Site Unseen: 44 Berkeley Square

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

This house must be the most famous in London, and yet, passing it during the day in the melee, that is, the Berkeley Square gyratory system the driver could be forgiven for escaping his attention.

[D]escribed by Nicholas Pevsner as ‘the finest terrace house in London’, 44 Berkeley Square does have an impressive pedigree.

Designed in 1742 by William Kent (and his only surviving town house) for Lady Isabella Finch a maid of honour to George II’s sister, Princess Amelia. Horace Walpole, neighbour and frequent visitor on seeing the staircase declared: “. . . as beautiful a piece of scenery and, considering the space, of art as can be imagined . . .”. The ornate ceiling in the grand salon is said to have been paid for by the Royal family.

Staircase

Unfortunately for we mere mortals only its exterior can be viewed. It is a rare survivor in a square, much of which has been destroyed by commercial development.

The facade is in the fashionable Palladian style of the time having a central door with railings on either side supporting a lamp above the entrance, complete with a rare example of extinguishers for the link-boys’ torches. The link-boys were the only way Georgians could safely traverse London at night.

When the door is open for their well heeled guests you may see the small staircase leading up to a cubby hole where the porter slept.

Opened as the Clermont Club by John Aspinall in 1962 it became the favourite gambling haunt of Lord ‘Lucky’ Lucan. Last month the Earl was formally pronounced as deceased after disappearing on the night in 1974 when his nanny was found dead at his home at 46 Lower Belgrave Street. It was the Clermont that he had arranged to meet friends on that fateful night.

Pictures: Clermont Club, 44 Berkeley Square by Ham (CC BY-SA 3.0)
No. 44 Berkeley Square, the double stair by William Kent: London Diary Blog

2 thoughts on “Site Unseen: 44 Berkeley Square”

  1. How lovely. I will look out for it next time in Mayfair area – not often. I love Berkeley Square. My husband and I met in no.25, when we were both working there in 1959! The Reader’s Digest (remember it?) offices were on three floors of no.25.
    Also I have a lovely copy of a photograph of No.18 at the end of the 19th century when my great grandparents lived there. I can’t find a way of attaching it to here for you otherwise I would.
    You were very helpful to me some years ago when I was researching for a biography of my great-grands as my g-g-father, actor-manager Squire Bancroft, gave the green cabman shelter that is now in Russell Square. It was originally outside the Haymarket Theatre that they were then managing, and was later moved to Leicester Square, where I was taken to see it when I was a child. It vanished from there during one of Leicester Square’s many reorganisations and I thought it was gone for ever, then ‘found’ it in Russell Square, where it vanished again a few years ago while that square was being done over. You reassured me that it would eventually be replaced – which it was.
    Best wishes.
    Both the story of the green shelter and of 18 Berkeley Square appear in my book.

    Like

    1. I do indeed remember Reader’s Digest who couldn’t forget the seemingly weekly missives offering us books that we just ‘had’ to own.
      Your g-g-father’s green shelter now looks pristine since the refurbishment in the run up to the 2012 Olympics. Your comment has reminded me to update the entry on the green cab shelter page. Thanks for the comment and good luck with the book.

      Like

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