House for sale where police confronted KGB officers over Navy diver’s Cold War disappearance

A house that played a part in one of the biggest British spy mysteries of the Cold War has gone up for sale offering potential buyers the chance to own a unique slice of history.

Brankesmere, in Portsmouth, was the scene of a shadowy meeting between UK police and Russian secret agents amid a row over the disappearance of a Royal Navy diver.

Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb went missing in 1956 in Portsmouth Harbour while warships from the Soviet Union were moored there during a visit by then communist leader Nikita Khruschev.

Brankesmere, in Portsmouth, (pictured) was the scene of a shadowy meeting between UK police and Russian secret agents amid a row over the disappearance of a Royal Navy diver

Brankesmere, in Portsmouth, (pictured) was the scene of a shadowy meeting between UK police and Russian secret agents amid a row over the disappearance of a Royal Navy diver

Brankesmere, in Portsmouth, (pictured) was the scene of a shadowy meeting between UK police and Russian secret agents amid a row over the disappearance of a Royal Navy diver

Brankesmere, in the Southsea area of Portsmouth, has gone on the market for £1.95 million

Brankesmere, in the Southsea area of Portsmouth, has gone on the market for £1.95 million

Brankesmere, in the Southsea area of Portsmouth, has gone on the market for £1.95 million

The 4,000 sq ft, four-bedroomed, Grade II listed house is set in a walled garden in the city's Conservation Area and boasts its own swimming lake, cinema and gym

The 4,000 sq ft, four-bedroomed, Grade II listed house is set in a walled garden in the city's Conservation Area and boasts its own swimming lake, cinema and gym

The 4,000 sq ft, four-bedroomed, Grade II listed house is set in a walled garden in the city’s Conservation Area and boasts its own swimming lake, cinema and gym

Spycatcher Peter Wright later claimed that Crabb had been on an MI6 mission to inspect the propellor of one of the vessels and that he must have been caught and killed by Russian sailors.

Following his disappearance, local police officers were alleged to have torn out pages from the register of a city hotel where Crabb and his MI6 handler had stayed.

Amid an international dispute over Crabb’s fate – and whether he was on a secret mission – the Chief Constable of Hampshire met with members of the KGB to discuss the crisis. 

Spycatcher Peter Wright later claimed that Crabb had been on an MI6 mission to inspect the propellor of one of the vessels and that he must have been caught and killed by Russian sailors. Following his disappearance, local police officers were alleged to have torn out pages from the register of a city hotel where Crabb and his MI6 handler had stayed. (Imperial War Museum handout dated 1944 of Lieutenant Lionel 'Buster' Crabb, the officer in charge of the Underwater Working Party, pictured in Gibraltar). An inquest ruled that a headless body found in Chichester harbour was that of Crabb, though it had no access to modern day forensics such as DNA to establish this fact.

Spycatcher Peter Wright later claimed that Crabb had been on an MI6 mission to inspect the propellor of one of the vessels and that he must have been caught and killed by Russian sailors. Following his disappearance, local police officers were alleged to have torn out pages from the register of a city hotel where Crabb and his MI6 handler had stayed. (Imperial War Museum handout dated 1944 of Lieutenant Lionel 'Buster' Crabb, the officer in charge of the Underwater Working Party, pictured in Gibraltar). An inquest ruled that a headless body found in Chichester harbour was that of Crabb, though it had no access to modern day forensics such as DNA to establish this fact.

Lionel Crabb aka Buster Crabb (died April 1956) British Royal Navy frogman who vanished during a reconnaissance mission around a Soviet cruiser in 1956. Amid an international dispute over Crabb's fate - and whether he was on a secret mission - the Chief Constable of Hampshire met with members of the KGB to discuss the crisis at Brankesmere which served as the police HQ at the time

Lionel Crabb aka Buster Crabb (died April 1956) British Royal Navy frogman who vanished during a reconnaissance mission around a Soviet cruiser in 1956. Amid an international dispute over Crabb's fate - and whether he was on a secret mission - the Chief Constable of Hampshire met with members of the KGB to discuss the crisis at Brankesmere which served as the police HQ at the time

Spycatcher Peter Wright later claimed that Crabb (left and right) had been on an MI6 mission to inspect the propellor of one of the vessels and that he must have been caught and killed by Russian sailors. Following his disappearance, local police officers were alleged to have torn out pages from the register of a city hotel where Crabb and his MI6 handler had stayed.

