Cambridge House is a Grade I listed Palladian style building dating from 1761. Throughout its 250 year history it has been associated with many notable people, but it was during its time as the Naval & Military Club that it gained its reputation of being haunted by a World War II serviceman.
Built by Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont in 1761, it was originally named Egremont House.
Its name changed to Cholmondeley House in the 1820’s when it became the residence of George Cholmondeley, 1st Marquess of Cholmondeley, Earl of Rocksavage and Vice-Admiral of Cheshire (11 May 1749 – 10 April 1827).
Following the death of George Cholmondeley, the buildings name was changed to Cambridge House, as from 1829 it was the London home of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge (Born 24 February 1774 at Buckingham Palace – Died 8 July 1850 at Cambridge House).
In 1855 Cambridge House was bought by Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (20 October 1784 – 18 October 1865 at Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire), Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 6 February 1855 – 19 February 1858 and 12 June 1859 – 18 October 1865). Lord Palmerston had requested that he be buried at Romsey Abbey, but the Cabinet insisted that he receive a State Funeral and be buried in Westminster Abbey. There had only been three previous State Funerals for non Royalty before that of Lord Palmerston, those being for Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté (died 1805), Sir Isaac Newton (Died 1727) and Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (died 14 September 1852). On 27 October 1865 the funeral procession to Westminster Abbey for Lord Palmerston started at Cambridge House.
Shortly after the Death of Palmerston Cambridge House was bought by the Naval & Military Club, a gentleman’s club founded in 1862. On 21st April 1994, an article by John Darnton appeared in the New York Edition of The New York Times entitled ‘A Blessed Haunted Plot, This England’ concerning the sighting of an appartion at the Navy & Miltary Club.
Trevor Newton, the white-haired, 52- year-old night porter at the Naval and Military Club, seems a solid, feet-on-the-ground type. But try telling him that there’s no such thing as a ghost, and his eyes widen so that his visage is transformed into a sepulchral mask and he leans forward to lower his voice conspiratorially:
“If anyone had said to me there’s such a thing — never, no way would I have believed it. But I know what I saw. I saw it, and it was frightening.”
Mr. Newton’s position on the supernatural changed on Tuesday, March 15, at 3:07 A.M. At that precise moment he was making his rounds on the club’s second floor. He entered the vaulted Egremont Room, a bit surprised that the outdoor balcony lights were on, casting their eerie glow through the 20-foot-tall windows. He walked to the fireplace, punched his timecard in a slot in the wall and turned around.
“It was then I saw it,” he said. “About six foot tall. White hair swept back, brown coat. I can’t recollect any face whatsoever. It moved over toward the wall. I froze for a second. Then I got out of there — quick, to be honest. It was all over in a matter of seconds.”
Everyone seemed to agree that the aging Naval and Military Club on Piccadilly was the perfect venue for a sighting, with its two burning torches along the front wall; its lobby with red-topped leather writing desks; canvases of gory war scenes crammed with raised sabers, dying horses and cannon smoke; a silver gong from a German destroyer scuttled in 1918, and entombed in a glass case and brown with age, the epaulettes worn by Lieut. Col. E. J. Watson, 59th Bengal Native Infantry, retired 1853.
By dint of the quick-fire spreading of news and some rapid deduction — Mr. Newton told 34-year-old Mark Brabbs, an assistant steward, who telephoned his father, Peter Brabbs, who had worked at the club for 50 years before his retirement — the apparition was identified. The key was the swept-back hair and the World War II ankle-length brown trench coat. It was Maj. William Henry Braddell, known as Perky because of his cheerful demeanor.
Major Braddell had served with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in France, was shot in the knee at Somme and was captured and incarcerated for four years by the Germans. “He was true to and maintained the highest traditions of his regiment,” brother officers recalled.
He was last seen at the club on May 5, 1940, in the Egremont Room, as it happens. He was preparing to dine there with two friends, Col. William Gordon and one Major Crozier when he was summoned for a telephone call downstairs. A bomb struck the room while he was away. Returning to find his friends dead, he was reported to have remarked, “What a dreadful business.”
A little over a week later, while commanding an antiaircraft battery in Kensington, he, too, was caught in a German air raid and killed. His obituary did not give his age, but it’s thought that he was in his early 50’s.
Once the apparition had a name and the name appeared in the newspapers, the oldest among the club’s 3,500 members tried to put a face to it. Not many could place him, but Brig. J. R. Fishbourne wrote in to say that he served under Perky as a subaltern. He recalled the trench coat and added, “I don’t remember much else about him except that he was quite a keen bridge player, and I think his favorite occasional tipple was Sherry and bitters.”
Comdr. Anthony Holt, the club’s secretary, said he felt that it was natural that, if the major’s ghost should appear anywhere, it would be at the club: “It’s because it’s the place he thought of most as home. We pride ourselves on looking after the members. They become attached.”
Legend has it that other ghosts frequent the club. Some visitors looking at a portrait of Lord Nelson standing oddly off-center swear they have seen the image of his mistress, Emma Hamilton, glowing out of a dark patch beside him. Others report a whoosing sound and a sudden draft in the Octagonal Room, where Lord Palmerston charted the nation’s course as Prime Minister in the mid- 1800’s and where, it is said, an officer committed suicide by leaping from an open window.
And some believe they have encountered Lady Caroline Lamb, the beautiful and impulsive wife of Lord Melbourne, who fell in love with Lord Byron. She died, it is said, by striking her head upon a mantelpiece.
“Did she fall or was she pushed?” Commander Holt said. “No one knows. I’ve had a detailed letter from a member recounting an instance in 1958 when he stayed here. He awoke in the middle of the night to find a woman sitting on the end of his bed. She spoke to her — he thought she was his wife — and she didn’t answer. Then he realized his wife was fast asleep beside him.”
The commander is convinced that if the mostly recently sighted apparition does indeed belong to Major Braddell, then it is unlikely to be malevolent. He has said as much to Mr. Newton, but the night porter is beyond convincing.
He shook his head and said, “I don’t mind telling you, I feel uneasy every night I come.”
Two years later, in 1996, Cambridge House was sold to Simon Halabi for £50 million, whilst the Navy & Military Club moved to 4 St. James’s Square, which was the home of Nancy Witcher Astor, Viscountess Astor (Born May 19, 1879 – Died May 2, 1964), the first female Member of Parliament.
Note: The above article by John Darnton mentions the authoress Lady Caroline Lamb (Born 13 November 1785 – Died 26 January 1828), wife of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (Born 15 March 1779 – Died 24 November 1848), Prime Minister. I am not sure of any details concerning her striking her head upon a mantelpiece. She also died at Brocket Hall (same as Palmerston) after her health had declined due to alcohol and liquid opium abuse.