‘Tis but a bundle or miscellany of sin;sins original, and sins actual.
Hewyt, Serm. (1658) p.4.
I acquit myself of the presumption of having lent my name to recommend miscellanies or works of other men.
When they have join’d their pericranies, Out skips a book of miscellanies.
Ghosts of Clubland
The Phantom Major
In March 1994 the world’s press reported on some rum goings on at the old Naval & Military Club House in Piccadilly. Doing his rounds at 03.00 hours, the night porter, Trevor Newton, a former Royal Signals Corporal, was startled to see a phantom figure in a long brown army greatcoat with flowing silver hair gliding across the Egremont Room.
Shaken, he reported his sighting later to the Club Steward, Mark Brabbs. His father Peter, who had been Club Steward before him and had worked at the Club as a young man during the war, instantly identified the wraith as one Major William Henry Braddell. The Major had made the Club his home during the War and apparently always wore his greatcoat indoors!
The Major had been dining in the Egremont Room one evening with two fellow officers. He left the room to take a telephone call from the War Office when a German bomb fell, killing his two companions Colonel William Gordon VC and Major Crozier. Peter Brabbs recalls him saying of the incident “What a dreadful business”.
A week later, Major Braddell was killed when the anti aircraft battery he was commanding at Kensington received a direct hit. His obituary spoke of a “universally popular officer, the best of companions and an asset to any gathering”.
Other ghostly presences have been seen at the Club. Some visitors looking at a portrait of Lord Nelson report that they have seen Lady Hamilton beside him. The Octagonal Room sometimes has a sudden draught and a noise of rushing wind, where an officer committed suicide by jumping from a window. And there have been several stories about a woman dressed in a long white gown, her hair covered with a lacy veil. In 1958 a member staying at the Club woke in the middle of the night and saw her sitting on the end of his bed, and more recently, the housekeeper saw her in a corridor. She is thought to be Lady Caroline Lamb, the wife of Lord Melbourne, who fell in love with Lord Byron.
The In & Out extracted from the Club Newsletter, January 2001.
The Ghost of Henry Irving
“It was in August, when scaffolding went up on the main staircase and the builders had laid thick black plastic to protect the carpet on the main landing, outside the Cocktail Bar. [Henry] Irving’s chair had
been removed, this being the one upon which ‘he breathed his last’. It was about 1.30 a.m. and I was watching TV in the Reading Room, when I heard a noise outside. It was like someone shuffling across the plastic. I went to the door and shouted ‘Hello!’
“I went out onto the landing and heard another noise, like somebody walking across the scaffolding board. I climbed up the ladder to see if there was anyone there but there was no one. I didn’t mention it to anyone because it’s an old building and you hear all sorts of bumps and creaks.”
The second porter was an experienced security guard, and had a remarkably similar encounter only a week later: “I was on night duty alone in the locked-up building. At around 10p.m., having done my rounds, I was sitting in the Reading Room, talking on my mobile phone to the telephone company, when I was startled to hear a noise outside. I could hear this shuffling across the black covering on the carpet. I went to the doorway, looked left and right, but there was nobody there. I had definitely heard something.
“I went back inside and finished my call and then I heard someone on the scaffolding planking. I got out my big torch and shone it on the board above my head. Something ran from one end of the plank to the other. At first I thought maybe it was one of the builders who hadn’t anywhere to sleep and had decided to stay on overnight. I gave it ten minutes and I could still hear movements on the board so I got out my mobile and called the police.”
Two officers arrived and together with the porter they conducted a thorough search of the building but found no traces of anyone. He had even booby-trapped the rear door, the only means of escape from the locked down building. “However when we got to the Billiard Room the window on the left was wide open. It was shut when I did my rounds earlier in the evening. And there is no ledge outside the window. And it is on the third floor!”
Sir Henry Irving, the great Victorian actor is of course the obvious candidate for the Garrick’s haunting. Irving died shortly after suffering a stroke during a performance while on tour in Bradford on 13 October 1905. After appearing as Becket at the Bradford Theatre, he was seized with syncope just after uttering Becket’s dying words “Into thy hands, O Lord, into thy hands”, and though he lived for an hour or so longer he never spoke again. He was brought to the lobby of the Midland Hotel, where he died on a chair, the same chair that was later brought to the Garrick Club and had been temporarily removed from its usual spot on the stairs during the renovations.
Marcus Risdell [Garrick Club Curator 2011] compiled from witness reports.
Literary references to “Clubbable Ghosts”
Books About Town
A literary trail for summer 2014 featuring 50 unique book benches designed by local artists and famous names to celebrate London’s literary heritage and reading for enjoyment http://www.booksabouttown.org.uk/?action=ListBenches
The ‘cane-bottom’d chair’ of William Thackeray’s ballad
Here we talk of old books, and old friends, and old times;
As we sit in a fog made of rich Latakie
This chamber is pleasant to you, friend, and me.
But of all the cheap treasures that garnish my nest,
There’s one that I love and I cherish the best:
For the finest of couches that’s padded with hair
I never would change thee, my cane-bottom’d chair.”
Thackeray’s favourite chair was presented to the Travellers by Sir William Augustus Fraser, a member of the Club, who had acquired the chair at the sale of Thackeray’s property in 1864. Ironically Thackeray was blackballed by the Travellers Club. According to the journalist George Augustus Sala, Thackeray claimed that the Travellers did not want any ‘writing fellows’. His uncle Lieut.-Colonel Merrick Shawe, a protégé of the Duke of Wellington, was a member of the Club, and provided the inspiration for the character of Major Pendennis in Thackeray’s novel of similar title.
Sheila Markham [Travellers Club Librarian 2010]
Going to War with a Sofa
Bequeathed to the Garrick Club by Sir William Augustus Fraser, 1899 the sofa bears an engraved plaque that reads: “This Sofa was in the room of GEORGE GORDON, 6TH . LORD BYRON. Author of “THE DREAM” when he died at MISSOLONGHI. It was bought at PUTTICK’S by Sir W. A. FRASER, Bt. 7 Jan 1863 Lot 1002″ It would appear Sir William was fond of literary furniture as it was presumably he who had presented the Thackeray chair above to the Travellers and he had been a contemporary of Thackeray at the Garrick.
Lord Byron had planned to attack the Turkish-held fortress of Lepanto, at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth as part of his ill-fated campaign in Greece. He employed a fire-master to prepare artillery and took part of the rebel army under his own command, despite his lack of military experience. However before the expedition could sail he died at Missolonghi on 19th April 1824 after contracting some sort of “marsh disease” [most likely typhoid]. His last words were “Now I shall go to sleep”. In “Notices of the Life of Lord Byron” by Thomas Moore (1830) we read that on the previous day [which was in fact Easter Sunday] at about three in the afternoon, “Lord Byron rose and went into the adjoining room. He was able to walk across the chamber leaning on his servant Tita; and, when seated, asked for a book, which the servant brought him. After reading, however, for a few minutes, he found himself faint; and, again taking Tita’s arm, tottered into the next room and returned to bed.” [p768] He would not rise again, so perhaps it was on this sofa where Byron read for the very last time.
Marcus Risdell [Garrick Club Curator 2011]
A short film made to promote Library Ireland Week 2011