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Edwin Levy, private detective

On the 26 February 1895 Edwin Levy died from a heart attack at his home, 31 Compayne Gardens West Hampstead. He had bought the newly-built house a few years earlier and named it ‘Beaulieu’ after the village on the French Riviera which he regularly visited. When he died Levy was a very wealthy businessman, but he had a mysterious past. There are no biographies about him but here is what we have found.

Edwin was born on 29 August 1840 at 38 Warren Street, the son of Aaron and Hannah Levy. His father was a tailor but struggled for work and was in the Shoreditch Workhouse in 1843 for a short period. Edwin married Annie Sweeney in 1860 and they had two children. Levy started work as an oil and colourman selling paint at 2 Great St Andrews Street in Seven Dials.

By 1866 he had changed careers and was doing work for the Marquis of Townshend’s Society for the Protection of Women and Children, when he acted as an observer at several trials involving children. One of the cases was the horrifying St Giles murder of a young boy who was hanged by his father in the cellar.

In February 1870 Levy placed adverts in the Morning Post for his confidential investigations as a private detective. As this is the only time adverts appeared, he obviously obtained work from personal recommendations. His office was in Basinghall Street for several years.

Napoleon III
He worked very discreetly and it is hard to find records of his undercover activities for the Bank of England and several European governments. We know that the French Government employed him to observe Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon who was the Emperor of France from 1852 until his exile in England in 1870. He lived at Camden Place Chislehurst and died there in January 1873. Levy installed his agents in the windmill on the other side of the cricket field in Chislehurst to report the names of all visitors.

In a libel case against The Times in February 1874, when Edwin Levy was called as a witness, he said he was the London agent for the Brussels Minister of Police.

In 1880 Levy was living at 164 Oakley Street just off the Kings Road Chelsea. By 1883 he had made enough money to buy a second home, a detached house in its own grounds at Hastings, called Elphinstone Lodge.

Oscar Wilde
Levy was also a money lender. In 1883 he lent Oscar Wilde £1,200 (worth about £15,000 today). Oscar had spent all of 1882 in a successful lecture tour of America and although he was paid handsomely, he had spent lavishly and his debts in England were being called in. Levy helped Wilde again in 1892. Oscar had received a letter from Lord Alfred Douglas, known as ‘Bosie’ to his friends. He was being blackmailed over an indiscreet letter concerning an incident in Oxford where he was a student. This was the beginning of the affair between Oscar and Bosie. Oscar asked his friend George Lewis, the top society lawyer, for help. Lewis got Levy to arrange for the payment of £100 from Oscar to the blackmailer (who has never been named). Oscar later wrote that both Lewis and Levy were shocked by the letter and advised him to have nothing to do with Bosie. In De Profundis, the long letter Oscar wrote in Reading Goal to Boise, he said that Levy ‘warned me for the space of a whole hour about knowing you’. Because of his relationship with Bosie, Oscar also lost the support and friendship of Lewis and said that at this point, ‘I was deprived of one of the great safeguards of my life’. 

Oscar Wilde and Bosie, 1893

J. Lyons, and Olympia
Levy bought property and shares as investments. He was friends with Joseph Lyons and Isidore Gluckstein and he bought 60,000 shares in the catering firm J. Lyons and Co. He took no part in the day to day running of the firm other than providing printing services for menus, price lists and stationery. 

He was also an investor in Olympia, the large exhibition hall in west London. In 1894 Levy was a director in both companies as well as the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, which in its final form is part of today’s Northern underground line.

His first wife Annie died in 1876, and in 1892 Edwin married Marion Mackenzie at St George’s Hanover Square. The previous year in the census she is shown as his 27-year-old housekeeper when they were living above 213 Piccadilly. Levy negotiated a price of £35,000 for the lease with an annual rent of £1,000. After extensive remodelling, the ground floor became the first Lyons tea shop which opened on 20 September 1894.

Edwin Levy died suddenly at the age of 65, and on his death certificate his occupation was just shown as ‘of independent means’. His friend Isidore Gluckstein was present at the death. Beaulieu House with his paintings, and his other properties in Hastings and Chelsea were all sold. At probate he left the huge sum of £261,518 (worth about £29M today), to Marion and his son Mordaunt from his first marriage. He was buried in the Jewish Cemetery Willesden.

Marion left Compayne Gardens and moved to 30 Daleham Gardens in Hampstead, and in September 1899 she married Wilfred Harry Whiston. When she died in Reigate in 1954 she left £46,407 (worth about £1.25M today).

At his death one obituary said Edwin Levy was reputed to be the cleverest private detective in England. He was employed by many members of the English nobility as well as several English Royals and he often enjoyed a friendly chat with the Prince of Wales. A second tribute said, ‘He was engaged in most of the great cases of his day, and solved many a private problem which, had it burst into publicity, would have caused serious scandal. He knew where others only suspected, and had directed episodes behind the scenes which the world had only witnessed from the audience side of the footlights.’

Like George Lewis, he was too discreet to write his memoirs, which would have made very interesting reading.


  1. Dear Mr. Weindling,

    A cousin sent me a link to this post, which I have read with enormous interest. Edwin Levy was the brother of my third great-grandfather, and I have been a huge Holmes fan since childhood, so your research fascinates me. I would be very interested to read some of your source material, if you would be willing to point me in the right direction. You can email me directly at

    Bravo, bravo!!
    Deborah Schmidt


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