Albemarle Street is one of Mayfair’s quieter streets, but it has not always been so. It is home to the Royal Institution and with its imposing classical columns it is one of the most notable buildings on the street. But it is also the reason Albemarle Street became Britain’s first one- way street.
The Royal Institution (RI for short) is one of the UK’s leading scientific institutions, founded in 1799. It has always had an emphasis not only on research but also teaching and you may have seen the annual Christmas Lectures on the television. The brilliant young chemist Humphry Davy was recruited in 1801 to lecture on chemistry. Barely 23 years old, and rather good looking, the young Davy dazzled London with his theatrical demonstrations. Explosions, making dead animals move with electrical currents and displaying the effects of nitrous oxide (laughing gas), were just some of the events in his lecture series.
His lectures were hugely fashionable and somewhat controversially freely open to women to attend. Davy’s hugely romantic demeanour (he wrote poems too) made him very popular. Carriages clogged up Albemarle Street before each lecture as the great and the good arrived, leading to the solution of the one-way system we see today.
Albemarle Street is on my Scientists and Monsters of Soho and Mayfair Walk, exploring the stories of history’s most famous scientists and the monsters they helped to inspire. Also on Albemarle Street is Brown’s Hotel, where I talk about one of its most famous residents and the hundreds of people she murdered during her career. But you will need to join the tour to find out more.