A rich heritage in the heart of Mayfair
Charles Street, Berkeley Square, occupies part of the lawns of old Berkeley House, the London mansion of that fierce old cavalier Lord Berkeley of Stratton, who during the civil war between Charles I and Parliament, distinguished himself as 'the hero of Stratton fight'. Soon after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Lord Berkeley was rewarded by Charles II for his loyalty to the Crown with an extensive parcel of land to the north of Piccadilly on which he constructed for himself a great house. The land was afterwards developed by his widow. This street, which first appears in the rate-books in the 1740s, was named after Charles, Lord Falmouth, Lord Berkeley's brother. For two hundred years until the outbreak of the Second World War these houses in Charles Street were 'the abode of rank and fashion'. No.34 was originally the home of the Misses Davenport, who lived here by 1749. The house continued to accommodate a series of aristocratic spinsters and dowagers until acquired about 1799 by the 5th Earl of Tankerville [1776-1859] who sat in Parliament for a number of constituencies. He was an enthusiastic cricketer and a keen natural historian. He filled this house with his collection of fossils and shells.
By 1815 No.34 had become the home of Major James Cunningham. He was one of that small but heroic band which, against overwhelming odds, managed to forcibly shut the outer gate of the farmhouse at La Haye Saint during the Battle of Waterloo - thus prompting his wife to remark that he was 'the first and last Cunningham ever to shut a door'. The next occupant of note, here by 1846, was Admiral John Douglas who had entered the Royal Navy as a midshipman and won a reputation for himself [and the notice of his superiors] by swimming around the various vessels of the fleet carrying messages. About 1856 Douglas was succeeded by Sir Robert Nigel Kingscote M.P. whose family continued at No.34 until about 1898 when it passed to Colonel [afterwards Major-General] Villiers Hatton [1852-1914]. Hatton commanded the 15t battalion Grenadier Guards in the Nile Expedition of 1898 and was present at the battle of Khartoum which finally broke the hold of the followers of the 'Mad' Mahdi. Villier's widow was still living at No.34 as late as 1942. No.35 Charles Street began life about 1748 as the London town-house of the Perceval family, Earls of Egmont. Lady Elizabeth Perceval was still occupying it in 1824. The next occupant was Miss Walpole, a kinswoman of Sir Robert Walpole, sometimes called 'Britain's first Prime Minister'. We have some idea of the cost of these houses in Miss Walpole's day because in 1835 that witty clergyman, the Rev. Sydney Smith, bought the property two doors down at No.33, where on 8 April 1815 Lady Margaret Fitzgerald had burned to death. He wrote to a friend: 'I have bought a house in Charles Street, Berkeley Square, lease for fourteen years for £1,400 [about £60,000 in modern money] and £10 per annum ground rent.'
These houses were popular with members of parliament, and in 1857 No.35 was the home of Richard Heneage, M.P. for Lincoln. By 1861 Heneage had sold on to Major-General Robert Wood 45, who with his wife, Constantia 29, lived here in imperial splendour, attended by a footman, a housekeeper, two housemaids, a kitchen-maid, a nursemaid for the children, a school-room maid, and a ladies' -rnaid for Constantia, all under the charge of the butler, George Haynes 41. About 1909 No.35 was purchased by Sir George Herbert Duckworth [1868-1934] best remembered today as Secretary to the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. In 1936 his former home was occupied by Martin de Selincourt [1864-1950] chairman of Selincourt & Sons, 'cloth, silk merchants and furriers'. A keen traveller and yachtsman, and a some-time chairman of the Geographical Magazine, Martin de Selincourt was also a director of Swan & Edgar, the department store situated at the junction of Piccadilly and Regent Street. It was at Swan & Edgar that Ethel Le Neve, the mistress of the wife-poisoner, Dr. Harvey Hawley Crippen, purchased the bright red dress that first aroused the suspicions of the victim's friends that she might have been murdered.
No.36 Charles Street was once the home of that Regency dandy, Lord Petersham, who gave his name to a type of silk ribbon and an overcoat. He popularised the wearing of Cossack trousers and owned a different snuff-box for every day of the year. Gronow in his Reminiscences stated: 'I heard him, on the occasion of a delightful old light-blue Sevres box he was using being admired, say, in his lisping way - "Yes, it is a nice summer box, but would not do for winter wear". He was greatly devoted to the colour brown which was apparently caused by his having been desperately in love with a very beautiful widow of that name. In addition to his other eccentricities he never ventured out of doors before 6 p.m.
From about 1809 No.36 was the London town-house of David Ker, Member of Parliament for Downpatrick in Ireland, and his wife, Lady Selina, a daughter of the 151 Marquis of Londonderry. By 1831 it had passed to their son, David Stewart Ker, who also sat in Parliament for Downpatrick, although he was very far from being a gentleman. On Friday 30 May 1844, aged twenty-eight, he found himself in the dock at Bow Street Police Court charged with having used 'indecent and obscene language' in a tobacconist's shop to which he and a friend had repaired about ten o'clock at night, both very drunk, in search of an 'after-dinner cigar', turning nasty when none of those presented to him found favour. About 1864 No.36 became the home of Lady Louisa Cornwallis 65 and her sister, Lady Elizabeth 59, granddaughters of the 151 Marquis Cornwallis whose surrender along with seven thousand of his men to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781 brought an end to the American War of Independence. These two elderly aristocratic spinsters were cared for by a live-in staff of nine. When Lady Louisa died at No.36 aged seventy-one in July 1872 she left a fortune of £90,000, the equivalent in millennium money to perhaps £4m, including £1,000 to her ladies' maid and £500 to her housemaid, sums which would have represented to them untold wealth.
By 1895 No.36 had become the home of Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Carnarvon, the mother of the 5thEarl [1866-1923], the famous Egyptologist, who must have known this house well. In 1903 the " Earl wintered in Egypt where he began a long collaboration with Howard Carter which culminated in 1922 with the discovery in the Valley of the Kings near Thebes of the tomb of King Tutankhamen. About 1900 No.36 Charles Street was acquired by another famous resident, Sir William Harcourt [1827-1904]. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Harcourt was responsible in 1894 for introducing death duties into the British tax system. From about 1940 all three properties disappear from the London Post Office directories. We know from other sources that No.34 was opened in 1943 by Clementine Churchill, the wife of the Prime Minister, as a club for visiting American and Dominion forces. During the years of austerity post-war, when large houses such as these were almost impossible to let or to sell, all three seem to have been occupied at different times and in varying degrees by the Institute for British-American Understanding, an offshoot of the English-Speaking Union which occupied premises adjacent. [One wonders whether those who congregated here during these years were aware that No.36 had formerly been the home of the descendants of Lord Cornwallis, who during the American War of Independence had done so much to disrupt British-American relations.]
Today, all three properties form the Chesterfield Hotel, named after its proximity to Chesterfield Hill, which in turn was named after Philip Dormer Stanhope [1694-1773] 4th Earl of Chesterfield, statesman and man of letters, whose great mansion stood in South Audley Street. As an afterthought, it is worth remembering another inhabitant of this site, the beautiful and witty actress, Mrs Dorothea Jordan [1762-1816] who afterwards lived elsewhere in Charles Street. She was the mistress of the future William IV, by whom she produced ten children in as many years. When William endeavoured to reduce her allowance, Dorothea quietly handed him a slip of paper which at that date was attached to all play-bills. It read: 'No money refunded after the rising of the curtain'.