Peter Rachman (1919 – 29 November 1962) was a landlord in the Notting Hill area of London in the 1950s and early 1960s, who became notorious for his exploitation of his tenants. The word "Rachmanism" entered the Oxford English Dictionary as a synonym for the exploitation and intimidation of tenants.
Spouse: Audrey O'Donnell (1960–62, his death)
Early life and World War II
Rachman was born Perec Rachman in Lwów, Poland, in 1919, the son of a Jewish dentist. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Rachman may have joined the Polish resistance. He was first interned by the Germans and, after escaping across the Soviet border, was reinterned in a Soviet labour camp in Siberia and cruelly treated. After the Germans declared war on the Soviet Union in 1941, Rachman and other Polish prisoners joined the 2nd Polish Corps and fought on behalf of the Allies in the Middle East and Italy. After the war he stayed with his unit, which remained as an occupying force in Italy until 1946 when they transferred to Britain. Rachman was eventually demobilized in 1948 and became a British resident.
In Britain, Rachman built up a property empire in west London consisting of more than one hundred mansion blocks and several nightclubs. His office was at 91–93 Westbourne Grove, in Bayswater, and the first house he purchased and used for multi-occupation was nearby in now-fashionable St Stephen's Gardens, W2. In adjacent areas in Notting Hill (W11), including Powis Square, Powis Gardens, Powis Terrace, Colville Road and Colville Terrace, he also subdivided large properties into flats and let rooms, initially often for prostitution. Much of this area, south of Westbourne Park Road, having become derelict, was compulsorily purchased by Westminster City Council in the late 1960s and was demolished in 1973–74 to make way for the Wessex Gardens estate.
In order to maximise his rental income from the properties in Notting Hill, he is said to have driven out the—mostly white—sitting tenants, who had statutory protection against high rent increases, and then filled the properties with recent immigrants from the West Indies. New tenants did not have the same protection under the law as had the previous ones, and so could be charged any amount Rachman wished. Most of the new tenants were West Indian immigrants who had no choice but to accept the high rents, as it was difficult for them to obtain housing in London at the time. Indeed, Rachman's initial reputation, which he even promoted in the media, was as someone who could help to find and provide accommodation for immigrants.
According to his biographer, Shirley Green, parts of the traditional Rachman story, such as the use of violence to drive away the sitting tenants (described by the press as "Rachman Terror Tactics"), may be mythical. More devious methods may have been used, such as moving the protected tenants in a smaller concentration of properties or buying them out, in order to minimise the number of tenancies with statutory rent controls. Houses were also subdivided into a number of flats in order to increase the number of tenancies without rent controls.
By 1958 he had largely moved out of slum-landlording into property development, but his former henchmen, including the equally-notorious Michael de Freitas (aka Michael X/Abdul Malik), who created a reputation as a black-power leader, and Johnny Edgecombe, who became a promoter of jazz and blues, helped to keep him in the limelight. A special police unit was set up to investigate Rachman in 1959, and uncovered a network of 33 companies controlling his property empire. They also discovered Rachman was involved in prostitution and he was prosecuted twice for brothel-keeping.
Rachman did not achieve general notoriety until after his death, when the Profumo Affair of 1963 hit the headlines and it emerged that both Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies had been his mistresses, and that he had owned the mews house in Marylebone where Rice-Davies and Keeler had stayed. As full details of his activities were revealed, there was a call for new legislation to prevent such practices, led by Ben Parkin, MP for North Paddington, who coined the phrase "Rachmanism". The subsequent Rent Act 1965 gave security to tenants, but had the unintended consequence that private rented housing became scarce.
According to his biographer, Rachman was an intelligent man with a genial personality. Though not blessed with conventional good looks, being short, balding and dumpy, he had the power to charm women and mixed with all classes of society from prostitutes to the aristocracy. Rachman displayed his wealth flamboyantly, driving a Rolls Royce, chewing on a cigar and sporting dark sunglasses.
Although generally a happy individual, he was torn between his Jewish and Polish heritage. This confusion of identity was made worse by the fact that his home town of Lwów was transferred from Poland to the Soviet Union after World War Two, and, being denied British citizenship, he was stateless. Lwów is now a major city in western Ukraine, and is known by its Ukrainian name Lviv (Львів). The Russian spelling "Lvov" (Львов) is sometimes used in the West.
Rachman married his long-standing girlfriend Audrey O'Donnell in 1960 but remained a compulsive womaniser, maintaining Mandy Rice-Davies as his mistress at 1 Bryanston Mews West, W1, where he had previously briefly installed Christine Keeler. After suffering two heart attacks, Peter Rachman died in Edgware General Hospital on 29 November 1962, at the age of 43. He is buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Bushey, Hertfordshire.
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