The Nameless Thing of Berkeley Square
50 Berkeley Square is a 4-story, brick townhouse in Mayfair. In the late 19th century it became known as one of the most haunted houses in London.
A murderous unnamed thing was said to be responsible for several deaths in the home, but there were other suspects mentioned throughout the years.
There are stories of a ghost that haunts the 4th floor attic (others say the 2nd) of 50 Berkeley Square. The structure has been referred to as "the most haunted house in London". Others argue it is not a ghost at all but an amphibious, predatory cryptid, reminiscent of Lovecraft's Cthulu's pantheon.
Whatever inhabited Berkeley Square remained unidentified, so it became known as The Nameless Thing. It left behind only weird clues to its identity. Unfortunately it also left in its wake several corpses. Described as monstrous, it appeared to have a predilection to claim humans as its prey.
When it claimed its first victim is not known, however an encounter with the "Thing" was recounted in the early 1840s. Sir Robert Warboys, 20, heard of strange rumors about the notorious Berkeley Square house while he wiled away the hours at a tavern in Holborn. Intrigued, but convinced he would lay the ghost and end the legend, which he referred to as "unadulterated poppycock".
His drinking companions tried to disagree with him, and the evening ended with a challenge to spend the night on the second floor, inside the haunted room. Warboys without a moment's thought, told those gathered around him, “I wholeheartedly accept your preposterous harebrained challenge!”
That very night he sought out the landlord and convinced him to let him spend the night in the haunted room. The landlord was reluctant, and accepted only if Warboys agreed to bring a pistol with him. The second condition was that if he sighted anything "out of the ordinary", he would use the cord attached to a bell in the landlord's room below.
Warboys got his way and as the clock struck midnight, he found himself sitting at a table with a single candle to provide lighting, waiting for the arrival of the "Thing". He didn't have long to wait.
Less than hour later the landlord was yanked from sleep as the bell from the bedroom clanged with desperate violence. Right after a gunshot boomed from above his quarters. Spurred with terror, the man took the steps two at a time to where he left Warboys. He prepared himself to encounter a horrific tableau. Instead he found Sir Robert wedged in the far corner of the room. His lips were peeled back in a grimace, and his eyes bulged with fear. His hand, with bloodless knuckles gripped the pistol he'd fired a moment before. A bullet hole had been torn in the wall on the other side of the room. He was dead.
Three years after Sir Robert Warboys met his end at 50 Berkeley Square, two men met something inhuman and indescribable.. Although the details of this narrative have varied in minor degrees from one retelling to another, the core of the account has always remained the same:
In 1843, two sailors from Portsmouth, Robert Martin and Edward Blunden, after having squandered their lodging funds on an evening of drunken ribaldry, noticed a “To Let” on the then abandoned Berkeley Square abode and managed to break into a basement window of the dwelling in search of a night’s rest.
Discovering that the lower level of the house was uncomfortably damp (not to mention rat infested,) the sailors migrated upwards, finally settling down in the now notorious room.
Blunden, presumably the more sober of the two, expressed the anxiety he felt upon entering the room. He claimed that he felt a “presence,” but these fears were promptly dismissed by his shipmate, who used his rifle to prop open a window to allow for a breeze and built a fire in the long unused hearth with bits of broken furniture and rotting floorboards. It wasn’t long before the two men were huddled on the relative warmth of floor, fast asleep.
Sometime after midnight Blunden awoke to see the door to the room creaking open. Little by little a sliver of dim, grayish light crept across the wooden floor. Too terrified to move, Blunden managed to wake his accomplice. The two men sat up as they heard a strange, moist, scraping sound slowly approach them. Later, Martin claimed that it sounded as if something were dragging itself across the floor.
Suddenly, the terrified men leapt to their feet and came face to face with the abhorrent visage of what could only describe as a hideous monstrosity. The creature undulated between the sailors and what was their only hope for escape; the open door. Then, just as the trembling Blunden began to reach toward the rifle, which was still wedged in the window frame, the creature suddenly lunged forward, wrapping itself around the young sailor’s throat.
Seizing the opportunity, the panic stricken Martin ran from the house, screaming for help. Soon enough he stumbled upon a patrolling police officer. Although skeptical of the young sailor’s frenzied tale (and no doubt attributing it to the almost overwhelming stench of alcohol which permeated his uniform) the officer dutifully followed Martin back to Berkeley Square.
According to the account, Martin and the officer ran up the stairs, but found no sign of Blunden in the room. Martin reclaimed his rifle as the two men continued to search the house. Their efforts seemed to prove fruitless however, until the men entered the basement and were greeted to a ghastly image that would haunt them for the remainder of their lives…
Lying at the base of the stairs in Berkeley Square’s moist, rock walled cellar was Blunden’s dismembered corpse. His body lay in a mangled heap, with his head wrenched viciously to the side. The officer reported that the young man’s eyes (much like those of Sir Robert Warboys) were wide with unimaginable horror.
