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THE GHOUL OF 50 BERKELEY SQUARE

Posted on: December 7, 2011

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I read about this case many years ago in a marvellously readable book called ‘The World’s Greatest Mysteries’, and it struck me as one of the more unusual hauntings on offer.  For a start, nobody seems entirely clear exactly what was causing this particular haunting, few who witnessed it either lived to tell the tale, or kept their sanity!  It was a truly sensational piece, and at the height of its fame, in Victorian times, it was known as “the most haunted house in London”.  And yet you wouldn’t think so to look at it.  Berkeley Square is now more famous for an enchanting wartime song about nightingales singing there, and to walk around this elegant London square now you’d never think that it once played host to one of the most weird and unusual hauntings the city has ever seen.

No.50 Berkeley Square was built for the then Prime Minister, George Canning, in the 18th century, but the haunting didn’t develop until about a 100 years later.  In late Victorian times the house was inhabited by a Mr Myers, an eccentric loner much feared by his neighbours … simply because he was an eccentric loner.  Rumour had it that he had been jilted by his fiancee when he was young man, and had never recovered from the heartbreak.  He bought No.50 in 1860, and was said to have confined himself to a small room in the attic, where he would only open the door to his manservant for food.  He was said to only emerge from this self-imposed prison at night, when he would roam the house in unrelieved misery.

The house fell into a state of disrepair, and took on a forbidding appearance as its windows became encrusted with black dust and cobwebs.  Curiously, neighbours on either side of him reported that the party walls were “saturated with electric horror”.  In 1873 Myers was summoned to court for tax evasion.  When he failed to appear, the case was mysteriously dropped.  By the time Myers died in 1878, the house had already garnered a reputation for being haunted, and his neighbours believed that living in such a sinister house had contributed to Myers’ increasing eccentricity.  Neighbours reported hearing cries and moans from the empty building at night, the sound of furniture being moved, and bells ringing.

In 1880 the Bentley family moved in.  At first they only detected a strange odour (compared to the animal cages at the zoo), and an odd whimpering noise.  Then the eldest daughter’s fiance was invited to stay.  The housemaid was sent upstairs to prepare the guest room for his arrival.  Her screams were soon heard ringing throughout the house.  The family discovered her in the room, having an convulsive fit.  The poor girl died in hospital the next day.  The fiance arrived, and insisted on going ahead with sleeping in the room, in spite of what had happened.  Exactly the same thing happened to him.  The family decided to move out.

The house inevitably stood empty for several years.  On Christmas Eve 1887 two sailors, Edward Blunden and Robert Martin, arrived in London and were looking for cheap lodgings.  They didn’t come much cheaper than 50 Berkeley Square, which now stood boarded-up and empty.  The men camped out in sinister guest room on the second floor, where they heard footsteps approaching.  It was said then that something large, dark and shapeless rushed into the room and made a dive for Blunden.  Martin took the opportunity to escape.  He fled the house and found a nearby policeman in the street.  When they returned to the house they found Martin dead, impaled on the railings beneath the window.

Tales of a murderous ghoul inhabiting Berkeley Square were now all over London.  Sir Robert Warboys accepted a dare at his club that he would spend an entire night in the haunted house.  By then the house was owned by a man called Benson, who was understandably nervous about the whole idea.  He only relented when Warboys agreed to keep a gun with him, and to have a few of his friends posted on guard in the room directly below.  Warboys was to ring a bell the very moment he sensed danger.

After a jolly good dinner (I love Victorian ghost-hunting methods!), Warboys retired to the grim chamber at 11:15 PM.  At midnight precisely the bell was heard ringing furiously.  On racing up to the room though the men found Warboys was already dead, a look of sheer terror on his face.  You would think that this would put off any further sensation-seekers.  But human nature being what it sometimes is, it didn’t.  Lord Lyttleton took up the challenge next.  To be extra safe he took a second gun with him, this one loaded with sixpenny charms, an old device to ward off evil.  Astonishingly, it seemed to work.  His Lordship lived to tell the tale.  He said he had fired the charms at a huge shape which had charged into the room.

Theories as to what is behind the bizarre ghost have been varied.  Some believe a young woman jumped out of the window trying to escape the clutches of her lecherous uncle, another that a man went mad in the guest room, waiting for some mysterious message to appear on the wall.

From 1939 onwards the house was leased to Maggs Brothers, antiquarian booksellers, and I had always read that they had reported no ghostly phenomena at all.  That wouldn’t appear to be the case.  In 2006 it was reported that a visitor saw a black-robed monk pass through a closed door at one end of the Morning Room, which for a long time had been a family chapel.  In his handsome coffee-table book ‘Haunted Britain’, Richard Jones also relates that a girl in a plaid dress has been sighted on the stairs, and that a strange brown mist has been sighted on the top floor.  Whether this is anything to do with the shapeless “ghoul” responsible for the 19th century deaths I don’t know.  I hope for the sake of the current occupants it isn’t.

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