On this what would have been the 73rd birthday of the late Beatle George Harrison, MJ STEEL COLLINS reveals how the Quiet One’s former home Friar Park may be haunted by the stately home’s builder Sir Frank Crisp
One day in the late 1960s, a rather frazzled George Harrison decided to get some peace and quiet by spending a day in a park watching the clouds.
Unfortunately, his reverie was ended by a cantankerous park keeper, who told the Beatle to hop it in no uncertain terms.
“I’ll buy my own park,” was Harrison’s bemused response.
And that’s exactly what he did.
Early in 1970, he purchased the dilapidated Friar Park in Henley on Thames, Oxford, saving it from demolition.
Recently the home of a school run by nuns, the massive mansion was a restoration nightmare.
It had once been grand, replete with stunning gardens, but had gone to rack and ruin.
The 120 room mansion had been the mastermind of Victorian eccentric and lawyer, Sir Frank Crisp (1843 – 1919), who built it in 1890.
The neo-Baroque building boasted lots of scantily clad friar sculptures in the garden, an underground cave system, a recreation of the Matterhorn and stepping stones just under the pond to give the impression of someone walking on water.
The public were allowed in the gardens, and Crisp would enjoy leaping out on unsuspecting visitors walking round the grounds.
Sir Frank became something of an inspiration to George Harrison, who put in a lot of graft restoring the grounds and mansion to their former glory, and restoring the dignity to the unfortunate friar statues who had their ‘anatomy’ chopped or cemented over by the affronted nuns.
Around the grounds, George rather enjoyed the quips and sayings Sir Frank had carved.
Quite a few found their ways into Harrison’s music, and Sir Frank even was the subject of a song on Harrison’s post Beatle’s LP All Things Must Pass (the cover art of which was photographed in Friar Park’s gardens).
There already was local legend that Sir Frank’s ghost walked his former home. For George and his associates living there, it was more of a reality.
Chris O’Dell, a tour manager and general assistant, who had worked for The Beatles at Apple, lived at Friar Park and worked for George and his first wife Pattie Boyd.
In her memoirs Miss O’Dell: Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, O’Dell writes that she always felt Friar Park to have a spooky tinge.
One night, Terry Doran, George’s assistant burst into the kitchen trembling and pale, exclaiming, “I just saw a ***** ****** ghost!”
He had been in the Minstrel’s Gallery and encountered a man standing there.
On being asked who he was, the strange man vanished. It took a lot of wine to calm Doran’s nerves.
As for George himself, he liked to while away time in the garden, and could be out there until well after midnight.
It was during one of those sessions, he happened to spot Sir Frank striding around the garden. George’s response isn’t on record, but perhaps with his spiritual outlook, he maybe took it a little better.
Besides, along with Paul McCartney and John Lennon, George already had some personal experience with the paranormal.
Lennon’s home, the Dakota in New York had a haunted reputation long before he took up residence, and he said he had encountered the apartment block’s crying white woman in the corridors.
Friar Park is still in the Harrison family, home to Olivia, George’s second wife, and son Dhani whenever he’s in the UK.
And perhaps Sir Frank Crisp still keeps a quiet watch.