The Thing in Berkeley Square

Berkeley Square

A terrible ghost is said to lurk within an upper floor room of a house on Berkeley Square.

A deadly entity is said to dwell at no.50, Berkeley Square. Lurking within an upper floor room of this seemingly innocuous Georgian townhouse, this terrible apparition is believed to have been directly responsible for the deaths of several people. Once dubbed “the most haunted house in London”, the grisly stories surrounding no.50 have captivated the public since the 19th century.

Situated in the heart of Mayfair, Berkeley Square has always been a fashionable part of London. Several celebrated names had residences on the square, including the 18th century art historian and politician Horace Walpole, who lived at no.11. Clive of India purchased no.45 in 1761 where he resided up until his suicide in 1774. Winston Churchill lived at no.48 when a child, and Charles Rolls, co-founder of Rolls Royce, was born on the square in 1877.

No.50 was built around the mid-1700s and was once the home of Prime Minister George Canning. When he died in 1827, the property was purchased by a Miss Curzon, who lived there intermittently up until her death at the grand old age of 90. Sometime afterwards no.50 came into the possession of a Thomas Myers, and it was around this period that the house started to acquire its sinister reputation.

Myers was a somewhat eccentric character. When he moved into no.50 he was engaged to be married, and promptly set about preparing the house for his forthcoming nuptials. However disaster struck when his intended broke off their engagement in favour of another man. Myers consequently underwent a severe breakdown, and like a male equivalent of Miss Havisham, he retired from life, locking himself in an upper floor room of no.50. It’s said that he slept all day, only venturing out at night with a lighted candle to wander around his forlorn abode.

In 1873, Thomas Myers was unable to attend a court summons for failure to pay rates. He died soon after. The house was then unoccupied for long periods of time, and acquired a severely dilapidated and forbidding appearance, its windows caked with soot and grime. When people asked as to why the property was empty, they were often told that it was haunted. In an 1872 edition of the scholarly journal Notes and Queries, a correspondent enquired about the house and received a reply from Lord Lyttelton, who confirmed “It is quite true that there is a house in Berkeley Square said to be haunted, and long unoccupied on that account.” It’s rumoured that Lyttelton himself had braved the haunted room, where he had come face to face with the dreaded Thing.

More reports began to surface of others who’d witnessed this Thing (not all of them living to tell of what they’d seen). One of the reports concerns a sceptical man who, on hearing of a maid that had been reduced to a gibbering wreck after encountering something indescribably horrible when lodged in the room, expressed a desire to spend the night in there. After some reluctance on the part of the owners, his wish was finally granted. The man had a bell rigged up in the room and told the family he’d ring twice if he needed assistance. A while later frantic ringing suddenly resounded around the house. The family raced up to the haunted room where they found the man dead. Another report tells of two sailors who happened upon the house late at night when searching for a place to sleep. The property was empty at this time so the men decided to bed down there, conveniently choosing the haunted room. It wasn’t long before they were awoken by a the door opening and an enormous shadowy figure floating into the room. Only one of the sailors was said to have escaped alive.

In an 1879 edition of the society magazine Mayfair, no.50 Berkeley Square was described as containing “at least one room of which the atmosphere is supernaturally fatal to body and mind.” The magazine went on to describe how an elderly couple were said to act as caretakers for the property. Apparently they were visited once every six months by a nameless person who would lock them up in the basement before proceeding upstairs to the haunted room. It’s said that this curious individual would bolt the door and then remain in the room for hours. No one knew exactly what they got up to in there, although some suspect black magic rituals. Stories such as these inevitably piqued the interest of several researchers, including the famous ghost hunter Harry Price, who investigated the property in the 1920s, and concluded that there had been genuine poltergeist activity there.

Naturally there has been a lot of speculation as to the origins of the haunting. In his 1907 book Haunted Houses, author Charles Harper recounts that, according to a Mr Stuart Wortley, the property was once owned by a man named Du Pre, who is said to have kept his lunatic brother locked up in an upper floor room, feeding the unfortunate sibling through a slit in the door. This tale was also noted by Augustus Hare in an 1872 entry he made in his journal after Stuart Wortley’s wife regaled him with it. Another account tells of how a young woman called Adeline threw herself from one of the upper floor windows in a desperate attempt to escape the amorous attentions of her lecherous uncle. A third story states that the room is haunted because it was once the nursery of a little Scottish girl who was tortured by her sadistic nanny. A spiritualist called Jessie Adelaide Middleton discovered the stories of Adeline and the little Scottish girl after researching the hauntings for her 1912 tome The Grey Ghost Book.

The exact nature of the Berkeley Square haunting remains a mystery to this day, the stories of a fatal room ultimately transitioning into the stuff of urban legend. Several commentators on the case contend that the property was never haunted, arguing that its ghostly reputation stems wholly from the weird behaviour of Mr Myers. Since 1938, no.50 has been the home of the antiquarian booksellers Maggs Bros, who vigorously deny any otherworldly activity taking place there. Yet it does seem a bit odd that such a desirable residence was empty for so long.

 

Photo credit: “Berkeley Square London” by Victor Grigas.

Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Berkeley_Square_London.jpg


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