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  • Jeanne Loganbill

IBV International Vaults: Creating a modern fortress under Park Lane



London is a city made of layers, the leftover remnants of one era overlaid with those of another. Everywhere you look, there are memories hidden in plain sight. Park Lane, for example, used to be the most fashionable street in the city, with aristocrats, industrialists and art collectors vying for homes along the leafy thoroughfare.  


Now, just two of the original Victorian townhouses along the lane survive: Dudley House and Stanhope House. From the outside, both buildings look much the same as they did 100 years ago. However, one of them holds a very modern secret...


The rise of Park Lane 

“There were ten houses running all the way from Marble Arch to Hyde Park Corner,” says IBV International Vaults managing director Sean Hoey, “and Stanhope Gate – which is the road next to us – was one of the entrances to the park.” 


It’s late spring, and we’re sitting in the heavily reinforced former basement of Stanhope House, drinking tea and talking about the origins of the building. 


Until the early 1800s, many homes on Park Lane were built with their backs facing the park. The lane was, after all, not much more than an unlit dirt track bordered by a wall.  


But then, in 1825, a series of improvements to Hyde Park began. Its surrounding wall was torn down and replaced with ornate iron railings, revealing a beautiful view over the grass and trees.  


Suddenly, Park Lane became a fashionable place to build, and over the next few years, a row of increasingly lavish town homes sprang up, this time fronting the park. The most opulent buildings appeared from the middle of the century onward, beginning with Dorchester House in 1857. In response, many older buildings had their rear elevations refaced to match their grander neighbours.  


Meanwhile, more than 130 miles away in West Bromwich, production at Robert Spear Hudson’s Black Country dry soap factory had begun to exceed its capacity. Thirty years earlier, he'd started the business by grinding soap bars into powder with a pestle and mortar in the back room of his High Street shop. Soon, it would be time to relocate the main works to Liverpool.  


Hudson’s Soap flourished in the late Victorian era, driven by the demand for its product and bolstered by an extraordinary amount of advertising. When Hudson died unexpectedly in 1884, his son, Robert William Hudson, took over the business. 


In 1899, the younger Hudson approached architects W. H. Romaine-Walker and Francis Besant, commissioning a Gothic-style London home for his growing family. Stanhope House, named after the adjacent Stanhope Gate, would sit directly across the road from 25 Park Lane, an impressive 13,000-square-foot mansion built a few years earlier for British diamond magnate Barney Barnato.


Carriages travelling along East Carriage Drive in Hyde Park, with 25 Park Lane in the foreground and Stanhope House in the distance.
Carriages travelling along Park Lane, with Dorchester House (later demolished to make way for the Dorchester Hotel) in the centre of the frame and Stanhope House on the right.

Roughly two years after its completion in 1901, Hudson left Stanhope House and moved to Marlow, where he was appointed High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. By 1960, Stanhope House, by then number 46 Park Lane, had become a branch of Barclays Bank.


The beginning of IBV International Vaults 

"I’ve had two jobs in my life,” says Hoey. "Harrods, and this one."


Hoey started his career at Harrods in menswear but soon found himself working in security. After a time, he ended up in the control room, which gave him an overview of the store's daily operations. Finally, he moved to the safe deposit department, where he took care of everything from customer collections to anti-money laundering policies.   


“The safe deposit department at Harrods originally opened in 1896. By the time I got there, some of the older systems needed upgrading,” explains Hoey. "So, that became a key part of my job.” 


One day in 2004, a man walked into Harrods and started asking pointed questions about the safe deposit. Hoey went down to meet him, and the customer introduced himself as Ashok Sewnarain.


“Ashok wanted to see what we were doing at Harrods before opening his own safe deposit in South Africa,” says Hoey. “He knew it was one of the most secure establishments in the world and wanted to implement similar cutting-edge systems down in Durban.” 


Hoey kept in touch with Sewnarain as IBV International Vaults expanded across the Republic. Eventually, Sewnarain hoped to open a facility in London, but it needed to be in the right location and at the right time. 


In 2016, Barclays Bank decided to close its branch in Park Lane. After inviting Hoey to view the bottom floor of Stanhope House, which included a 2,077-square-foot subterranean vault, Sewnarain secured the lease. Then, he suggested that Hoey think about working for IBV in London, and Hoey accepted.


