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Back in the 90s and Noughties, a development of luxury flats namde Princess Park Manor played home to bands like Girls Aloud, Sugababes and McFly.
The glam residents and glitzy furnishings hid an interesting secret – it was once Britain’s largest mental asylum.
Chatting on White Wine Question Time, Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh revealed how she and her former band mates all lived in the development when they were starting out in their careers.
“There's a crew of people that kind of just know each other a bit, because we just used to cross paths so much,” Kimberley said.
“We all used to live in the same place as well. We all used to live in this mental hospital. All of us, like all these pop bands at the same time. McFly were there for a bit. We lived there… The Sugababes, JLS for a bit.”
Recalling her time in the luxury block of flats in New Southgate, Middlesex, Kimberley said it was a great place to live as there was always someone to hang out with.
She said: “It was a fun time in a way, because if you all got back on the side of Saturday night and everyone was still ready carrying on then just pick someone's flat and carry on there. I went to a party Mcfly's once. I can't remember what it was in aid of!”
A fascinating history
For the previous residents of Princess Park Manor, things probably weren’t quite as fun.
Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, as it was once known, was opened in 1851 as the second asylum for ‘paupers’ in Middlesex.
At one point it held 2,500 patients and had the longest corridor of any British mental institution – it could take up to two hours to walk the wards. The asylum was so famous in its day that the term ‘Colney Hatch’ became a synonym for anything unusual or irrational.
The first stone of the asylum was laid by Prince Albert in 1849 and the building cost a total of £300,000 to build – it was said to have been the most expensive asylum ever built in the UK. As well as the hospital, it also included its own water supply, a chapel, cemetery, and a 75-acre farm estate.
Infamous inmates that were institutionalised at the hospital included Aaron Kosminski, a Jack the Ripper suspect, serial killer John Duffy and historian Barbara Taylor, who wrote about her experience in the book The Last Asylum: A Memoir Of Madness In Our Times.
A little bit of luxury
Fast forward to the mid-noughties and the new residents were famous, too – but for very different reasons. After the asylum finally closed in 1993, Comer Homes bought the place in 1995 and converted it into luxury flats.
Named after Princess Diana, who died in 1997, the property was sensitively developed into luxurious accommodation that includes a tennis court, swimming pool and acres of private parkland.
Caroline Comer, Sales and Marketing Director at Comer Homes explains that it’s always important to think about the old and unique features of a building when developing an old property. “We specialise in refurbishing old buildings as it is quite tricky,” she says. “You have to maintain the old features, while making sure it’s brought into the modern day.”
Their most recent development, Royal Connaught Park in Bushey, Hertfordshire, was an old boys’ school and more recently the set for many movies – including Harry Potter!
The development company have had a contract with SyCo, the company owned by Simon Cowell, for many years meaning many a burgeoning pop star have started their career living in Princess Park Manor.
While Caroline can’t reveal exactly who else has lived there, she does say that residents have included footballers, Hollywood movie stars and basketball players, as well of course as pop stars.
One Direction moved in after their time on The X Factor and Caroline recalls the hoards of young girls who would turn up for a glimpse of their idols.
“We had to get extra security!” she says. “Bus-loads of girls would turn up, some from China. They’d also use our office to keep warm or get a cup of tea!”
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Izzy Judd, who appeared alongside Kimberley on White Wine Question Time, knows this only too well from her time of living at Princess Park Manor. She had just started dating McFly drummer Harry Judd and used to see girls hanging around the flats every day.
“I just remember in the morning the boys [McFly] would go to work and there'd be sort of few girls hanging about and I'd be like 'Do you need a lift to the station?',” she said. “I'd take all these random girls!”
Not quite London bound!
While the development is in easy reach of London, Kimberley believes that all the young pop stars were homed there due to its out-of-town location.
“I think they put us all out there because it was out of town so we couldn't be too wild,” she laughed. “I didn't really know where it was because I wasn't from London. I was like 'Oh this could be London for all I know'. Now, I’m like no, they've definitely kept us out of town!”
The luxury flats, which Zoopla values from £650,000 upwards, weren’t just a party pad. Romance also blossomed there. Izzy Judd moved in with Harry pretty much after first meeting him and Ashley Cole met Cheryl there in 2004, while playing tennis in the grounds.
Kimberley said it would be fun to all get back together again. “We should organise like - instead of a school reunion - just a reunion of whatever that little time was,” she told podcast host Kate Thornton. “Get them all back!”
Hear Kimberley Walsh and Izzy Judd talk about being in the spotlight, mum guilt and when they were last really courageous on the latest episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen now on iTunes and Spotify.