The BBC is selling off a 115,000 square foot Victorian stately home (largely designed by the architect behind London’s Tower Bridge) and its 93-acre estate near Reading, with a view to either residential or commercial development.
Caversham Park is currently home to BBC Monitoring – which keeps tabs on news from around the world in more than 100 languages – and Radio Berkshire; both are relocating as the broadcaster looks to modernise its entire estate.
Now Lambert Smith Hampton has been appointed to find a buyer, with Philip Hunter taking the lead; the firm is pitching the site as a development opportunity for resi and/or commercial use.
A grand house has been on the Caversham Park site since at least Norman times, showing up in the Domesday Book as a 2,400-acre estate worth £20, and passing to the Earl of Pembroke and Protector of the Realm, in the late 12th century. A fortified manor house was replaced in the late 1500s by a Sir Francis Knollys – Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I – and the house was later used as very swish prison for Charles I during the Civil War.
The Elizabethan pile was demolished in the 1660s, and eventually found its way into the hands of the 1st Earl Cadogan, who set about building something rather grand with gardens to rival Blenheim Palace in 1718. That project burned down in the late 18th Century, to be replaced by a (relatively) more modest proposition, which was extended and embellished before also burning down in 1850.
The current iteration of Caversham Park is an Italianate stately designed by Horace Jones – who went on to design Tower Bridge in London – for iron baron William Crawshay II. Unusually for the time, the grand house is built over an iron frame, which Jones inserted between two sets of older colonnades which survived the 1850 fire.
The building was used as a convalescent home during the First World War, before being acquired by The Oratory School in 1923, and then going to the Beeb in the ’40s. Lands have been whittled down over time, with a 1,500-unit residential development known as Caversham Park Village popping up on the former grounds in the 1960s.
BBC Monitoring has been involved in a fair amount of geo-politics since it moved into Caversham in 1943, as well as more consumer-facing news-gathering; the organisation tapped Nazi communications during World War Two, gathered intel on Soviet happenings during the Cold War, and played a part in diffusing the Cuban Missile Crisis.
A BBC spokesperson: “Like any responsible organisation we are constantly reviewing our property portfolio.
“Cutting property costs is a key part of our strategy to provide maximum value for the licence fee.”