Like buses it seems celebrities come along in pairs, for after months of not seeing a famous face I had two in succession. It was the first snow fall of the year when my radio offered me a job to take a well known actor with left leaning liberal views back to his London apartment.
Looking up from my screen there level with my bonnet was the scourge of the Guardian Jeremy Clarkson, looking forlorn and liberally covered in snow. “Sorry, I’m booked”, those three words probably earned me a mention in his Sunday Times column.
When my booking sat in the back of the cab he thought it hilarious that his nemesis had been turned down in order for me to take him to his destination, which proved to be the most secret apartments in London – Albany.
They were described by Country Life as ‘London’s most exclusive address’. Accommodation within is not referred to something as vulgar as a flat or apartment, the 69 self contained living quarters are known as “sets” and are watched over by porters, usually ex-servicemen who, until recently wore top hats and tail-coats.
Originally a bachelor only establishment the previous residents read like a Who’s Who of the Great and Good, and in some cases not so good. They include: Anthony Armstrong-Jones; Jane Austin’s brother Henry; Sir Thomas Beecham; Lord Byron; Sir George Canning, Alan Clark; Kenneth Clark; Dame Edith Evans; William Gladstone; Graham Greene; Edward Heath; Georgette Heyer; Aldous Huxley; Margaret Leighton; Edgar Lustgarten; Malcolm Muggeridge; J. B. Priestley; Terence Rattigan; Terence Stamp; Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree; Margaret Thatcher. Not to forget the fictional gentleman thief A. J. Raffles and, of course, Jack, in The Importance of being Ernest.
Said to be the oldest apartment block in London its location could not be more central – or discreet. The black door to its rear entrance opens up on to Burlington Gardens with Saville Row opposite, while the front door which is set back by 100 ft from Piccadilly thus obscuring it from the preying eyes of shoppers leaving Albany’s local grocers – Fortnum and Mason.
The original house was built adjacent to Burlington House (The Royal Academy) by Lord Melbourne for the staggering sum of £100,000 in 1775. During their short time at Melbourne House, as it was so named, Lady Melbourne had numerous affairs, and one tryst with Lord Egremont produced a son William Lamb. When Lamb married, his wife, Caroline became the infamous lover of Lord Byron who when lodging at Albany would smuggle Lady Caroline Lamb into his set dressed as a page boy.
Seventeen years after the Melbourne’s had moved into their elegant townhouse they struck a deal over dinner with the Duke of York and Albany, King George III’s second son, and they agreed to swap houses. Lord and Lady Melbourne moved into York House near the site of modern Horseguards Parade £23,000 the richer, the differential sum paid by the Duke of York. This money went some way to reduce Melbourne’s debts incurred by his wife’s extravagance.
The Duke of York spent money just as recklessly and his bank, to who he owed a fortune, came up with the idea of developing the heavily mortgaged property. The townhouse was divided into 12 apartments and two blocks of three stories were constructed east and west of the rear garden, with a 500ft covered walkway, known as Rope Walk (pictured) stretching between the buildings.
Albany remains much as it did when converted in 1802 which boasted at the time that “No younger son of a duke need be ashamed to put [Albany address] on his card”.
More information and pictures of Albany can be found at London Bytes.