Located in the prosperous Mayfair district of London, the expensive town houses surrounding Berkeley Square have housed wealthy Londoners, including at least one Prime Minister, since the 18th Century. Amongst the homes circling the public garden, 50 Berkeley Square has gained a certain notoriety as possibly the most haunted house in London.
Built in 1740, the four-storey 50 Berkeley Square was once home to George Canning, who briefly served as Prime Minister in 1827 before his death from pneumonia made him the shortest-serving British Prime Minister at 119 days. However, it is other residents and guests and their alleged experiences in the house that lead to tales of its haunted status.
A man named Thomas Myers lived in the house from 1859 to 1874. Local rumour was that he had cloistered himself away after his proposal of marriage was rejected. Distraught, Myers locked himself inside the home, eventually succumbing to madness in his solitude and dying at the age of 76 in November 1874. It was during this period that ongoing neglect saw the house fall into disrepair, particularly noticeable in contrast to the surrounding, luxurious homes.
Two years before Myers’ death, aristocrat and conservative politician George, Lord Lyttelton arranged to stay the night in the attic of the home, reportedly in an attempt to win a bet with drinking fellows. Bringing a shotgun with him, the nervous lord reported the next morning that he had fired both barrels after seeing a figure in the attic. However, later searches found nothing but spent cartridges.
While Lyttelton’s stay in the home is reasonably well-supported by corroborating evidence, many of the other tales that surround the home are far more vague. The most well-known story is said to also associate with the attic room, haunted by a young woman who had committed suicide there some time in the 18th Century. Claimed to have thrown herself from the attic window to escape the abuses of a male family member, often an uncle, varied tales claim that the spirit possesses the power to frighten visitors to death, appearing as a brown mist or as a pale, ghostly figure.
Alternative versions include a young man who was held prisoner in the same attic room, fed only through a hole in the door until his death from neglect and madness, or a young child reportedly murdered by a servant. An 1879 article in Mayfair Magazine stated that a newly-appointed maid at the home was driven mad after staying the night in the attic, dying in a mental asylum just a day later.
Claims that two sailors from HMS Penelope stayed in the home overnight emerged in 1887, stating that one man had died after tripping and falling fleeing from an apparition, described by the survivor as the angry spirit of Thomas Meyers. However, researchers have since attributed this account to the paranormal writer Elliott O’Donnell and generally do not believe that it ever took place.
No paranormal activity has been reported for nearly 100 years, with modern researchers believing that most, if not all, of the accounts of morbid events or supernatural activity to be invented. Writer Lady Dorothy Nevill, the niece of Thomas Meyers, rubbished the rumours of hauntings in a 1906 publication. Instead, she attributed the strange activity at the home to Meyers’ grief-induced madness, clattering around the house and turning lights on and off in the middle of the night.