers cost then-ruler King Fahd £25 million ($US40 million,) less than half the original asking price, and was built on part of the site of the mansion of British actress Gracie Fields.

53 The Bishops Avenue
One side of 53 The Bishops Avenue. INSIDER/Bill Bostock

Fields’ old house was knocked down, and replaced with an L-shaped redbrick mansion, which rises up behind two huge roadside iron gates which swing off mock-Tudor pillars topped with lanterns.

Official for the local government, Barnet Council, said in 1991 that The Towers was “too theatrical for some” and sat at a “cocky angle to the street scene.”

30 years after King Fahd’s purchase, the house and its grounds are deep in the grip of decay.

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Gracie Fields’ mansion on the site of the current ‘The Towers’ mansion in the 1930s. The Dame Gracie Fields Appreciation Society

The Saudi royals never came. In 2013 the property was sold on to Birch Ventures Limited, a shell company based on the tax haven of the Isle of Man.

In its long abandonment, The Towers became a target for squatters, who moved in, posted a notice on the door setting out their rights, and changed the locks.

One of the squatters who hopped the fence was Chris Coates, who spoke to Insider about taking over the ruined mansion.

The Towers 53 The Bishops Avenue.
Gates block the driveway to ‘The Towers’ at 53 The Bishops Avenue INSIDER/Bill Bostock

“There were boxes of personal possessions from whoever had lived there, I mean it was huge,” Coates said.

“To me it felt like camping out in the wild, it had such a huge garden.”

“We were told it had been empty since pre-war times and it felt like that. There wasn’t any furniture in it, or anything, I remember we slept in one big room on mattresses.”

Wildlife begins to reclaim the gates outside The Towers. INSIDER/Bill Bostock

“From the stuff we found it felt like they were socialites living between the wars – there were invitations to garden parties and the like.”

Coates and his companions were kicked out by police after a month, and moved into Kingsdene, one of three other empty houses on the same road.

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The lobby of the The Towers rots away behind the double front doors. INSIDER

The house was a base for members of the The Children of God church (later known as The Family International), which is widely described as a cult.

According to Coates, police told the squatters that cult members who lived at Kingsdene had been arrested for running a rental TV scam.

The Family International confirmed to Insider that members did indeed live at three houses on Hampstead Lane in 1975, but said they had no records of the alleged scam.

The Towers
A sign warning trespassers to expect dogs behind The Towers’ fences. INSIDER/Bill Bostock

The scene inside The Towers in modern times tells a story of neglect, and vast wealth.

YouTuber and urban explorer David Cripps sneaked into The Towers in 2018. Here’s what he found:

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Moss can be seen covering the floors, while plants and shrubs grow out of cracks in the spiral staircase and walls. Damp seeps into every inch.

An empty swimming pool, at its centre a column which once supported a desert island, amplifies the smallest sounds. Skeletons of pigeons, rats, and mice litter the floor.

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The empty swimming pool room at The Towers. INSIDER/David Cripps

A 2014 video shot inside The Towers by the Guardian showed a consignment of unopened bullet-proof glass propped against a wall, a relic of the Gulf War era.

LJ Capital, a firm which runs Birch Ventures Limited, the current owners, declined to comment to Insider.