Terence Stamp and Baroness Sharples (left to right above), and Christopher Gibbs and David Hicks (left to right below).

.In 1815 Lady Caroline Lamb, disguised as a page boy, stole into Byron’s Albany apartment and left a note: ‘Remember me, Byron.’ Byron replied with a verse:

Remember thee, aye, doubt it not:
Thy husband too shall think of thee.
By neither shalt thou be forgot —
Thou false to him, thou fiend to me.

William Lamb’s wife was dressed as a boy because it was quite unthinkable for a ‘lady’ to be seen entering Albany. Until the end of the nineteenth century, the place was a paradise for bachelors. Women either had to visit their men friends in disguise or sneak in through the vaults, past what is now the window of Peter Coats’s’ subterranean dining-room.

Byron lived in Albany for a year with a bad tempered old maid called Mrs Mule, a macaw and Fletcher, his truculent manservant. Albany was then fourteen years old. The noble poet was followed by a long list of distinguished inmates: Raffles, Bulwer-Lytton, Macaulay, Gladstone, Isiah Berlin (so called because one eye’s ‘igher than the other, -V.), Edward Heath and many more.

Albany is named after the Duke of York and Albany, who bought the original house, which can be seen from Piccadilly, in 1798. There are 69 sets in Albany (apartments there are called sets, like badger’s homes, and it is wrong to say ‘The’ Albany as it could be confused with a pub). Thirty-four of these sets are owned by Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and let on seven-year renewable leases and the rest are owned by individuals. Seven trustees (all proprietors) run the sets on behalf of the residents. Anyone wanting a set should apply to the secretary, a charming gentleman called Lt-Col Gilbert Chetwynd-Talbot. The waiting-list is enormous. Should your application be success, a delightful experience awaits you in the paradise of Piccadilly.

There are a few minor inconveniences: children, pets and musical instruments are banned. However, two uniformed porters are always on duty to guard your privacy; the place is surprisingly quiet; and something of interest can always be seen on the rope-walk — the long covered passageway dividing the two blocks of sets which were built onto the original house — such as Rupert Lycett-Green setting out in his track-suit for a brisk jog; David Hicks, in green blazer and fawn trousers, his features obscured by a cloud of cigarette smoke, headed for his showroom in Jermyn Street; Baron Philippe de Rothschild, a shawl over his shoulder, escorting Joan Plowright; a barrow-load of Cézannes being trundled into the set of Lord Clark (of Civilisation); or Major Coats tapping the barometer and giving a word of advice to Mercer, the head gardener, as he strolls towards the offices of House & Garden (where incidentally Peter Coats the old ‘poove’, as Nic likes to call them, was known as ‘Petticoats’! –V.).

Albany is a living relic of London’s social history. It is the last outpost of what was once a flourishing residential community in Mayfair. No Arab or African has yet penetrated its elegant and very English façade.

Terence Stamp
has an almost mystical relationship with Albany. The whole thing started when young Stamp, then a messenger boy, peeked through the back entrance in Burlington Street (almost opposite what used to be the Beatles’ Apple headquarters at 3 Saville Row) and saw the splendours of the rope-walk lined with rhododendrons. As the years passed, this fleeting glance of a vision of an enchanted land symbolised his determination to succeed and the dream of one day residing there. By a strange coincidence, the first play in which he acted, Terence Rattigan’s ‘While The Sun Shines’ was set in Albany. In 1963, film audiences were electrified by his performance as the innocent victim of evil in ‘Billy Budd’. Three years later he acquired a set in Albany.

The idol of the sixties is now an extremely fit and elegant 65-year-old, with a shock of grey hair, piercing blue eyes and a freshly scrubbed complexion. The American magazine Town & Country recently included him in a list of best-dressed Englishmen. He usually wears a suit (the summer ones are made in Italy) and tie. His territorial habits are usually confined to a small area of the West End. Morning coffee at Fortnum’s, tea at the Ritz, and Wilton’s when dining out. ‘There’s a timelessness here’ he said. ‘It wouldn't really surprise me to find the streets crowded with carriages.

The actor’s small set is austere. There is no television set and the dining room has been converted into an oriental area with an Eastern rug on a raised floor. The sitting-room walls are painted white, cork covers the floor, a huge Balinese gong hangs from one wall, and potted plants provide a touch of colour. Sitting on a beige leather settee, the actor explained that he didn’t like modern furniture and feels more at home with antiques. He used to collect eighteenth-century English pieces, but now most of his furniture is oriental.

