Half Moon Street and the importance of being Ernest
Wetherell are selling the historic Grade II listed house at Half Moon Street in London’s Mayfair which helped to provide the original inspiration for Algernon Moncrieff’s bachelor pad in Oscar Wilde’s (1854-1900) famous play ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ (1895); one of the most popular comedy plays of all time.
The 5,017 sq.ft white stucco fronted property was originally constructed in the early 18th Century and was initially built as a single family house. In the early 1880s the then owners, the Gannon family, subdivided the property into apartments, so-called ‘bachelors chambers’, with the Gannon family, headed by matriarch Anne living on the lower ground floor, with a maid cleaning the flats above on a daily basis.
Although Half Moon Street is now one of London’s most luxurious and sought after addresses, back in 1880s Victorian London it was a highly colourful and bohemian place, where ‘confirmed bachelors’, artistic types and theatre people lived and socialised. The street was named after the raucous ‘Half Moon’ public house which stood on the corner with Piccadilly. It was where Oscar Wilde chose to socialise; spend his private moments and gain inspiration for his various plays.
The Gannon Apartments at Half Moon Street were one of half a dozen ‘bachelor’s chambers’ in Victorian-era Half Moon Street which provided accommodation for young single male tenants living in London seeking to advance their careers and fortunes. The Gannon Apartments were popular with young men-about-town since they were directly adjacent to Flemings at No. 10, which in the Victorian era was a tavern with lodgings above run by Robert Fleming (now the plush and highly respectable Flemings Hotel).
The bachelors chambers of Half Moon Street provided lodgings for the dress designer Raoul “Reggie” de Veulle and novelist Hugh Walpole, and other residents of Half Moon Street included Robert Ross, a close friend of Oscar Wilde, who first met Wilde in 1886 and later lived at 40 Half Moon Street. Other Mayfair bachelors who lived in chambers on Half Moon Street included C.K. Scott-Moncrieff, Aubrey Beardsley, Siegfried Sasson, Osbert Sitwell and Wilfred Owen.
Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas (1870-1945), Oscar Wilde’s closest companion, rented a home in Mayfair on adjacent Curzon Street, whilst Lord Alfred’s father and mother, the Marquess and Marchioness of Queensbury, had a suite at 14-15 Albemarle Street (then Carter’s Hotel, now Browns).
Half Moon Street and its surrounding thoroughfares captured the imagination of Oscar Wilde, and this part of Mayfair is repeatedly cast and mentioned in his various plays. Wilde frequented the Flemings Tavern on Half Moon Street and Café Royal on Regent Street and he had membership of the smart gentleman’s club, the Albermarle Club, then at 13 Albemarle Street. Nearby Burlington Arcade was, in Victorian times, a pick-up joint where young people flirted with each other; it was another favourite haunt of Oscar Wilde and where he would buy carnations for his buttonhole.
All of Wilde’s real life experiences in and around Half Moon Street contributed to his most famous comedy play ‘The Importance of being Earnest’. One of the lead characters in the play, Algernon Moncrieff, lived in bachelors chambers on Half Moon Street. The play’s other central character, Jack Worthing, lived at Albany on nearby Piccadilly, which was also the real-life address of George Ives (1867-1950), a close friend of both Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas.
The play’s grand and pompous Lady Bracknell, is actually a parody of the Marchioness of Queensbury (Bosie’s mother), who rented a suite in Carter’s Hotel in Mayfair and who had a country house in Bracknell. ‘The Importance of being Earnest’ talks about the assumption of fake identities (Bunburying); this was something that many bachelors did in Victorian Mayfair when out drinking and partying, so that if they got caught up in scandal, the landlord of a hotel or tavern (or worse the police) would not know their real identities.
Oscar Wilde also mentions the Mayfair locality in three of his other works: in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry Wotton lives on Curzon Street and strolls down Half Moon Street to get over to Albany to call on his bachelor uncle; in Lady Windermere’s Fan, the notorious Mrs Erlynne lives on Curzon Street; and in An Ideal Husband, Lord Goring lives on Curzon Street.
‘The Importance of being Ernest’ was first produced at the St James’s Theatre on Valentine’s Day in 1895. The Marquess of Queensbury was banned from attending the production and in rage the Marquess left a card at the Albemarle Club in Mayfair which accused Wilde of scandalous activities; this started the famous libel case which led to Wilde’s eventual downfall.
The failure of his libel case against the Marquess of Queensbury led to Oscar Wilde’s own imprisonment between 1895-1897. Many of Wilde’s Mayfair friends including Robert Ross fled overseas to escape prosecution themselves. Wilde’s imprisonment and the dispersal of his social set started the decline of Half Moon Street as London’s bohemian and theatrical quarter, replaced in that role by Soho to the east of Regent’s Street.
Following WWII the property at Half Moon Street was converted into offices before eventually being converted back into a single family home in 2008. The house has recently undergone a total refurbishment resulting in brand new specification and interiors, restoring the house to its original glory.
In the ‘Importance of being Ernest’ the play talks about the ‘luxurious furnishings’ of Algernon Moncrieff’s Half Moon Street home. The immaculately refurbished house at 14 Half Moon Street certainly lives up to this literary description.
Providing luxurious accommodation over lower ground, ground and five upper floors, the house has a spacious entrance hall, kitchen/breakfast room, three reception rooms, four bedroom suites, cinema, gymnasium and steam room. It is complete with passenger lift and staircase access to all floors, two private terraces and a balcony.
The entrance hall has a unique geometric marble floor, Carrara Blanco marble fireplace and elegant ceiling coving. The hall leads into a large bespoke design kitchen / breakfast room with book matched Windhurst slab marble. Close your eyes and transport yourself back to the days of Oscar Wilde and you can imagine Lane, Algernon’s butler, busy in the kitchen preparing cucumber sandwiches for Lady Bracknell.
On the first floor is the formal reception room overlooking Half Moon Street. Smoked European Oak parquet flooring is complemented by period marble fireplace and wet bar with mini fridge. In this elegant living room Oscar Wilde’s play comes alive and you can imagine Algernon entertaining his friend Ernest Worthing and hosting his Aunt, Lady Bracknell.
Also on the first floor is a spacious double reception room which has been dressed to provide a drawing room area and a 10 seater dining room with double doors opening onto an outside terrace. In the drawing room area Oscar Wilde would have had Jack Worthing proposing to Gwendolen Fairfax, and also here poor Jack would have been rounded on by her formidable mother Lady Bracknell.
The master bedroom suite occupies the entire second floor of the house and has a large bedroom with deep bay window, walk in dressing room with fully fitted bespoke wardrobes crafted from American black walnut with polished brass detailing, and marble master bathroom with sunken stone bath, twin basin and double shower room in Armani grey marble. The guest bedroom suite is set over the third floor and is similar in size and features to the master suite.
On the uppermost floors are two guest bedroom suites and a family room/third reception room which leads out onto a large roof terrace. On the lower ground floor a private cinema room, gymnasium and steam room complete the impressive accommodation.
Peter Wetherell, Chief Executive of Wetherell says: “Half Moon Street and this part of Mayfair captured the imagination of Oscar Wilde and the location is repeatedly cast and mentioned in his various plays. Half Moon Street and the other bachelor chambers along the street helped inspire Oscar Wilde to write his storylines for ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. Indeed the first Act of Wilde’s play is centred on Half Moon Street and Algernon Moncrieff’s bachelor pad. In the newly created luxury interiors of the house now for sale at Half Moon Street you can imagine Algernon, Jack, Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell being quite at home.”