Berkeley Square, Westminster
An aristocratic quadrangle in central Mayfair that once rivalled Grosvenor Square as the most fashionable spot in the West End
Berkeley House was built on the north side of Piccadilly in the 1660s for the first Lord Berkeley of Stratton, with grounds stretching far into Mayfair. The house was sold in 1696 with the stipulation that its grounds be preserved, thus setting aside the space that became the square.
After the demolition of Berkeley House in 1733, exceptionally grand properties were built on three sides of the very oblong ‘square’ and the house’s former garden was divided into two parts. Its southern half became the front garden of what is now Lansdowne House – completed by Robert Adam in 1762 for the Earl of Bute – while the northern part was railed in to create the present-day public space. Its plane trees were planted in 1789, making them some of the oldest in central London.
Alexander Munro’s statue of the repentant biblical sinner the Woman of Samaria (also known as the Water Carrier) was the gift of Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, in 1858.
The garden and front rooms of Lansdowne House were lost in a road scheme in the 1930s, when the drawing room was reinstalled at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the dining room went to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The house became the exclusive Lansdowne Club, which boasted that it was the only London club to admit women on equal standing with men.
Later in the 1930s, 20 of the original houses on the east side of Berkeley Square were knocked down and replaced by an office building. The last private house went on the market in 1953 at an asking price of £27,000 and the square is now entirely occupied by high-status offices, clubs and other amenities for the very wealthy.
The BP pension fund acquired over 100 properties in and around the square in 1967 for £12 million and sold them to a private Middle Eastern investor for over £300 million in 2001.
Jack Barclay’s Bentley showroom (which also used to sell Rolls Royces) is perhaps the world’s most prestigious outlet for this marque.
The square was home to the writer Horace Walpole, the statesmen George Canning and Winston Churchill and the general Lord Clive.
Berkeley Square’s fame comes above all from the wartime song ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, recorded by Vera Lynn, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra and countless others.
Postal district: W1
Further reading: BH Johnson, Berkeley Square to Bond Street: Early History of the Neighbourhood, London Topographical Society, 1952