Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Ballad of Sir Frank Crisp and the Immaculate Creation of Crackerbox Palace (Refreshed, rewritten, rehashed)

I was recently asked why I re-post old articles? The glib response is 'cos I want to. The truth is, as someone, a violinist, once said to me - you always feel as though you could have done better. I am a constant revisionist. Nothing of mine ever feels as good as it might have been.

The following was originally posted on 'Something For The Weekend, Sir?'  That site has had a spring clean. More of a radical change as it now is, or soon will be, a spoken word, poetry site. In light of that it felt right, what with the changes taking place there, to unearth this and other bits, re-write in some cases, amend or add in others, and post 'em here as fresh as a young tarts underwear. And no I am neither fresh, young nor a tart and the following is not an old pair of pants...

As if being born in eighteen forty three wasn’t problematic enough, what with all the pomp and self-awarded grandeur the English had heaped upon themselves then ladled in large spoonful’s on the rest of the world, but having your mother die when you are three for you then to be brought up by your aging grandfather, John Filby, must have given shape and form to the thinking of Frank Crisp. Crisp was the epitome of the English eccentric and splendidly so too.

Let it roll across the floor

Born into a wealthy, upper-middle class family, Crisp was fortunate to have a sound education which enabled him to study law at the University of London where he was awarded a B.A and LL.B. He joined the legal firm of Ashurst and Morris in eighteen seventy one where he began to build both a successful career alongside a formidable reputation. Such was the regard he was held in that he was asked to write the contract for the cutting of the Cullinian Diamond.

To the fountain of perpetual mirth

Among his many interests were horticulture, natural history and landscape gardening. Perhaps it was his love of these subjects that motivated him to have Friar Park built from eighteen eighty nine to eighteen ninety. Of course it may just have been his apparent eccentricity. Who knows? Whatever the reason behind the construction, Sir Frank Crisp was a man of extraordinary tastes.
Lose Ye bodies in the maze

The house that Frank built was called Friar Park. It was not what one would expect from a man held in so vaunted a position by society but then again perhaps it is precisely what you would expect from such an eccentric. Having bought the existing house in eighteen ninety five Crisp then had the place totally rebuilt in what can only be described as a fantastical style.

Find me where ye echo lays

Gothic in its structure, madcap in its design Friar Park looks to all the world as though it were a huge cake iced and ready to be eaten. I have no idea how the Henley-on-Thames community felt about having a one hundred and twenty roomed mansion sitting pretty but garish in rich reds and vivid whites in their neighbourhood but I suspect Sir Frank couldn’t have cared less.

Let it roll among the weeds

Sir Frank Crisp died in nineteen nineteen and the property was then sold to a group of Roman Catholic nuns of the Salesians of Don Bosco Order. The nuns were more interested in running the local Sacred Heart School than they were Friar Park. The fact that a friar, albeit made of stone, was allowed anywhere near nuns beggars belief but the sisters were having none of it and by the late sixties the mansion and its grounds fell into a state of disrepair.

See the Lord and all the mouths he feeds

Then came a bearded long haired young man fresh out of the Beatles. It was nineteen seventy. George Harrison was just twenty seven when he and Patti Boyd bought the crumbling ruin. Sadly, their marriage fell apart. Gladly Friar Park didn’t. George, along with second wife Olivia worked their rock and roll socks off restoring the home George called Crackerbox Palace to a new glory.

Handkerchiefs to match your tie

George did not pay homage to the past. He didn’t attempt to recapture the house or garden exactly as it had been but instead, with love and attention, made Friar Park into something of botanical beauty which emphasised the glorious architecture. If his music was creative and a wonder to hear then his home was its equal and a delight to see.

Through the hall and out the door


Beneath the lake Sir Frank had built a hidden grotto which can be entered by row boat through a cleft in the rocks. Behind the waterfall that cascades gently a soft light reflects off the stucco walls before a dark as black as pitch envelopes all. Then just as you start to feel the darkness overwhelm you a shimmer shine of light reveals blue glass panels set into the garden above casting an eerie glow.

Let it roll down through the caves Ye long walks of Coole and Shades

In many ways it seems as if the property itself selected those best equipped to first build it and then maintain it before allowing it to flourish again as if reborn. Maybe George Harrison's devotion to and belief in reincarnation applies here to Crackerbox Palace. It has to be said that there is a quasi-karmic sense at work here - Sir Frank Crisp being born in 1843 and George Harrison in 1943. From the ashes of the past Friar Park triumphant in the twenty first century and all thanks to British eccentricity. 

Fools illusions everywhere


Let It Roll

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