Albany in 2008
|Type||Residential apartment block|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Sir William Chambers
|Listed Building – Grade I|
The Albany was built 1770-74 by Sir William Chambers for Viscount Melbourne as Melbourne House. It is a three-storey mansion seven bays (windows) wide, with a pair of service wings flanking a front courtyard. In 1791, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany abandoned Dover House, Whitehall (now a government office), and took up residence. In 1802 the Duke gave up the house and it was converted by Henry Holland into 69 bachelor apartments (known as "sets"). This was achieved not only by subdividing the main block and the two service wings, but also by adding two parallel sets of buildings running the length of the garden.
Since its conversion, the Albany has been the best known and most prestigious set of bachelor apartments in London. The residents have included such famous names as the poet Lord Byron and the future Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, and numerous members of the aristocracy. Nonetheless, occupants have been known to complain that the accommodation is often rather cramped.
During World War 2, one of the buildings received significant damage from a German bomb, but was reconstructed after the war to appear as an exact replica.
Residents no longer have to be bachelors, although children under the age of 14 are not permitted to live there.
Ownership and governance
The apartments or "sets" are individually owned, with the owners known as "Proprietors"; a set that came up for sale in 2007 had an advertised guide price of £2 million.
Around half the sets are owned by Peterhouse, Cambridge, a college of the University of Cambridge. These were acquired by William Stone (1857–1958) during World War 2. Stone, nicknamed the Squire of Picadilly, was a former scholar of Peterhouse, a bachelor and a life–long resident of the Albany. He bequeathed 37 sets to the college, along with other endowments.
The Albany is governed by a Board of Trustees on behalf of the Proprietors. The annual rent of a set can be as much as £50,000 and prospective tenants are vetted by a committee before being allowed to take up residence. However, rents can be below commercial levels and sets are rumoured to be allocated on the basis of social connections.
There has been dispute as to whether the name of the building is "Albany" or "the Albany." The rules adopted in 1804 laid down that "the Premises mentioned in the foregoing Articles shall be called Albany". However, 19th century sources refer to it as "the Albany," such as the play The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, which repeatedly refers to the character Jack Worthing's residence at "the Albany," and in Charles Dickens's novel Our Mutual Friend. Raffles, the gentleman thief in the stories by E. W. Hornung is referred to as living at "the Albany". Beginning in the early 20th century, "Albany" without the article again became the accepted usage, memorialised, for example, in the early 20th century novels of Dornford Yates, a careful observer of upper class manners. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, perhaps an even more careful observer of upper class manners than Yates, refers to the home of Macaulay as "the Albany". In the words of the English Heritage Survey of London, "the present resolute omission of the article seems to spring not so much from awareness of correct usage as from a sense, about the beginning of the 20th century, that 'the Albany' sounded 'like a publichouse'".
In a 1958 review of a book about the building, Peace in Piccadilly, The Times wrote, "Albany or the Albany? It has long been a snobbish test of intimate knowledge of the West End. If one was in use, a man could feel superior by using the other. When G. S. Street wrote The Ghosts of Piccadilly in 1907, he said that 'the Albany' was then 'universal', but that to the earliest tenants it was 'Albany'."
An early use of the building in fiction was the 1848 novel, The Bachelor of the Albany by Marmion Wilard Savage. In Oscar Wilde's 1895 play, The Importance of Being Ernest the character John (Jack) Worthing has a set at the Albany (number B.4), where he lives while staying in London under the assumed name or Ernest. A.J. Raffles, the gentleman burglar created by E.W. Hornung lived at the Albany, as did Roger Sheringham, the amateur detective in the works of Anthony Berkeley Cox.
The list below is based mainly on the much longer list in the Survey of London. Many tenants were in residence for only a short time, when they were quite young.
- Arthurs, William. "Philip Bobbitt on life in Albany". London Society Journal. London Society. Retrieved December 10, 2012.
- Ingerfield, Mark (10 April 2004). "A cluster of salubrious solitudes". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved December 11, 2012.
- "Historic Albany set for sale". http://www.easier.com/. 16 August 2007. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
- "The William Stone Society". Peterhouse College. Retrieved December 24, 2012.
- Kloester, Jennifer (2011). Georgette Heyer Biography. Random House. p. 248. ISBN 1446473368.
- The Amateur Cracksman by E. W. Hornung, 1899
- The History of England, Macaulay, the Penguin English Library, introduction by Hugh Trevor-Roper, p. 24
- 'Albany', Survey of London: volumes 31 and 32: St James Westminster, Part 2 (1963), pp. 367-389. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=41481. Date accessed: 22 October 2008.
- "Designed for Living", The Times, 26 June 1958, p. 13
- "London’s Best and Most Secretive Address," by CHRISTOPHER GIBBS, The New York Times Magazine, April 14, 2013
- Survey of London - detailed history with plans and photographs.
- Page on georgianindex.net - but note that the picture at the top of the page is not the Albany. While a number of the residences of past Dukes of York have been known as York House (including the Albany during the residence of Frederick Duke of York), the illustration is of the past York House which went on to acquire an extra storey and to be renamed Stafford House and then Lancaster House