An apartment block that only the most well connected are invited to live in? Another mysterious case for the Wikiworm, taken from the weirder side of Wikipedia
The Albany, or simply Albany —(since the mid-20th century some have claimed that the definite article is not in use among the fashionable)— is an exclusive apartment complex in Piccadilly, London.
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 Gladstone, and numerous members of the aristocracy. Residents no longer have to be bachelors, although children under the age of 14 are not permitted to live there.
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.
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. Nonetheless, occupants have been known to complain that the accommodation is often rather cramped.
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’.”
Some famous past residents include:
Earl of Snowdon, photographer
Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor.
Isaiah Berlin, philosopher.
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.
William Ewart Gladstone, Prime Minister
Edward Heath, later Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Georgette Heyer, writer.
Henry Holland, architect.
Aldous Huxley, writer.
Sir Simon Jenkins, newspaper editor and author.
Malcolm Muggeridge, journalist and broadcaster.
Sir Harold Nicolson, writer and politician.
J.B. Priestley, writer.
Terence Rattigan, playwright.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP
Roger Scruton, philosopher.
Terence Stamp, actor.