When Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding needed an HQ for Fighter Command at the start of the Second World War, he chose Bentley Priory, an 18th-century mansion set in 57 acres on the northwestern fringe of London at Stanmore. He liked its elevated position and sweeping views of the capital.
From 1940, Fighter Command co-ordinated the efforts of its 3,000 pilots from Bentley Priory, as they fought and eventually won the Battle of Britain.
Two Spitfires and a museum on the estate commemorate that victory and they, plus a pretty orangery, will be retained as the house is turned into grand flats. Houses built in the grounds will bring the total of new homes to 113.
The first homes will be carved from the mansion and will be ready later this year. The job is being done by conversion specialist builder City & Country, a company with a long list of heritage conversions in rural and semi-rural settings to its name. It will restore much of the period architecture and create homes using well-conceived plans for modern interior design.
Before its service with the RAF, the priory housed a girls' school. Before that, it was home to John Hamilton, 1st Marquess of Abercorn and later to the Dowager Queen Adelaide, queen consort of William IV.
Its future occupants will live in apartments that range up to a spacious 2,500sq ft, with mezzanines, double-height reception rooms, tall windows and roof terraces. One flat will be created in a clock tower, while a new glass lift is being installed to maximise the vista towards St Paul's Cathedral.
Sold by the Ministry of Defence two years ago, the mansion remains remarkably intact despite the Luftwaffe's best efforts.
"There's real appetite now for these sorts of homes because they've got genuine wow factor and cachet," says City & Country managing director Tim Sargeant.
"Bentley Priory is an extremely significant British landmark with huge historical importance." The homes are expected to strike a chord with downsizers looking for something a bit different. Stanmore, known for its prosperous Jewish and Asian communities, has plenty of trophy neo-mansions but lacks high-quality apartments. To register, call 01279 817882.