Cotswold Ways:

The fol­lies of Faringdon

Cotswold Life - - NEWS - WRITER: Ke­van Man­war­ing

In 1930 a re­mark­able man moved to Faringdon in deep­est Ox­ford­shire. Lit­tle would the town have sus­pected how their new res­i­dent would bring a touch of the sur­real to their quiet cor­ner of Eng­land.

The new owner of the splen­did domi­cile, Faringdon House, was Ger­ald Hugh Tyr­whit­twil­son, 14th Baron Bern­ers (18841950), a cul­tured fel­low of sin­gu­lar hu­mour and tal­ents, re­cently re­turned from a over decade abroad at­tached to the Bri­tish Em­bassies of Con­stantino­ple, Paris and Rome (be­fore tak­ing a sab­bat­i­cal to fo­cus on his com­po­si­tion). He was at the age of 46 al­ready an ac­com­plished writer, pain­ter and com­poser. Stravin­sky thought him the finest Bri­tish com­poser of the cen­tury, and Di­aghilev com­mis­sioned him to com­pose the score for the Tri­umph of Nep­tune.

Over­com­ing the death of his mother, Lord Bern­ers made Faringdon House the cen­tre of a sparkling so­cial scene, play­ing host to the glit­terati of the arts and in­tel­li­gentsia of the 1920s and 30s. His guest list in­cluded the likes of Al­dous Hux­ley, HG Wells, Sal­vador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Edith Sitwell, Nancy Mit­ford, Stravin­sky, Di­aghilev, Diana Mosley, Cecil Beaton, Eve­lyn Waugh, Duff Coop­ers, John & Pene­lope Bet­je­man, Elsa Schi­a­par­elli… Bern­ers’ themed par­ties were renowned. He played the role of Lord of Mis­rule ex­cep­tion­ally well.

Bern­ers bought the wooded hill­top to the south of the town, and then to tease the lo­cal peo­ple built Folly Tower. The ar­chi­tect he com­mis­sioned de­tested the Gothic style, so Bern­ers made him add a Gothic em­bel­lish­ment to its crown. In 1935, Robert He­ber-percy, Lord Bern­ers com­pan­ion, was given the Folly Tower as a birth­day present, and Bern­ers’ de­scen­dant be­queathed it to the town (leav­ing a fine legacy of Scots pine). Now run by the Faringdon Folly Tower Trust, it is a pop­u­lar park where sur­real sculp­tures can be dis­cov­ered. On the bi­monthly open days, vis­i­tors can as­cend the tower and en­joy a pi­geoneyed view of the world.

Bern­ers had a great sense of fun, a strain of English ab­sur­dism which makes him prac­ti­cally a proto-python. Many of his an­tics would not have looked out of place in Monty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus. He fa­mously had the lo­cal pi­geons dyed pink. Around the town he had in­stalled non­sen­si­cal signs such as “This is not a no­tice”. On the side of his tower, half­way up, the ea­gleeyed can spot “Do not feed the gi­raffes”. Bern­ers in­vited Dali to stay with him, and the Spanish sur­re­al­ist no­to­ri­ously walked around the mar­ket square in a div­ing suit, which a lovely statue com­mem­o­rates. Bern­ers ge­nius was to trans­form a quiet cor­ner of Eng­land into a play­ground of the imag­i­na­tion. Take the air around Faringdon and you too may find your­self sud­denly pos­sessed with strange ideas and an ir­re­press­ible sense of fun.

Folly Park Lake

Lord Bern­ers

The Old Sta­ble Block, Faringdon

Strange faces at All Saints

Hare sculp­ture at Folly Hill

Sculp­ture at Folly Hill

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