The Ghosts of Lansdowne Passage

The layers of history in an old place like London continually fascinate me.  The city is like an ancient mansion that’s been made over by successive generations to suit changing tastes in fashion and function.  New wallpaper is placed over the old, new paint is slathered over faded oak.  When these layers are peeled back, we see something completely different, in the same place.  And it never fails to amaze.

Highgate cemetery - London (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License)

Fitzmaurice Place is a small street leaves the southeast corner of Berkeley Square and runs into Curzon Street, just where the old core of Lansdowne House sits.  Across from its truncated facade is a pedestrian walkway lined with shops that leaves the house and ends up at Hay Hill on the other side.   It is called Lansdowne Row.

In the days of the Regency, this was a narrow walkway sunken between forbidding walls.  Walls so tall that they permanently darkened this shortcut linking the two ends of Mayfair.  You couldn’t see what was on the other side of either wall, nor were you meant to.

There are very few good photographs of the passage.  I used this image of the Egyptian Avenue monument from London’s Highgate cemetery.  It looks imposing–and a little spooky.

At Lansdowne Passage, in the middle of the most fashionable part of Regency London, two great estates–two great families–came together in a physical way.  As mentioned in an earlier post of the series, Lansdowne House was built in such a way as to give Devonshire House an unobstructed view toward Berkeley Square.  The two houses had enormous gardens.  They abutted one another yet gave way to that ancient right of passersby–an easement, if you will, called the right of way.  This came to be known as Lansdowne Passage, appearing much like a crevasse when Diana, sometimes called Viscountess Northam, climbed the ladder of the Lansdowne House garden to remonstrate with the Viscount Hartington, heir to His Grace, the Duke of Devonshire, who stood on his garden ladder opposite.

Many legends abound of the walkway, mostly because its long length was hidden from observation and provided a perfect route for robbers and ladies of the night.  Indeed, Hay Hill at one end of the passage was long a favorite of highwaymen.  Even the Prince Regent was robbed there at gunpoint, along with his brother, the Duke of York, of the three shillings they had between them.

A highwayman once urged his steed down into the deep passageway to escape apprehension, goading his horse to leap across the descending stairs, landing heavily on the paved stones below.  They were now in a narrow passageway, mind you, and the rider must needs take the reins in one hand and grip the cantle behind him with the other so as to reduce the width of his profile, spurring into the darkness lit only by a full moon riding the sky above.  Then there was the ascending stair opposite.  Even the most intrepid horse must pause, his ears pricked forward, throwing his head down to eye the obstacle ahead.  But alack!  Pursuers are even now approaching–their cries funnelled between haughty walls to spur even a spooked animal to leap upwards, scrambling and skidding for purchase on stone steps to Hay Hill above and the wilds of undeveloped London beyond.

Iron bars were erected to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

Today, Lansdowne Row is listed as one of London’s haunted places.  Spectres of highwaymen, footpads and the Loquacious Lady still wander the passage, lit by the storefronts of Hugo Morelli and Starbucks.

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19 thoughts on “The Ghosts of Lansdowne Passage

    • Thanks, Susan! The Loquacious Lady of Lansdowne Passage was a woman seen primarily by male pedestrians. She would join them, walking alongside in the dark passage in such a forward way she was presumed to be a prostitute. But then she would disappear at the steps leading out of the walkway.

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  1. Wonderful post, Angelyn! I must say I find it amusing that the Prince Regent and his brother, the Duke of York, only had 3 shillings between them. Then again, they were always spending way too much of their allowance. 🙂

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    • So did I. In fact, I was reminded of the ha-ha post I did awhile back. To jump down into the dark passage must have been very worrisome for the equine. Thanks for commenting, Ally.

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    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Lauren. Even the most placid horse would be spooked by the narrow, dark alley where any moment a predator might spring down from above. Really, horses would have an entirely different perspective of why this passage was so scary.

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  2. This was so interesting. It caused me to check Google maps to see what this area looks like today.
    With my imagination, I find London a very spooky place. I remember thinking I saw an effigy move. Now that was eerie.

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  3. This post really got my imagination spinning. I too love the layers that build up in old cities (that’s why I love Rome so much). The juxtaposition of old and modern in the last line was the perfect touch to finish with.

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    • There really can’t be any comparison to Rome. What are current generations leaving there and in other great metropolises that the future will ponder over? Not much, I daresay.

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  4. Great post! Very interesting and spooky, next time i’m in London I’ll swing by there! Have shared this on my own blogs facebook page, hope that’s ok 🙂

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  5. There are some photos of the old Passage extant; try denniswheatley.info under “Franklin Johnson’s event” in the What’s New section. There is a flurry of action in the Passage in one of Wheatley’s books “The Second Seal”, an excellent thriller about the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.

    I think when the front of Lansdowne House was demolished to create FitzMaurice Place (linking Curzon St. with Berkeley Square) the grounds were opened up and the new Row was built on the grounds, just north of the old Passage. The passage was filled in, and shops built on top, to make the south side of the Row. All that is left of the old Passage are the steps leading down from Berkeley St. to what is now a hotel basement entrance, and the Highwayman’s Gate, still there after two centuries but now rather pointless.

    Incidentally, the photos show there were no steps at the Curzon St. end, just a vertical bar to stop horses.

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    • I’ve just visited the site–and thrilled to see your photo of the passage as it now appears. And the gate is still there! Thank you so much for adding this information to a fascinating subject.

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