Transforming Number 46 

“We got the building in June 2017 and began construction in January 2018,” says Hoey. “It took more than two years to finish the renovation and open the vault.” 


First, the old safes had to come out. To accomplish that feat, the refurbishment team cut a very large hole in the floor and winched the cabinets out one at a time. Then, they stripped the basement back to bare bones. 


The walls weren’t straight and there were pillars in odd places, making the project more complicated than expected.  


"When Barclays moved in after the Second World War, they tore out all the original features down here, so we could peel everything back and start with a blank slate,” explains Hoey. “However, the majority of the building is listed, so we carefully restored the oak panelling and the ceiling upstairs.” 


Indeed, the ground floor is a beautiful reminder of a gilded age, with intricately carved woodwork in every available space. To the right is an ornate fireplace, to the left an equally exquisite office and in the corner, the entrance to the basement. Its contrast with the space below couldn't be more striking. 


“The Hatton Garden robbery took place shortly before we moved in, and obviously, we had to prevent anything like that happening,” says Hoey. “So, we decided to line the vault on all sides with ten-inch-thick steel, which you can see under the bottom step over there.” 


Hoey gestures at a gleaming stair, capped with a tile, which sits near Barclays’ rather impressive original vault door. These days, the three-tonne Chubb door sits open, an ornamental reminder of old-world security.

Barclays' original three-tonne Chubb door at IBV International Vaults in London.
Barclays' original three-tonne Chubb door at IBV International Vaults in London.

The steel lining in question came down through the hole in the floor in long, rectangular sections. Each piece had an overlap, fitting snugly next to its neighbour before being welded in place. Next, the team built flood, vibration and intruder sensors into every surface. Two custom-made Robur doors were installed to divide the vault into sections and bulletproof glass finished the reinforced concrete "man trap" next to the control centre.


“We don't have gun crime in London like we do in South Africa," says Hoey, “but this glass is the same kind we use down there – it can withstand continuous fire from an AK47.” 


High-grade security, it seems, comes as standard regardless of the vault location at IBV.


“Ashok did a lot of research before opening his first vault,” explains Hoey. “He flew around the world to gather information about the best doors, safes, alarms, CCTV and so on. He’s taken the same approach to security with every new IBV site.”


Combining beauty and innovation 

There’s no doubt about it: the ground floor and the vault at 46 Park Lane are both beautiful. They juxtapose the old world with the new, blending gorgeous early 20th-century craftsmanship with ultra-modern metal and glass.   


“This is unquestionably the most secure vault in the country,” says Hoey. “No other place in London changes the locks each time a new client takes a safe.” 


IBV's smallest safes come with £100,000 complimentary insurance. Larger safes, and even entire rooms, are also available. Individuals can buy gold bullion and diamonds – some weighing more than five carats – directly from the firm and insure extremely valuable objects for up to £100 million.   


Instead of a two-key system, IBV combines a biometric key – iris or fingerprint scanning – with a physical key. Clients hold the only physical keys, and their biometric markers are checked twice before they’re even allowed into the basement vault. 


“Most safe deposits in London have one monitoring station,” says Hoey, “but we have four. We use multi-tiered security rather than putting all our eggs in one basket.”


A view from the "man trap" at IBV International Vaults in London, looking into the vault.
A view from the "man trap" at IBV International Vaults in London, looking into the safe room.

During the day, security personnel at the vault’s internal control room monitor everything and everyone. Meanwhile, two additional UK-based remote stations watch from afar. Finally, the company’s South African security centre observes every global IBV site from a central location. Between state-of-the art movement detectors, CCTV and ultra-sensitive alarms, IBV International Vaults on Park Lane is a modern fortress.


A legacy of excellence 

Big things spring from the kernel of an idea. In Robert William Hudson’s case, innovation began with a bar of coarse soap and matured into a magnificent Gothic mansion in the middle of London. Having conquered the New Zealand and Australian markets, Hudson sold his business to Lever Brothers just seven years after Stanhope House was built, cementing his family’s industrial legacy. 


Standing outside the building now, one can imagine Hudson walking up the sandstone steps to secure a safe in the basement of what was once his family home. After all, he’d represent the exact type of client IBV International Vaults was made for.

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Explore the unparalleled security and premium service IBV International Vaults offers at any of its ten global locations. Discover more or schedule a tour online today. 

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