The Albany at dusk (May 2014)
|Former names||Melbourne House|
|Etymology||Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany|
|Type||Residential apartment block|
|Owner||Peterhouse, Cambridge, Various|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Sir William Chambers|
|Listed Building – Grade I|
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The Albany was built in 1771–1776 by Sir William Chambers for the newly created 1st 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 in turn gave up the house and it was converted by Henry Holland into 69 bachelor apartments (known as "sets"). This was achieved by subdividing the main block and its two service wings, and by adding two new parallel long buildings covering most of the garden, running as far as a new rear gate building on Burlington Gardens. Holland's new buildings of 1802–1803 flank a covered walkway supported on thin iron columns and with an upswept roof. The blocks are white painted render in a simpler Regency style than Chambers' work. Most sets are accessed off common staircases without doors, like Oxbridge colleges and the Inns of Court.
Since its conversion, the Albany has been a 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.
During the Second World War, 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
Around half the sets were owned by Peterhouse, a college of the University of Cambridge. These were acquired by William Stone (1857–1958) during the Second World War. Stone, nicknamed the "Squire of Piccadilly", was a former scholar of Peterhouse, a bachelor and a lifelong 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.
The names "Albany" and "the Albany" have both been used. The rules adopted in 1804 laid down that "the Premises mentioned in the foregoing Articles shall be called Albany". Both names have been used in the 19th and 20th centuries. 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 novel, The Bachelor of the Albany (1847) by Marmion Wilard Savage. Still earlier is the hero of Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Sybil (1845), Charles Egremont, who lives there; he has a portrait by Christifano Allori hung over his fireplace halfway through the book. Mr Fascination Fledgeby, a moneylender in Charles Dickens' novel, Our Mutual Friend (1865) is described as living there. Several scenes from the book take place in his apartment. In the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde, Lord Fermor, the uncle of the character Lord Henry Wotton, resides in the Albany. In Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), 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 of Ernest.
A. J. Raffles, the gentleman burglar created by E. W. Hornung who first appeared in "The Ides of March" (1898), lived at the Albany, as did the adventurer Lord John Roxton of Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World (1912), and Roger Sheringham, the amateur detective in the works of Anthony Berkeley Cox who first appeared in The Layton Court Mystery (1925).
In the comic short story "Uncle Fred Flits By" (1935) by P. G. Wodehouse, the young gentleman Pongo Twistleton resides in the Albany. In The Foundling (1948), a novel by Georgette Heyer, Captain Gideon Ware of the Life Guards rents a set of chambers at the Albany. In the film Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Louis Mazzini takes a small set at Albany as he moves up the social ladder.
In the James Bond novel Moonraker by Ian Fleming (1955), Max Meyer, the bridge partner of Sir Hugo Drax, was said to live in Albany. In the Major Harry Maxim novels by Gavin Lyall, George Harbinger, Harry's boss, who first appears in The Secret Servant (1980), has an apartment at Albany where he lives with his spouse, Annette. In Julian Fellowes' novel Belgravia (2016), Mr. John Bellasis resides in an apartment at Albany.
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.
- Antony Armstrong-Jones, later 1st Earl of Snowdon, photographer
- Sir Squire Bancroft, actor.
- George Basevi, architect.
- Clifford Bax, poet and playwright.
- Sybille Bedford, writer, lived in Aldous Huxley's servant's room.
- Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor.
- Isaiah Berlin, philosopher.
- Philip Bobbitt, scholar.
- Henry Brougham, later Lord Chancellor.
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton, writer and politician.
- Lord Byron, poet.
- George Canning, politician.
- George Cattermole, artist.
- Bruce Chatwin, writer.
- Alan Clark, historian and politician.
- Sir Kenneth Clark, art historian.
- Keith Coventry, artist.
- Fleur Cowles, writer and editor.
- Maurice Cowling, historian.
- Edward de Bono, thinker.
- Dame Edith Evans, actress.
- William Ewart Gladstone, later Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
- Norman Foster, architect
- Andrew Grima, jewellery designer.
- Bryan Guinness, poet.
- Edward Heath, later Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
- Sir Frederick Henniker, traveller.
- Georgette Heyer, writer.
- Ashley Hicks, interior designer and architect.
- David Nightingale Hicks, interior decorator and designer.
- Bill Nighy, actor.
- Henry Holland, architect.
- Aldous Huxley, writer.
- Sir Simon Jenkins, newspaper editor and author.
- Edward Knoblock, playwright and author.
- John Lane, publisher.
- Lord Lee of Fareham, politician.
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay, historian and politician.
- Lord John Manners, politician.
- John McManus, publisher and travel writer.
- John Morgan, writer on etiquette.
- Malcolm Muggeridge, journalist and broadcaster.
- Sir Harold Nicolson, writer and politician.
- John Hare Powel, agriculturalist and politician.
- J.B. Priestley, writer.
- Terence Rattigan, playwright.
- Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset.
- John Richardson, art critic.
- Baroness Pauline de Rothschild, socialite, writer, fashion designer.
- Sir Roger Scruton, philosopher.
- Sebastian Shaw, actor.
- Michael Sherard, fashion designer.
- Anthony Smith, broadcaster.
- Sir Robert Smirke, architect.
- Sir David Tang, businessman.
- Sir Peter Tapsell, politician.
- Terence Stamp, actor.
- Lord Stanley, politician, later 15th Earl of Derby.
- Martin Stevens, politician, MP for Fulham.
- William Henry Fox Talbot, pioneer photographer.
- Herbert Beerbohm Tree, actor-manager.
- Historic England. "ALBANY COURTYARD, City of Westminster (1209755)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
- Arthurs, William. "Philip Bobbitt on life in Albany". London Society Journal. London Society. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
- Ingerfield, Mark (10 April 2004). "A cluster of salubrious solitudes". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
- "Historic Albany set for sale". Easier Property. 16 August 2007. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
- "The William Stone Society". Peterhouse College. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
- Kloester, Jennifer (2011). Georgette Heyer Biography. Random House. p. 248. ISBN 1446473368.
- "Designed for Living", The Times, 26 June 1958, p. 13
- Wodehouse, P. G. (2009) . Young Men in Spats (Reprinted ed.). London: Arrow Books. p. 171. ISBN 9780099514039.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Albany, London.|
- "London’s Best and Most Secretive Address", by Christopher Gibbs, The New York Times Magazine, 14 April 2013
- "Albany", Survey of London: Volumes 31 and 32, St James Westminster, Part 2, pp. 367-389 (1963) - detailed history with plans and photographs
- Rooms at The Albany - (n.b. 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.)