Tales from Albemarle Street
- John Murray VII invites you to join him on a tour of 50 Albemarle Street, London. His family home has been the heart of the John Murray publishing house for nearly 200 years.
My ancestor the second John Murray came here to 50 Albemarle Street in 1812, the year that Napoleon foolishly invaded Russia. And from that moment these rooms became the great meeting place of writers, scientists, politicians, explorers and others.
The house of John Murray was founded in 1768 in Fleet Street, but on the publication of Byron's 'Childe Harold', Murray decided to move west to Albemarle Street. And he was, so to speak, moving from a tradesman's area to aristocratic Mayfair.
It was a brave move, but in fact was an extraordinarily astute one, because he knew that the kind of authors that he'd be publishing would be those who moved round in this part of London.
One of the things that I found extraordinary when I came to first work here in publishing was the enormous number of objects which had been given to us by different authors.
There were objects from the battlefield of Waterloo, little scarabs from Egypt and the most marvellous bracelets of tiger claws.
We sort of collected hair as well. Most of it came through Byron, but we have this wonderful lock of Caroline Lamb's hair which we have in our collection, which we found downstairs. And the interesting thing about Caroline Lamb was that she's always haunted this house.
And when I first came here we had a Irish stoker caretaker. And one day he came up to my father in the morning - and my father had been working very late the night before as he always did - and he said: 'Mr Murray, do tell me, I saw a rather beautiful lady coming down the back stairs yesterday'. And I'm sure he thought it was my father's mistress.
And my father said: 'Do tell me, what did she look like?' and he described her, and it was clearly Caroline Lamb. And he'd never seen a picture of Caroline Lamb.
And when I once spent an evening here I was sure she was going up and down the stairs. But of course these stairs are beautiful oak cantilever stairs, so that actually after the day they all slowly go back into position, and it sounds just like steps. Anyhow, I always thought it was her.
What one has to remember is that the Murrays had one thing in common - they had an incredible ability to make friends.
The second John Murray used to go up to Abbotsford to stay with Walter Scott. And James Hogg, 'the Ettrick Shepherd', was said to remark one day that when Murray and Scott were moving up the Tweed that nobody had a chance of getting a word in edgeways.
And this is Walter Scott's marvellous cane which I love walking up and down the stairs with - and limping because he always limped. And his portable desk, which it's always said held the first Waverley novel, 'Waverley'. I'm sure it's not true, but we believe it. But this was Scott's travelling desk.
It was in this room that Byron met Scott for the first time. Of course Scott had sworn that he would never meet Byron because Byron was so rude about him in 'English Bards and Scotch Reviewers'. But after my ancestor brought them together here they became great friends, and they used to meet everyday until Byron went abroad.
Now Murray and Byron's relationship was a very extraordinary one, but Byron could be extremely tricky at times. And he would come into this room and, if Murray was rather slow and hadn't got his proofs ready in time, he'd go and pick at all his best bindings, you know - which infuriated John Murray II, my ancestor. But of course he was only a tradesman and Byron was a peer of the realm, so he had to play it down.
If you look at these rooms you'll see that there are a lot of portraits of the Murray authors.
And we always like it because in the evening, when everybody's gone and we sometimes settle here, we imagine all our authors coming out of their portraits - rather like 'Ruddigore' - and continuing where they left off.