windowthroughtime

A wry view of life for the world-weary

The Streets Of London – Part Twenty Six

berkeleysquare

Berkeley Square, W1

Situated in between Grosvenor Street to the north and Green Park to the south, Berkeley Square was once one of the most sought after addresses in London. A town square laid out originally by  William Kent in the middle of the 18th century it was named after the Gloucestershire Berkeleys whose town house had stood nearby until it was demolished in 1733. Least they could do for them, don’t you think?

In the middle of the square is a a rather splendid fountain which was made by the pre-Raphaelite sculptor, Alexander Munro, in 1865 and the Plane trees round about, planted in 1789 are among the oldest extant in the metropolis. But it was not these nor the prospect of hearing a nightingale sing that encouraged me to stray off my normal beaten track to visit this part of Mayfair. What lured me there was the opportunity to gaze at – I did it in daylight and from the outside only – number 50, which as well as being the oldest unaltered house in the capital is also reputed to be the most haunted.

The ghost is said to haunt the attic but quite who it is supposed to be is a matter of dispute. Some say that it is a young woman who after being abused by an uncle threw herself from the top floor window. She manifests herself either as a brown mist or a more conventional white figure. Others say the spectre is a young man who was locked in the attic, fed only through a keyhole and went mad before expiring. Others say it was a young girl killed by a sadistic servant.

George Canning, the statesman and prime minister, lived there between 1770 and 1827 – there is a blue plaque commemorating the fact on the wall – and claimed to have heard strange noises and experienced psychic phenomena during his residency. A Mr Myers took residency there and after being jilted by his fiancée he took himself to the attic and slowly went mad. Some authorities believe Myers was the role model for Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham.

The house does seem to have an association with rum goings-on. In 1879, according to the Mayfair magazine, a maid who had stayed in the attic room had been found mad, dying in an asylum the following day. A nobleman who accepted the challenge to spend a night in the room was found dead, of fright according to the coroner, the next day.

In 1887 some matelots from the HMS Penelope stayed overnight in the house and, true to form, one was found dead, having tripped as he fled from the house. The others reported seeing the ghost of Mr Myers approaching them in a menacing fashion.

What was going on at no 50 was a matter of intense speculation and interest in the mid 19th century. Some brave souls would take to banging on the door to see who or what would answer and the local Spiritualist Society got in on the act to no avail. The poet, Frederick Doveton, even penned some verses about the mystery, “the cobwebs in the windows lie/ and dirt and dust are there;/ what is the unknown history/ of 50 Berkeley Square?”. Today, it would probably be the subject of a Channel 4 reality show.

When I visited I neither experienced any psychic phenomena nor saw anyone fleeing in flight from the doors of the antiquarian booksellers that occupy the ground floor. Disappointing really.

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