Almost 300 years later Westcombe was still mainly farmland, and in 1774 a financier called John Julius Angerstein took a 99-year lease on some of it to establish a country retreat — he also owned a mansion on Pall Mall. Angerstein built a handsome Georgian villa and laid out some pleasure grounds. Mycenae Gardens and the Dell are all that remain of the parkland, but much of the villa, known as Woodlands, survives and now houses The Greenwich Steiner School, overlooking the gardens from the south.
John Julius was a towering figure. He was born of a clandestine affair in Russia in 1735, and there is convincing evidence his parents were a Briton, Andrew Poulett Thomson, and Empress Anne of Russia. John Julius came to London aged 15 and became a leading money man, a patron of the arts and a friend of Napoleon’s adversary, prime minister William Pitt. He is credited with founding the modern insurance industry by moving Lloyds of London away from the original Lloyd’s coffee house to the mercantile centre of the Royal Exchange in the very year that Woodlands was commissioned. It was one of the developments that helped make London a great world financial centre.
The owner of Mycenae Gardens and the Dell was also the owner of a stunning art collection, mainly kept in Pall Mall. When John Julius Angerstein died in 1823 the paintings were bought by the nation, the basis of the collection which became the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.