Early on in my occult career I was something of an adventurer. Spurred on by a love of television shows such as Urban Gothic and The X Files, I spent many an evening exploring abandoned and supposedly haunted sites all around London. Perhaps, in hindsight, it was inevitable that I would seek out urban legends in the shadows between the streetlamps. The Highgate Vampire, Spring-heeled Jack and the Goose at Crossbones Graveyard, England’s capitol has more than its fair share of tall tales.
While there may be truth hidden like diamonds in the mountains of coal that formed West End folklore, the following story is sadly one of the least believable. For a long time the Beast of Berkeley Square was my one that got away, a terrible supernatural horror that had killed on multiple occasions and unless confronted may well do so again.
Erroneously believing myself skilled enough in the occult arts to try and banish this amorphous, tentacled entity I kept an eye out for a ghost hunting group that would be allowed inside by the booksellers now occupying the building, ultimately without success. It seemed that the current owners were not only disinterested in the paranormal aspects of their weekday home but also hostile to any talk of ghosts and ghouls on the premises too.
While this attitude was ridiculous to me at the time it is understandable in hindsight, especially in light of the research others have done towards debunking the case. It seems less and less likely that an aristocrat died of fright in the master bedroom, nor can any evidence of a maid having a nervous breakdown when something conveniently indescribable tried to pry beneath her petticoats be found outside of the penny dreadfuls of the period.
There is little in the way of Lovecraftian horror to be found within its walls after all, and yet the building continues to appear in lists of the most haunted houses in the world to this very day. While I like my low effort spooky, especially around Halloween when it is on display in even the most depressingly mainstream news and media outlets, there is no excuse for jumping at imaginary shadows. That said, A couple of tales relating to the property do seem to have a small basis in fact.
First, we have the sad case of a Mr Myers who, having been jilted by his prospective wife mere days before their marriage is thought to have became unsound of mind, living like a recluse in the upper floors of the building and admitting no visitors. During this period the ramshackle state of the property as well as his candlelit walks around the darkened structure would likely have sent a chill down the spine of any but the hardiest of Dickensian gentlemen and kept the tall tales flowing along with the gin in West End taverns way after sundown.
Secondly, there is the account of the then Lord Lyttleton. Staying in the supposedly fatal room on a bet during the earlier tenancy of a Miss Curzon, the scholar insisted upon bringing a pair of blunderbusses loaded with a mixture of normal shot and silver sixpences to his midnight vigil. It was the talismanic contents of these firearms that is said to have saved his life when, later that same night, he fired both weapons directly into the centre of a jet black shape that jumped across the room at him.
Accounts vary as to what happened next, of course, but it is safe to assume from his later political exploits that he did indeed survive the encounter relatively unscathed. A man described in contemporary sources as of wide and cosmopolitan learning, and not assumed to be given to flights of fancy, he outlined his brief involvement in the case via letters to Notes and Queries. And while it frankly smells of major embellishment, his presence in the building that night appears to be factual.
This was an academic magazine, a publication not unlike a predigital message board of sorts that catered to the intelligentsia of England in a time when being upper class was said to reflect both scholarly intellect and the right to be believed in all matters of social commentary. Yet his word on what occurred while alone in that bedroom is no better than anyone else’s in our less stratified modern age, and as such we do need to take the uncorroborated account with a handful of salt.
The most famous tale tied to the beast, that of two sailors whose attempt to lodge within the building during one of its derelict periods led to them paying the price with their life and sanity respectively, seems to be more local folklore than criminal fact. Sadly, that appears to be the case across the board, a revelation that my younger self doggedly refused to accept.
Ultimately what we are left with is a mishmash of hearsay weakly supported by the testimony of a few learned men and unscrupulous potboiler journalism striving to generate the predigital equivalent of page views in a saturated market. Remember, this was a London that, while yet to witness the horrors of Jack the Ripper was still terrified from living with the ever present fear of Spring-Heeled Jack.
Undeniably fertile ground for the imagination, regardless. On a final, perhaps slightly spurious note, we find some modern writers claiming that The Beast was a squid like cryptid living in the pipework of the house. In this scenario it is assumed to kill while protecting its territory, in doing so bringing a whole new meaning to the term ‘Thomas Crapper’. While I no longer believe in the validity of this case in any form, I still find that idea highly amusing in a sardonic sort of way.