In 1924, Cumberland House on Pall Mall had been destroyed, Devonshire House on Piccadilly was being destroyed and Grosvenor House on Park Lane had three years until its destruction. The Georgian mansions of a golden century were torn down in the first decades of the twentieth, but also in 1924 a construction company was founded which has been building some of the mansions of our new golden age.
Walter Gent Lilly won a builder’s yard freehold in a card game in that year and for the next 30 years, he and then his son ran a bespoke joinery business (until the timber yard burnt down) and a construction business. The construction business has survived and indeed thrived in two divisions: ‘prestige projects’ and scientific labs for the likes of GSK.
Not that their success necessarily helped them. Other firms noticed this niche as wealth grew in London and crept (well, thundered) in. ‘It introduced a lot of unwanted attention from London’s general contractors,’ says MD Andrew Crispin, ‘who promised clients a quality project for less money in a shorter time than we knew was achievable.’
The market may now be crowded, but in their ninetieth year Walter Lilly still seem to have their share: recent projects include 45,000 sq ft Grade 2* single residence in Mayfair, a 27,000 sq ft refurbishment in Regent’s Park and a 25,000 sq ft new build in Hampstead.
Asked what he hopes to achieve in the next decade, before the company’s centenary, Crispin’s answer is modest verging on unadventurous: organic growth. Not too organic, presumably, as if plots of land start growing their own houses, that’ll be Walter Lilly out of a business.