The Most Haunted House in London

The Beast. The Thing. What was inhabiting No. 50 Berkeley Square?

Very bad ton, I daresay.

No. 50 Berkeley Square

The stories varied, but a dandy had a dashed good notion to test the on-dit that No. 50 harbored a ghost.  Full of blue ruin and holding a pistol, he spent the night in one of its rooms only to confront a “jet black shape” that leaped at him. Discharging his pistol, he was found dead with his eyes bulging, expired in the grip of apoplexy. Others say he managed to escape to endure another horrible fate–this Bond Street beau was the Lord Lyttleton who committed suicide by throwing himself down the stairs of Hagley Hall.

Later, two sailors were offered lodging in the house.  They too, offered fire against the apparition which appeared to them in the shape of a large man, and one died for his pains. This gave rise to the rumor the house was uninhabitable.

Neighbors in adjacent streets would peer out of their windows, astonished to see others peering back at them from the windows of the uninhabited house:

“He wore a periwig and had a drawn, morose ashen face. The two women thought he
had been to some New Year fancy dress party, because his clothes were centuries
out of date. The man moved away from the window, and Mrs Balfour and her maid
were later shocked to learn from a doctor that they had sighted one of the
ghosts of number 50 Berkeley Square. The doctor told them that number 50 was
currently unoccupied.”

Who was the man in the periwig?

George Canning

Joan Scott’s father was Major General John Scott, a man wealthy from card play. He instructed his daughters to never marry men with titles. His eldest disobeyed him and became Duchess of Portland. His youngest followed suit, and became Countess of Moray. Of all three, Joan (a viscountess in her own right!) was the only one to follow his wishes and married a politician.

Her husband was George Canning (1770-1827), the Prime Minister of the shortest tenure. He was the son of an actress and as one man famously said, never follow a man who is born of an actress. But this did not deter him. As a member of Pitt’s government, this hard-boiled Tory challenged Lord Castlereagh to a duel and got shot in the thigh for his pains.

He lived at No. 50 Berkeley Square.

He was the most divisive man in government. The Regent refused to meet him in person because he was  rumored to have had an affair with the consort Princess Caroline. He reduced his boss Lord Liverpool to tears and managed to force the poor man to apologize for it.

In the end he was reduced to begging prominent Whigs to join his Tory government, including Lord Lansdowne. But he died before he could realize his life’s ambition, in the very same room where the most radical of Whigs had expired, Charles James Fox.

They call him a lost leader. Perhaps he’s been found, in the rage of unfulfilled ambition.

The location is appropriate. It’s now a bookstore.

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Will She or Won’t She?

“Good God,” Griffin breathed.

Homage to Diana - Annibale Carracci (circa 1597)

Diana paused as he stopped in his tracks.  Swallowing her impatience, and her hunger, she looked about her as Griffin did, trying to see Northam Park through his eyes.  She supposed he was right to be astonished.  The first-time visitor to the mansion had little warning of its riotous interior.  Not when its exterior was executed in forbidding Palladian style, with its straight lines and rigid symmetry.

Here in the great saloon, and throughout the house’s state apartments, Rococo reigned.

To look at it will put your eyes out, her grandmother, the dowager countess, would say.

Griffin craned his neck to take in the lighthearted, delicate playfulness of intricate, flowing lines, shells, leaves and trees carved in plasterwork that seemed to float through the saloon.  The elegant carvings cascaded across the high ceiling and down pale yellow walls in intricate white traceries.  He went to the carved stone chimney piece with its life-size nude wood nymphs supporting the mantelpiece.

Griffin gestured to the large bas-relief above the mantle of a beautifully sculpted scene from Greek mythology.  In it, the hunting moon goddess considers a gift of white fleece held aloft by the nature god .

“I never noticed Diana and Pan were so popular.”

Diana rolled her eyes.  “Try being named Diana.  Then you notice it every time.”

“Well?” Griffin asked.

“Well, what?”

Griffin’s smile was half-sided.  “Does she accept the gift or not?”

Diana straightened her skirt and looked toward the door.  “It depends on what Pan wants in return, I suppose.”

Northam Park’s interior plays an important part in Notorious Match.  There is a lot of symbolism, both intentional and otherwise, that the characters encounter during their sojourn at the country estate, beginning with the aforementioned saloon.

The saloon is derived from the French Grand Salon — a room of state for receiving visitors.  It was a style set during the Restoration in England and initially attached to the more medieval great hall before replacing it almost entirely by the time of the Regency.  Northam Park’s saloon looks very much like the one at Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, the subject of last week’s post.

Ruin of Sutton Scarsdale

The Rococo interior is marvelous.  It can put your eyes out.

The picture to the right is from the ruin of Sutton Scarsdale, discussed in an earlier post.
You can see the remains of the Rococo plasterwork that still clings to the shell of what remains from this once monumental country estate.

A Viscount and his Pyjamas

“The first reports from Hagley Hall were grim.  At 3:15 a.m. on Christmas Eve in 1925, a servant girl’s screaming alerted the household that the imposing mid-eighteenth-century house, with its elaborate Rococo interiors, was on fire.  The blaze, which had been caused by a defective flue, spread so quickly that Viscount Cobham was forced to escape in pyjamas, gumboots and an overcoat.  Fortunately, the rest of the family, guests and servants all escaped unharmed, but the fire raged on.”

–Giles Worsley, England’s Lost Houses – from the Archives of Country Life (2002) page 39

Hagley Hall - photographed by Richard Rogerson, licensed for reuse

I modelled most of Northam Park’s interior after that of Hagley Hall in Worcestershire.  Both houses have Palladian exteriors in disciplined, classical straight lines.  Hardly a hint of what lies on the inside, never failing to surprise the first-time visitor to these country houses.

More on Northam Park, Diana and her guest next week.  The story of Hagley Hall’s destruction warrants its own post today.

Hagley Hall’s mansard roof had caught fire from a defective chimney flue, pouring molten lead into the house.  Amazingly, guests and neighbors mounted a spectacular salvage effort, going into the burning structure to save priceless treasures.  By the time it was over, the state apartments, including the library, hall and dining room, had been ravaged, their interiors open to the sky.

Lord Cobham went ’round the neighborhood, taking inventory of what had been saved and was stored temporarily.  These included two thousand books, over one hundred paintings, including four famous Van Dyck portraits and four rare Shakespeare collections that had survived in the basement.  Even the tapestries had been saved, cut from their mountings as the fire raged on.

Fortunately for my project, Lord Cobham vowed to restore the mansion.  Click on the link to go to the website for this beautifully preserved English country estate.  Today Hagley is a masterpiece of meticulous restoration, still the glorious country estate of the viscountcy, but under a threat of a different kind and equally destructive.

For a recent report on the condition of Hagley Hall, including a lovely photo of the restored library and the present viscount, click here.