In 1975 there was a huge drama in the Wood, remembered by few 45 years on, over the conversion of part of this house into a school for the children of the staff of the Cuban Embassy. It started with a Planning application for permission to use the ground and first floors for school purposes, for a limited period until more suitable premises could be found.
The Application ran to 35 pages, supported by 15 photographs. It was opposed by neighbours like Sir Arthur Bliss, the Master of the Queen’s Musick, the novelist Olivia Manning and Kenneth (later Lord) Baker, then a parliamentary candidate for St Marylebone.
An enquiry was instituted by the Environment Minister, Anthony Crosland. Numerous protests were heard at the enquiry against the opening of a school in a £250,000 Victorian house. Among local residents at the Enquiry were Sir Desmond Plummer, chairman of the Horse Race Betting Levy Board and former chairman of the GLC who lived next door in Marlborough Place. Sir Desmond arrived with a plastic bag containing three footballs. Asked why residents were objecting to the school Sir Desmond held up the footballs and said he had brought them to show as things which had been kicked into his garden from the school.
The Enquiry received a report from an Inspector appointed for the purpose. The Inspector accused Westminster Council of going out of its way to offend the Cuban Government, and commented acidly on how they had felt able to approve the creation of the American School for 1500 students by the demolition of a number of houses in Loudoun Road. He was clearly minded to support the Cuban proposal, but felt constrained by the objections on the grounds of noise, so recommended its refusal.
Quite clearly there were political factors playing out in high places and the Minister, overruling the recommendations of his Inspector, granted the application, but limited to 14 months while the Embassy implemented its promise to find alternative premises.
Newspapers reporting this drama had headlines like “Frustrating, that’s the Cuba charade”, and “A London snub by Cuba”. The school was gone by the time the 14 months had expired.