That meeting took place at Brankesmere – then known as Byculla House – in the Southsea area of Portsmouth, which served as the police headquarters at the time.

And now the historic property has gone on the market for £1.95 million.

Colin Shairp, the director of Fine and Country Southern Hampshire estate agents, says it’s rare to discover a house that is both such a distinctive local landmark and has such rich history.

He said: ‘When it comes to Brankesmere there are features I have never seen during more than 35 years selling property (here)’.

The original property was built in 1896 and originally owned by the Brickwood family, the area's largest brewer and pub owner.

The original property was built in 1896 and originally owned by the Brickwood family, the area's largest brewer and pub owner.

The original property was built in 1896 and originally owned by the Brickwood family, the area’s largest brewer and pub owner.

Owner Sir John Brickwood was also chairman of Portsmouth Football Club when it was founded in 1898

Owner Sir John Brickwood was also chairman of Portsmouth Football Club when it was founded in 1898

Owner Sir John Brickwood was also chairman of Portsmouth Football Club when it was founded in 1898

During World War I the house was a Red Cross relief hospital before, in 1923, becoming Byculla School

During World War I the house was a Red Cross relief hospital before, in 1923, becoming Byculla School

During World War I the house was a Red Cross relief hospital before, in 1923, becoming Byculla School

After use as the temporary headquarters of the police forces, Hampshire County Council Social Services moved in and remained until 2004

After use as the temporary headquarters of the police forces, Hampshire County Council Social Services moved in and remained until 2004

After use as the temporary headquarters of the police forces, Hampshire County Council Social Services moved in and remained until 2004

It was subsequently bought by an architect and converted into three individual homes, of which Brankesmere is one

It was subsequently bought by an architect and converted into three individual homes, of which Brankesmere is one

It was subsequently bought by an architect and converted into three individual homes, of which Brankesmere is one

The 4,000 sq ft, four-bedroomed, Grade II listed house is set in a walled garden in the city’s Conservation Area and boasts its own swimming lake, cinema and gym.

The original property was built in 1896 and originally owned by the Brickwood family, the area’s largest brewer and pub owner.

Owner Sir John Brickwood was also chairman of Portsmouth Football Club when it was founded in 1898.

During World War I the house was a Red Cross relief hospital before, in 1923, becoming Byculla School.

After use as the temporary headquarters of the police forces, Hampshire County Council Social Services moved in and remained until 2004.

It was subsequently bought by an architect and converted into three individual homes, of which Brankesmere is one.

Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb: Frogman whose fate became one of the greatest Cold War mysteries

Lionel Buster Crabb was a Royal Navy frogman and commander whose disappearance is still one of the great unsolved Cold War mysteries. 

Crabb went missing in 1956 in Portsmouth Harbour while warships from the Soviet Union were moored there during a visit by then communist leader Nikita Khruschev.

Spycatcher Peter Wright later claimed that Crabb had been on an MI6 mission to inspect the propellor of one of the vessels.

Wright claimed he must have been caught and killed by Russian sailors.

Crabb’s body, minus his hands and head, was discovered floating in the sea months after his disappearance. 

Following his disappearance, local police officers were alleged to have torn out pages from the register of a city hotel where Crabb and his MI6 handler had stayed.  

Amid an international dispute over Crabb’s fate – and whether he was on a secret mission – the Chief Constable of Hampshire met with members of the KGB to discuss the crisis. The meeting took place at Brankesmere.

In 2007, Eduard Koltsov, 74, a retired Russian diver claimed he cut Crabb’s throat in an underwater fight after catching him placing a mine on a warship which was bringing Soviet leaders to Britain.

However his claims were dismissed as yet another cover-up by relatives of the dead man. 

In 2015 newly declassified Cabinet Office papers revealed the security services themselves believed Crabb could have been taken by the Soviets – dead or alive.

The disclosures will add fuel to theories that he was taken by the Soviets and that the body which washed up was a fake.

An inquest ruled that the headless body found in Chichester harbour was that of Crabb, though it had no access to modern day forensics such as DNA to establish this fact. 

 

  

 

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