The 7 Exquisites
Everything in Mayfair and St James’s is connected via 7 Exquisite Splendours… I call them The 7 Exquisites:
1) The complex tangle of 17thC secret underground passages
2) Irish (who dominated Mayfair 3 to 1 in the Regency and set the tone)
3) Battenberg Cake
7) the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660
Albany on Piccadilly is no exception. Entering its fountained courtyard involves cabbing or strolling through a narrow nondescript passage (next door to the Royal Academy opposite Fortnums) at the end of which, one is transported into Regency London in all its thrilling congeniality. The fountain no longer flows with champagne but the furniture, artworks and items of history such as a sedan chair in the entrance take one back to an age in which women were transported from salon to salon in Mayfair by handsome footmen. As my own decrepitude looms, I yearn for a “folly of flashy footmen” and an exquisitely appointed sedan chair lined in purple damask and Ruby buttoned cushions – to whisk me about Mayfair. At present I rely on the strong arms of gentlemen such as Robin Dutt Daniel Lismore and the Pilate Princesses to lug me about like a 45 kilo sack of spuds. We live in undignified times.
But not at the Albany where one is connected to the reassuring dignity of Regency Eccentricity. Built in 1770 as Melbourne House and transformed into a bachelors sets in 1802 for Chaps and Dandy’s of consequence by Henry Holland its residents include Lord Byron, Georgette Heyer, Aldous Huxley, Byron, Guinness and Oscar Wilde’s Ernest Raffles /Jack Worthing from his play The Importance of Being Ernest. As a literary meme used by Dickens, Conan Doyle etc a set at Albany suggests the apotheosis of a successful Eccentric such as my dear friend and one time travel companion Edward de Bono or David Hicks son of Edward’s dear friend Pamela Hicks – daughter of Earl Louis Mountbatten a direct descendent of the inspiration for Battenberg Cake and uncle of beloved eccentric HRH Prince Philip.
Chapesses were not permitted at Albany until 1880 though of course as every girl knows, rules are made to be broken, hence the secret underground passage at the concealed gate in Albany Gardens through to Burlington Gardens exit which still provides a surreptitious exit and once provided secret access for “ladies” to visit chaps under the cloak of darkness. Prime Minister Gladstone was caught with ladies in his Set whom he claimed to be “converting”? Queen Victoria was most amused!
As a girl in Mayfair obsessed by Oscar Wilde it was my dream to have an Albany Set. As yet I’ve only been a vicarious resident living through close friends in residence such the father of lateral thinking Edward de Bono who has lived in what was Gladstone’s Set for over 40 years. Another close friend, author of the Debrett’s Guides and numerous Etiquette columns, John Morgan was tragically impaled on the railings of Albany in 2000 “under suspicious circumstances” – sadly a historically common form of suspicious Mayfair deaths.
But for me the greatest thrill in the 1980’s was returning for a late night saucer of Champagne or cup of tea through the secret Burlington Gardens gate following an evening at the Claremont or Annabelle’s! Edward has lived in Albany for 40 years as have numerous members of the aristocracy, authors, actresses, poets and artists.
And whilst invisible to all those dashing along Piccadilly the convivial congeniality of Mayfair’s Historic Antecedents as the birthplace of Eccentricity as a quintessential aspect of English and Irish character carries on smoothly in the splendour that is Albany.