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  • Writer's pictureRock Tour London

Hey, a guitar god lives, right now

I had spent a very long day doing a lot of walking and searching out rock and roll places in the Kensington neighborhood of West London. My intension was to make Garden Lodge (Freddie Mercury's house) my last stop when I thought, "Oh, I'm close, maybe just one more." So, I ventured on the extra ten minutes and arrived Tower House with just enough daylight left to get a couple of decent pictures.

Look, I'm a rock and roll fan and not at all versed in art or architecture but Tower House is so cool I figured it deserved a bit of research effort. Stay with me folks, there's really rock and roll stuff here too.

William Burges considered himself a self styled "art architect." He was well traveled, meticulous about research and detail and was uncompromising in his use of materials when he designed and built Tower House between 1875 and 1881. It has been written that everything he'd ever learned and loved went into this building since he was creating it as his own home. The house is crammed full of intricate mosaics, elaborate carvings, stained glass windows in every room, and friezes and frescoes (which I thought were the same thing...again, I'm just a music junkie, so forgive me). Burges died in the home only three years after moving in.

The house has had many owners and has undergone renovations many times over the years.

In 1969, the Irish actor, Richard Harris (whose last role before his death in 2002 was to portray Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies) read in the newspaper that Liberace had intended to buy the place but failed to make the required deposit on his offer in time. Harris bought it the next day for a £75K claiming, even years later, it was the best gift he'd ever given himself. He, too, did a major renovation keeping true to Burges' original design.

In his autobiography, English actor the late Danny LaRue, described having toured the house with Liberace and said, "It was a strange building and had eerie murals painted on the ceiling...I sensed evil." Richard Harris told LaRue later that he felt the house was haunted by ghosts of children he believed from an orphanage that had once occupied the premises. He kept the ghosts happy by buying them toys.

In 1972, Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page, bought the house from Harris for £375K after outbidding David Bowie for it. Page has painstakingly preserved the integrity of Tower House over the years. (I mean, that has to be quite the feat considering it's not like you can just throw some paint on the walls). Jimmy is so protective of its interiors and sensitivity to vibration that he only plays acoustic guitar in the house, never throws parties and has no television. He's a rockstar, guitar god and only plays acoustic in the place...that's some serious love for his house, right there.

Well, then pop star Robbie Williams bought the place next door. Page successfully thwarted Robbie's extensive renovation plans for an underground excavation to build a basement in his new place. Page claimed such work would threaten the structure of Tower House. The battles between the neighbors (as well as some rather public name calling by one party) continued to be seen in Britain's tabloids for years afterward. My take on the whole thing: It seems the Zeppelin megastar bought a house from Dumbledore and is now fighting with Draco Malfoy over a pool.

While I was standing out front snapping pictures, a guy walked by with his freshly purchased coffee and said, "taking pictures of Jimmy Page's house, huh?" I said, "Yeah, and it looks like he's home. It would be rude not to knock, don't you think? You do it. I'll wait here." (since I was tired from all that walking, and all). He just laughed and continued on his way. Come on, you can't blame a girl for trying, right?

If you're interested in the places I checked out prior to Tower House in Kensington, take a look at our video tour The Stories of Some Kensington (and a couple of other) Places

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