The Horrors of Berkeley Square

The Most Haunted House in London

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a haunted house. What does it look like? A grand old manor, with a twisted iron gate like jagged teeth? Cracked windows squinting back at you? Perhaps it sits isolated on the crest of a hill, lonely save for the bats and rats and black cats who call its shadows home.

If you were to take a stroll through Mayfair in search of such a house, you’d be forgiven for overlooking 50 Berkeley Square. On approach, there is nothing out of the ordinary, save for the blue plaque informing us that it was once the residence of former Prime Minister, George Canning (1770-1827). It blends seamlessly into the affluent London district, but don’t be fooled, 50 Berkeley Square is much more dangerous than its pleasant facade would have us believe. 

50 Berekely Square, as seen in the modern day via Google Street View

The Legends

The haunted origins of the house are varied, but the attic rooms take centre stage in each tale.

The first supposed spirit is that of a little girl. The specifics of this tale have been lost to time, but it is said that she was brutally murdered by a servant in the attic of the house. 

Another story is that a young man who was locked in the attic by his evil family for one reason or another – the legends never specify. He was said to be isolated completely, never to see another living soul and being fed through a small hole in the door. In a rather understandable reaction, he supposedly went mad and died but his tormented soul remained trapped in its attic prison.

The most common tale, however, is that of an unnamed woman. In an effort to escape her abusive uncle, she leapt from the top floor of the house to her death. She is said to roam the attic in the form of a white or brown mist, and does not take kindly to guests. 

There may be more truth in some of these claims than others, so with that in mind let’s examine the known history of this peculiar house.

The History

50 Berkeley Square’s reputation began to form in the later half of the 1800s, when the attic was home to one, Thomas Myers. During this time, the house was so renowned for its spooks that when Myers did not appear in court for lack of council payments, he was excused due to the haunted nature of his home.

Mr Myers was due to be married to a woman who, we can only assume, was the love of his life. Alas, his tale is not a pleasant one, as he was rejected by his fiancée and descended into the icy throws of melancholy, never to return. He took up residence in the attic rooms and began a nocturnal existence, sleeping through the day and roaming his quarters at night. 

Just like Miss Havisham, Thomas Myers never overcame his lost love, dying all alone with nothing but the spiders in the attic to call friends. I could not ascertain whether or not he took to wearing the bridal gown, but I’d like to imagine he did. 

Here begins the most mysterious chapter of Berkeley Square’s history. 

The Hauntings

Many of us have fallen victim to the pursuit of street cred and, in 1872, Lord Lyttleton was one such casualty. In a narrative similar to that of a Goosebumps book, he was dared to spend the night in the reputedly haunted attic of Berkeley Square. 

Lord Lyttleton was keen to show his courage and, with his handy dandy shotgun, took to the attic. What damage he hoped a gun would do to a spectre is beyond me, but still, he deemed it a necessary companion. 

The night was placid to begin with. Perhaps Lord Lyttleton slept for a while, perhaps he read or wrote in his diary about how much fun he was having on his little armed sleepover. Whatever he did was unimportant, but whatever it was royally pissed off the spirit that called the attic home. 

The apparition took the form of a mist and it came towards Lord Lyttleton with tremendous ferocity. Whether he screamed like a little girl or shat his pantaloons was never revealed, but a sound rang out across Berkeley Square that night, and it was the sound of a gunshot.

Surprisingly, it did the trick and the spirit dematerialised, leaving the cartridges behind as evidence. 

In some retellings of the story, Lord Lyttleton is replaced by a nobleman, or army captain, who is found dead of fright the next morning. This fate evaded Lord Lyttleton, however, four years after his alleged encounter in Berkeley Square, he died at the age of 59, after throwing himself down the stairs of his home.

Later in 1879, Mayfair Magazine (not to be confused with the modern softcore publication of the same name)ran an article describing the fate of a young maid, whose chilling scream was heard throughout the house as she attended her duties in the upstairs. The poor girl was terrified and she lay writhing on the floor screaming about the misty apparition that accosted her and begging, “Don’t let it touch me!” 

She was taken to the hospital and passed away the day after, having never emerged from her state of delirium. 

By 1887, the house was abandoned, its reputation stained by its ghastly reports and history of strangeness. Unfortunately, there were two souls who were not privy to this legend, and thus became entangled with the darkness of the house. 

These two were a pair of sailors from the HMS Penelope who, after stumbling drunkenly through the streets of Mayfair broke into the house in search of a bed for the night.

Having learnt what we have of Berkeley Square, we can anticipate this story does not have a happy ending.

Sometime in the night, the two were attacked by an apparition. One sailor broke past the spirit and fled to the safety of the street, while the other, cornered by the spirit, fell (or was pushed) from the attic window and met his end on the railings below. 

So what can we make of these strange tales?

We do know for certain that Thomas Myers was a resident of the house and did exhibit irrational behaviour after becoming the jilted lover. If Berkeley Square was haunted before then, it must not have been a haunting of note. 

Myers’s reclusive activities involved skulking through his attic at night. The lone candlelight flickering in the darkness would have been an eerie sight to those on the street below. With nothing else to do but smoke opium and contract typhoid, the imagination of the Victorian layman would burst into life at such a sight. This, combined with the state of disrepair the house was falling into, was likely the truth behind the “madman in the attic” story. 

But if we are to believe the house on Berkeley Square is haunted, is Myers not also the perfect candidate for its ghost? After all, there are no records of murdered servant girls or women jumping from windows to be found, although that certainly doesn’t mean the house wasn’t haunted before Myers lived there.

In fact, the Lord Lyttleton incident allegedly took place in 1872 – Two years before the death of Thomas Myers. Does this disprove the alleged hauntings all together? Or does that prove there was something else in the house? 

The alternate retellings claim it took place after the maid’s encounter and in that narrative, Myers could still be our ghost, but any records supporting her sad fate are lost.

The passage of time is prone to muddy the waters between fact and fiction, but the tale of 50 Berkeley Square has certainly been stretched. Even the tale of the sailors has been attributed to writer, Elliott O’Donnell. 

That being said, we can often find a grain of truth in the most unlikely of urban legends, and in Berkeley Square, the erratic lifestyle of Thomas Myers is ours. 

Could one man’s despair engrain itself in the walls of the house so completely that it chains his energy to this earthy realm? Or could that negative energy have awoken something dormant in the house? Something that was there long before the house itself? Perhaps that something sleeps in every house, just waiting for the right person to wake it.

Today, the house is home to the Maggs Brothers Rare Book Store, and although any violent happenings have been confined to the past, it’s alleged that the staff still catch the occasional glimpse of a misty figure in the attic.

Real or not, I have no intention of going back to this particular street in Mayfair. It spooked me enough the last time I stumbled past it with a head full of opium and a sailor on each arm.

Dr LJ Hawthorn

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