Thursday, January 3, 2019

DAY 19: Charles Kinsky at The Albany

The Albany, Piccadilly, London
One of the oldest and most exclusive residential buildings in London is The Albany, a collection of diminutive "sets of rooms"--what an American would call an apartment--originally leased only to single men. 

Count Charles Andreas Kinsky
Count Charles Kinsky called it home for a while--as did George, Lord Byron; myriad fictional characters by Conan Doyle, P.G. Wodehouse, Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens; and a number of prominent English politicians and noblemen through the past two centuries. I send Jennie to find him there in a memorable scene from That Churchill Woman, when ladies were not permitted further than the front entry by the vigilant porters. 

Today, women as well as men are allowed to buy sets in the venerable digs. The difficulty is waiting decades for an Albany set to fall open. Moreover, prospective tenants are vetted by a committee before being allowed to live in the building. The basic rules: no pets, no children, no whistling, no noise, and no publicity. According to resident and writer Christopher Gibbs, who authored this piece on the Albany for the New York Times, photographers have been escorted off the premises merely for snapping a picture of the courtyard.

Christopher Gibbs in his Albany set, with a daybed once owned by Tennyson, 2013, Victor Watts,

The Albany was once Melbourne House, built in the early 1770s as a private town mansion for the first Viscount Melbourne. He seems rarely to have lived there, and in 1802 Henry Holland added side wings and converted the whole complex to 69 bachelor apartments. The various sets are reached off common staircases, known as entryways, rather like the college digs at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
Pauline de Rothschild's drawing room, 1976, by Derry Moore

David and Pamela Hicks’s set after he redecorated in 1995. John Spragg @
The rear of the Albany is an enclosed courtyard with a covered walkway, called the Ropewalk, that leads to the various entries and the rear exit onto Vigo Street. 

The Ropewalk
I imagine it filled with ghosts in the darkness: Of Byron, and Lady Caroline Lamb disguised as a page; of Georgette Heyer, who had a set there later in her writing life; of Bruce Chatwin, world traveler, and Sir Kenneth Clark, discerning expert in art. Antony Armstrong-Jones, who married Princess Margaret, and Fleur Cowles, the American magazine publisher, all lived at the Albany, and must still trail their fingers over its doorframes at night.

Perhaps Jennie and Charles Kinsky do, too. 

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.  

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