20 February 2015 – Daily Telegraph
It was once the grand London home of Lord Byron, where the poet wrote some of his darkest verses and where his short lived marriage came to an end. But despite its colourful and often scandalous history, by the end of the 20th century the elegant Georgian building had been converted into office space, its history lost beneath modern fixtures and drab commercial fittings. But now 139 Piccadilly is to be restored to its former glory as a single residence, by two of London’s wealthiest property investors. David and Simon Reuben have been given planning permission by Westminster council to convert the building into an eight-bedroom home with swimming pool, sauna and staff quarters, worth an estimated £45 million.
Another previous occupant of the house, which was built in the 1760s, was the eccentric Duke of Queensberry, who in his later years would sit on his balcony with an umbrella or parasol over his head, reputedly sending out his servants to fetch in any pretty lady who caught his eye “as a spider will draw flies into his web”. A history of the property, written in 1878, describes the duke enjoying “pleasure of the grossest kind” and even building an exterior flight of stairs to allow the women easier access into the building.
Lord Byron and his wife Lady Byron moved into No 139 a year after their marriage. The poet was already a celebrity, having “awoken one morning to find myself famous”, following publication of the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. While living at the property in 1815 he wrote Parsinia, his tragic verse about a noblewoman executed by her husband for having an incestuous affair with his illegitimate son, and in the same year his narrative poem, The Siege of Corinth, inspired by the Ottoman massacre of a Venetian garrison holding the city. It was also at No 139 that Byron’s marriage to Annabella Millbanke collapsed following his continued obsession with his half-sister Augusta and his various infidelities, leading her to abandon the family home in January 1816, with their baby daughter, Ada, in her arms. Annabella considered Byron insane and her departure led to fevered speculation among London society about the poet’s immoral character, prompting him to write: “There was no crime too dark to be attributed to me by the moral English, to account for so common an occurrence as a separation in high life.” The scandal of the separation, growing debt and continuing rumours over his relationship with Augusta forced Byron to leave Britain for good in April 1816.
The developers say the restored building, which is likely to be snapped up by a wealthy foreigner, will be almost 20 times bigger than the average British home. The Reuben brothers own a large swathe of Mayfair, including the former In and Out Club, on Piccadilly, close to No 139. They also have plans to turn this former private members’ club for officers of the Armed-Forces – whose members included TE Lawrence, Rudyard Kipling and Ian Fleming – into a 48-room private house worth around £214 million.