Baroness Sharples
was made a life peeress after her husband, Sir Richard Sharples, Governor of Bermuda, was assassinated in 1973 (two other distinguished members of the House of Lords were elevated to the peerage in similar circumstances, the Baroness Ewart-Biggs and Airey of Abingdon). This tall and elegant lady now lives in a large set, recently done up by Dudley Poplak, who has become well known as the decorator of Highgrove.

Mr Poplak's relaxed and gentle style compares favourably with the more strident tones of that other interior decorator to Royalty, David Hicks (pictured). None of his ideas are particularly daring or original, but everything is extremely well made and practical. Baroness Sharples described him as a shy, modest man (some would say with a lot to be modest about, -V.) with an excellent sense of humour, who is easy to work with and never forces his views on others.

Baroness Sharples second husband (deceased) was a son of the painter de Laszlo. I counted 40 works by this distinguished Edwardian portraitist in the apartment. The imposing entrance hall to the flat has a picture of Lord Byron (everybody in Albany is mad about Byron). The walls are covered by a paper patterned to imitate beige parchment. The walls of the vast drawing-room are hung with soft lime silk, with elaborately draped curtains to match. Several of the upholstered chairs are coral-coloured, piped with lime, and the carpet is eau-de-nil.

The Baroness's bedroom has been cleverly transformed into an elaborate tent, using many yards of specially printed cotton which hides the doors and wardrobe. Concealed fluorescent tubes light the scalloped pelmet. The walls of the huge downstairs dining-room have also been lined with fabric. Mr Poplak designed the long fitted sideboard (Gothic, to reflect the vaulted ceiling) and the circular dining table, made by Jupes in 1810, can, when expanded, seat 24 people.

Baroness Sharples is extremely energetic. She rises at six, drinks two cups of tea and writes letters. Twice a week she plays tennis (using one of those enormous modern rackets like kites) in Vincent Square, on the courts reserved for Members of Parliament. She is one of the most active members of the House of Lords, and spends most afternoons there. Small businesses are her special subject. She has just left the farm which managed for nine years in Hampshire, and is looking for a small business to buy in Dorset. She is also a director of Southern Television and Chairman of their Charity Committee.

Christopher Gibbs has the most interesting antique shop in London. unlike the highly restored pieces sold by his Bond Street competitors, his rare and wonderful works of art are all quite genuine. They clutter a space where Kasmin first showed the paintings of Hockney like possessions in the lumber-room of some forgotten palace. London's top interior decorators, David Milinaric, Tom Parr, John Stephanidis and David Hicks, all come to him for advice and inspiration. Many of the pieces are sold to museums.

As a young man in the Sixties, Christopher Gibbs belonged to that group of 'beautiful' upper-class people – Milinaric, Sir Mark Palmer, the Knight of Glin, the Ormsby-Gore girls, Lord Reay, Georgia Tennant, Marriane Faithfull – who were so prominent in the social life of that period. 'We were, he remembered, 'serious people in those days, who thought and talked mainly about religion. We had an iconoclastic, refreshed view with a pinch of the patrician, which made people listen to what you said.'

The style of Christopher's Albany set could be described as upper-class post Byronic with a touch of the Middle East. He dislikes 'interior decoration' where colours or patterns relate or match; instead he prefers to be surrounded by interestingly arranged objects that have a life and presence of their own. The walls of his sitting-room and the adjacent bedroom are painted green. Prints by Thomas Patch of English characters in Florence cover one wall and the wooden floor is hidden by layers of rugs. The photograph of a nude boy is by Baron von Gloedon, who was recently attacked by Auberon Waugh in The Tatler.

Other interesting objects include Lord Tennyson's day bed (the poet wrote much of his verse while reclining on it); a Moroccan drum used for beating away evil spirits; a reading lamp made from the stomach of some unfortunate camel; and a splendid four-poster bed, its canopy supported by China columns. The bathroom, which leads off the bedroom, is a fine example of English upper-class taste. Huge Edwardian sanitary fittings, a rare Wemyss-ware dish decorated with fuchsias, shaving soap in a wooden bowl, ivory-backed hair-brushes, and an old sponge rack from the Army & Navy spanning the bath. Only a few favoured friends are entertained in Christopher's Albany set. He is asked out to dinner at least four times a week, but prefers intimate occasions to large gatherings.

He reportedly advised on the styling for the film 'Performance' starring Mick Jagger and James Fox, and his own home is reminiscent of Turner's (Jagger's), Notting Hill Gate house in the film.

-Most of the above article was written by Nicholas Hill, with a few minor contributions from Victor Watts.