There are accounts that whatever stalks the halls of 50 Berkeley Square is phantasmagorical, a man-like shadow with a deformity of both face and body. Its hands and feet are bird-like, tipped with sharp talons. It was this figure that strangled Blunden with “cold, misty looking hands.”
Another version tells where Blunden was thrown from a window, and he fell on a spike from a wrought iron fence below.
Throughout the years, others survived and described something without form, slimy, which made a “gruesome sloppy noise” when it moves. One eyewitness said the creature snaked forward on tentacles; an octopus-like thing that belonged neither in the sea nor on the land.
Could the Thing be a mutated, freshwater octopus that uses London's subterranean sewer system which connects to the Thames? Once inside the house, it fed on rats and then found a drunken sailor was a more filling meal.
Harry Price, the well-known investigator known for his involvement with Borley Rectory during the 1920s, disclosed how he came across a story from 1790, where the house was used by counterfeiters. His angle was that the counterfeiters used the tale to frighten off any curiosity seekers.
According to him, another story told of weird noises, bells tolling, plodding footsteps and the sound of something heavy being dragged throughout the house. It was so loud the neighbors went inside, en masse, trying to find the source.
He also came across an 1870 article published in the magazine Notes and Queries by W. E. Howlett, which stated:
The mystery of Berkeley Square still remains a mystery. The story of the haunted house in Mayfair can be recapitulated in a few words; the house contains at least one room of which the atmosphere is supernaturally fatal to body and mind. A girl saw, heard and felt such horror in it that she went mad, and never recovered sanity enough to tell how or why.
A gentleman, a disbeliever in ghosts, dared to sleep in number 50 and was found a corpse in the middle of the floor after frantically ringing for help in vain.
Rumor suggests other cases of the same kind, all ending in death, madness, or both as a result of sleeping, or trying to sleep in that room. The very party walls of the house, when touched, are found saturated with electric horror. It is uninhabited save by an elderly man and his wife who act as caretakers; but even these have no access to the room. This is kept locked, the key being in the hands of a mysterious and seemingly nameless person who comes to the house once every six months, locks up the elderly couple in the basement, and then unlocks the room and occupies himself in it for hours.
Harry Price described where 50 Berkeley Square was situated in one of London's most sought-after districts, but the house stayed vacant for years on end. He concluded by saying that perhaps poltergeist haunted during the early part of the 19th century, but had since been dispelled.
Other stories involving the attic room, surrounds the spirit of a young woman who committed suicide by throwing herself from the top floor window after her uncle raped her. Her spirit is seen as brown mist, other times a white figure.
A less known tale is about a man locked in the attic in total isolation and fed through a slit in the door. Whether he was mad to begin with or not, in the end his mind snapped and he died there.
The attic is also the setting for the story of girl killed in there by a psychopathic servant.
It appears these stories are different versions of the same haunting, but with different characters.
In 1859, Lady Elizabeth Curzon, 91, daughter of the late Viscount Curzon, lived at 50 Berkeley Square. On April 14, she died there. Her housekeeper of 30 years, Sarah Jones followed her to the grave, October of the same year.
Another story, which might be confused with what happened to Sir Robert Warboys, alleges that in 1872, Lord Lyttleton spent the night in the attic. He shot at an apparition with a shotgun he brought with him. He couldn't find anything, dead or alive, only his spent shells.
It seems the stories alleging the source of the haunting, changed throughout the years. In 1879, Mayfair Magazine told of a maid who lived in the attic, and went mad, only to die in an asylum. Another story, very similar to other versions, describes a nobleman, who after spending the night in the attic, lost his power of speech.
Most possibly the next person to take up residence there was Mr. Thomas Myers. In 1873, a reference is made to him living at No. 50 Berkeley Square and neglecting to pay his taxes. The newspapers refer to the address as the "haunted house" and it "has occasioned a good deal of speculation among the neighbors." He was known to be well off, and his refusal to pay the taxes was ascribed to his eccentricity, a nice word for mad.
In 1884, Lord Selkirk took up occupancy, despite the reputation the house still maintained as being haunted. He didn't enjoy his occupancy for long. April, 1885, he was found dead. Lady Selkirk stayed there.
In the 1930s, the Maggs Brother, booksellers took over the house, and Lady Selkirk who lived there for decades, dismissed the stories told about it. There were rumors that employees were not allowed up on the top floor. Allegedly the police hung up a sign in the 1950s, instructing that the top of the structure was not to be used, even for storage.
Peter Underwood included the house at 50 Berkeley Square in his book Haunted London (1975). Others have remarked a similarity between Edward Bulwer-Lytton's story, The Haunted and the Haunters and Berkeley Square.
In 2017, the Maggs Brothers bookshop moved to Bedford Square in Bloomsbury.
Was No. 50 Berkeley Square truly haunted, or just a victim of well-told, convincing ghost stories perpetuated through every retelling? And if yes, who or what slinked through the structure, watching with vacant eyes the living come and go.