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I’ve not decided what to do with it, says winner of Heath hermit land auction

First interview with man who outbid City of London and Heath and Hampstead Society

20 June, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

The land pictured while Harry Hallowes was living there

A PATCH of land next to Hampstead Heath – which famously became home to a man living in a handbuilt shack – has been sold for £154,000 after an auction room battle.

A New Journal exclusive revealed last month how the site claimed by Harry Hallowes – known as Harry the Hermit – through squatters’ rights was going under the hammer two years after his death. In his will, Mr Hallowes left the land to homeless charities Shelter and Centrepoint. On Monday, lawyer and property developer Kashif Chowan snapped up the plot at an auction at Grosvenor Square’s Marriott Hotel.

The Heath and Hampstead Society, to­gether with Heath custodians the City of London, had launched a joint competing bid on the auction room floor but pulled out of bidding at £152,000. Mr Chowan – whose father Mohamed became embroiled in a bidding war with the City and the society on his behalf – told the New Journal he knew the history of the land, once part of the gardens of Victorian mansion Athlone House, and the restrictions on what it might be used for.

He said: “I have not decided what to do with it yet – we were not expecting to win the auction.” Mr Chowan said he had been alerted to the auction by newspaper reports. Mr Hallowes’ unusual story inspired last year’s film Hampstead, starring Brendan Gleeson as a man living in a makeshift hut on the Heath.

Mr Hallowes told the New Journal in 2015 that he would never put anything more than “perhaps a caravan” on the site to keep the worst of the winter weather at bay – but never did. Mr Chowan added: “I had seen the film and I thought: why not? It isn’t something you often see for sale, and it isn’t rocket science – 7,000 square feet of land with a guide price of about £90,000 has to be interesting.”

The 30-year-old added that he had gone to look over his new patch yesterday (Wednesday). “I am just happy that the money I spent will be put to good use by Shelter and Centrepoint,” he said. “That was very much a motivating factor for me. It will help support their legal advice services. With my law background, that means so much and it links to Harry’s life as a squatter.”

Immediately after Mr Chowan won the auction, the Heath and Hampstead Society and City of London spoke with his father about reaching a deal to incorporate it into the Heath. The New Journal has learned both sides are open to further talks. Under a legal agreement drawn up in 1923 between the 6th Earl of Mansfield, whose family built Kenwood House, and Sir Robert Waley Cohen, who owned Athlone House, no building of any kind can be constructed in the gardens.

Harry ‘the Hermit’ Hallowes

This meant that even Mr Hallowes’ shack – consisting of a fire-stained brick wall, plastic sheeting and old doors – was technically illegal. Estate agents Savills had described the plot as “a unique, irregular-shaped site of approximately 7,000 square feet on Hampstead Heath, made famous through the film Hampstead”. Its brochure added that “the overgrown site” was “vacant” and that there may be “further potential”.

Auctioneer Russell Taylor opened the sale at £65,000 and bids went up in £5,000 blocks until they reached £100,000. Bids then went up by £2,000 until the society offered £152,000. That was topped again by Mr Chowan’s father – leaving the Chowans with the deeds to Harry’s patch.

Chair of the City’s Heath management committee Karina Dostalova said: “We are extremely disappointed. We will make sure the covenants are enforced. There will be no vehicle access, no utilities or underground facilities allowed. Our intentions are to protect it and have public access to it as green space.”

Marc Hutchinson, chair of the Heath and Hampstead Society, said: “We bid over £150,000 and are very disappointed to have been unsuccessful. Our aim was to always bring it back as public open space.”

A statement from the charities said: “Shelter and Centrepoint are pleased the land has sold at auction, which will allow us to carry out our vital work for homeless people – something Harry wanted to be his legacy.”

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