This is a story that has been told many times before. A story that once drew every visiting tourist in London during the 19th century to a derelict Georgian era town house in Mayfair. This is the story of London’s most haunted house – 50 Berkeley Square.
The haunted house in Berkeley Square was long, one of those things that no country cousin come up from the provinces to London on sightseeing bent, ever willingly missed. – Charles Harper, Haunted Houses, 1913
I came across London’s most haunted house by chance. I was adding new visa pages into my passport at the American Embassy and decided to see what was in walking distance to check out when I was done. 50 Berkeley Square, listed on many London attraction websites, was only two blocks away so I decided to head over and see what there was to see.
As I stood in front of the gorgeous exterior of the most haunted building in London, I couldn’t help but smile. First of all, I don’t believe in ghosts. (Let the comments of first-hand experiences with the ghost of your Great Aunt Margie pour in…) Second of all, looking at this building today- it is difficult to believe that it was once a notorious hot bed of creeks and shrieks in the night. While Mayfair has been an affluent London neighborhood for decades, home to five star hotels, rich politicians, and the who’s who of London- it seems this wasn’t always the case.
When number 50 wore an exceedingly uncared for appearance. Soap, paint, and whitewash were unused for years, and grime clung to brickwork and Windows alike. The area was choked with wasted hand-bills, wisps of straw, and all the accumulations that speedily made a derelict London house. The very picture of misery; and every passing stranger stopped the first errand-boy, and asked various questions, to which the answer was, generally, “‘aunted ‘ouse,”; or, if the question happened to be “Who lives there?” the obvious reply was “Ghostesses…” – Charles Harper, Haunted Houses, 1913
How did 50 Berkeley Square become London’s most haunted house?
If the stories are to be believed, a thing lurks in No. 50 Berkeley Square.
One story follows two sailors, Edward Blunden and Robert Martin, who drunkenly noticed that the house was for let and decided to break in and stay the night. They made their way to the top room, which was the least damp, and fell asleep. In the night they were awoken by a shadowy creature at the doorway. It had a deformed face and body, with tentacles coming out of its lower half. The thing took one of the sailors, while the other one went out and rang for the police. When they returned, he was found in the basement with a broken neck and a face frozen in horror.
Another of the more famous stories follows Sir Robert Warboys, a man who thought the ghost stories were a bunch of baloney. He decided to sleep in the top room to prove that the house was not actually haunted. The landlord, who kept the room under lock and key, tried to get Sir Robert to change his mind – but he was adamant about showing his friends there was nothing in the attic of 50 Berkeley Square. He was required to bring along a shotgun, just in case, and to ring the bell if he needed any assistance from the landlord. At almost one in the morning, the bell rang violently, followed by a gunshot, and the landlord raced to the room. He found the boy dead, his face frozen in fear – teeth clenched, eyes open in horror, staring at the corner opposite the room where there was now but a single bullet hole.
As I said, I don’t believe in ghost stories, or things that hide in attics or strangle people with octopus-like tentacles. What I liked about 50 Berkeley Square, and why I decided to post about it, is that these types of stories were told and retold throughout London for hundreds of years. You can just imagine that the children in East London trying to out scare each other with the gruesome tales and gossiping women walking through Hyde Park talking about the victims and suggesting their own explanations. The media covered the episodes in the house extensively, so Londoners would have read about the murders and creature in their daily newspaper. It became a part of the city, and while it may be less known today, it still represents an interesting part of London’s history.
Visiting 50 Berkeley Square
As I said, today the property is a beautiful building in a beautiful neighborhood. It has been occupied by Maggis Bros. Rare Bookshop for a number of years, which sells some of the world’s most sought after books, manuscripts, and collectibles.
You can get to No. 50 on the West side of Berkeley Square, which is between Charles St. and Hill St., a five minute walk from Green Park tube station.
You can’t see much, only the exterior, but it may be worth a short detour if you are already exploring the neighbourhood. There is a historic plaque on the front to recognize George Canning, former Prime Minister who lived in the home for a number of years. (He never reported any strange occurrences.)
No. 50 Berkeley Square may not be a London must-see, but if you like to see the quirkier sides of a city, this property may be a great excuse for a walk.