Don’t attack the block – life inside Hitler’s favourite South London landmark

Du Cane Court from Balham High Road

Much of London was reduced to rubble during the Second World War by hundreds of German V2 bombs, but one of the city’s largest art deco buildings escaped unscathed.

Theories have been put forward as to why this was the case, but many believe that Du Cane Court in Balham High Road had been earmarked as Hitler’s future London headquarters had the Nazis invaded.

Others thought the distinctive shape of the building meant that it was used as a navigational aid by German pilots on their way to devastate every borough in London during their relentless bombing campaign.

Now a new online project called Under the Same Roof and set-up by home furniture website www.made.com, gives outsiders the chance to take a look inside the block, learn about its quirky features, see its unique decor and meet its current residents.

Construction of the 676-strong apartment building began in 1935 and, at the time, it was said to be one of the largest privately-owned apartment blocks in Europe.

Designed by George Kay Green, it was named after the Du Cane family who originally owned the plot of land on which it was built.

The architects are likely to have anticipated the threat of global conflict as every flat originally came equipped with a built-in radio. During the Second World War, the building’s manager is said to have used the system to scold those failing to adhere to blackout rules with announcements such as: “Du Cane Court calling. Du Cane Court calling. A flat on the second floor in H-block has the light on, and the blackout curtains are not drawn.”

The complex has hardly changed since and visitors passing through Du Cane Court’s foyer are greeted with numerous examples of art deco architecture.

And the time warp extends into the building’s corridors, which connect each of the structure’s sections and still feature unmolested and subtle hints to the period in which it was designed.

Du Cane Court also challenged the conventions of most large communal residential builds by including a restaurant, bar, billiard room, card room and roof garden, all on the seventh floor. Although it escaped the efforts of the Luftwaffe – and a serious fire in 1945 – the Du Cane Court Club closed in the 1960s and it was converted into apartments.

Nuno Vieira, 36, who moved into the building after buying a one-way ticket to London from Portugal, said he was attracted to Du Cane court by its quirky design.

He said: “I was born and raised in Braga, a small town in north-west Portugal. When I was 23, I bought a one-way ticket to London and today I work in peer-to-peer lending.

“I am a great lover of architecture, and I became fascinated by Du Cane Court after hearing some of the curious stories about the block. When I viewed this flat it was like travelling back in time and I knew that I had to buy it.”

Over the years the complex has housed several big names, including actress Dame Margaret Rutherford DBE, who featured in the original St Trinians, The Lady Vanishes and a number of Miss Marple-inspired films.

Dame Margaret was recognised for her work in her role as the Duchess of Brighton in the 1963 blockbuster The VIPs, receiving an Oscar and a Golden Globe – both for Best Supporting Actress.

Seemingly popular with the acting community, Hermione Gingold also took up residence in the block for a time. Gingold was also awarded a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress – this time for her role as Madame Alvarez in the 1958 film, Gigi.

And Fulham Football Club chairman, comedian and actor, Tommy Trinder CBE, also took up residence in Du Cane Court for at least 16 years.

Current tenants include comedian Arthur Smith and actor-director Christopher Luscombe.

See https://www.made.com/under-the-same-roof/