Albany (London)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Albany
Albany Courtyard at dusk.JPG
The Albany at dusk (May 2014)
Location within Central London
Former namesMelbourne House
Alternative namesAlbany
EtymologyPrince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany
General information
TypeResidential apartment block
LocationPiccadilly, London
CountryUnited Kingdom
Coordinates51°30′32″N 0°8′19″W / 51.50889°N 0.13861°W / 51.50889; -0.13861Coordinates: 51°30′32″N 0°8′19″W / 51.50889°N 0.13861°W / 51.50889; -0.13861
Current tenantsVarious
Construction started1771
OwnerPeterhouse, Cambridge, Various
Design and construction
ArchitectSir William Chambers
Henry Holland
Listed Building – Grade I

The Albany, or simply Albany, is an apartment complex in Piccadilly, London. The three-storey mansion was built in the 1770s and divided into apartments in 1802.


The Albany was built in 1771–1776 by Sir William Chambers for the newly created 1st Viscount Melbourne who had bought the land and residence (Piccadilly House) it was to replace from Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland for £16,500.[1][2] It was called Melbourne House and cost at least £50,000 to build.[3] It is a three-storey mansion, seven bays (windows) wide, with a pair of service wings flanking a front courtyard.

In 1791 Lord Melbourne, who by then had built up considerable debts to fund his and his wife's extravagant lifestyle, downsized by exchanging Melbourne House for Dover House, Whitehall (now a government office) with the recently married Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, who required a larger property in order to “entertain in style”.[4] The sale price was £23,571.[4] 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.


From the time of its conversion, the Albany was a prestigious set of bachelor apartments. Residents have included 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.[5]

Residents no longer have to be bachelors, although children under the age of 14 are not permitted to live there.[6]

Ownership and governance[edit]

The apartments or "sets" are individually owned as flying freeholds, with the owners known as "Proprietors"; a set that came up for sale in 2007 had an advertised guide price of £2 million.[7]

Around half the sets were owned by Peterhouse, a college of the University of Cambridge.[5] These were acquired by William Stone (1857–1958) during the Second World War.[8] Stone, nicknamed the "Squire of Piccadilly", was a former scholar of Peterhouse, a bachelor and a lifelong resident of the Albany.[9] He bequeathed 37 sets to the college,[9] along with other endowments.[8]

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. Only recently have women been allowed to apply. [6]


Drawing by Thomas H. Shepherd, c. 1830

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'."[10]

In fiction[edit]

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.[11] 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. In Graham Greene’s The Human Factor (1978), Dr. Percival resides at D.6.

In Chesterton's Father Brown Stories, in "The Queer Feet", the character Mr. Audrey "[looks] like a mild, self-indulgent bachelor, with rooms in the Albany -- which he was".

In K. J. Charles's Spectred Isle (2017), arcanist Randolph Glyde resides in a serviced flat at the Albany, with the "gloriously efficient luxury" of a shower bath.


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.


  1. ^ Brown p44
  2. ^ Historic England. "ALBANY COURTYARD, City of Westminster (1209755)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  3. ^ Brown p49
  4. ^ a b Brown, Colin (2018). Lady M The Life and Loves of Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne 1751-1818 (paperback ed.). Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Amberley Publishing. pp. 134–8. ISBN 9781445689456.
  5. ^ a b Arthurs, William. "Philip Bobbitt on life in Albany". London Society Journal. London Society. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  6. ^ a b Ingerfield, Mark (10 April 2004). "A cluster of salubrious solitudes". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 21 April 2012. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  7. ^ "Historic Albany set for sale". Easier Property. 16 August 2007. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
  8. ^ a b "The William Stone Society". Peterhouse College. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  9. ^ a b Kloester, Jennifer (2011). Georgette Heyer Biography. Random House. p. 248. ISBN 1446473368.
  10. ^ "Designed for Living", The Times, 26 June 1958, p. 13
  11. ^ Wodehouse, P. G. (2009) [1936]. Young Men in Spats (Reprinted ed.). London: Arrow Books. p. 171. ISBN 9780099514039.

External links[edit]