When I was a child I was constantly going to play with my parent’s friends children. I became very familiar with all the grand houses in the area, the opulent bedrooms that we would play sardines in, birthday parties at Blenheim Palace, the palatial grounds that we would gallop our ponies through but there was one house that was definitely off limits.
Faringdon House, it’s name kept cropping up. I would snoop about and eavesdrop on grown up’s conversations, so much more interesting the ‘off limits’ chat. My parents had a connection with the owner of Faringdon House because the owner, Robert Heber Percy went hunting but it wasn’t for the reason that he didn’t have children that we didn’t go there but because of many other unorthodox activities that were beyond my understanding at the age of 8. He also apparently rode his horse naked across his park. I was thrilled when I heard this tit bit which was accompanied by the usual’ ‘shocking’,’ scandalous’ whispers that were uttered at teatime while we were supposed to be doing jigsaws.
Years later, when I was in my teens, Cosmo Fry and his father came to see me and as they were leaving, Cosmo said as he left “we are going to see Robert Heber Percy, you know there are multi coloured dyed doves at Faringdon” . I was so jealous that I wasn’t going. That exotic image stayed with me forever. I knew there were many mysteries at Faringdon House that I had to find out about.
Three months ago I got a call asking whether I would like to represent the house. I was told that there was a book that had been written about the house called ‘The Mad Boy,Lord Berners, my Grandmother and me’ by Sophka Zinovieff who to her surprise ended up inheriting this beautiful house. I dived into the book and avidly followed the extraordinary story of the owners.
Briefly Lord Berners, sensitive, insecure, highly strung, a talented composer had taken up and moved into Faringdon, with the petulant reckless Robert Heber Percy. He was twenty eight years younger than him and known to all as ‘Mad Boy’.
Lord Berners filled the house with all the treasures that he had collected on his continental wanderings and created an exotic, highly original, glamorous life there. Guests that came for weekends regularly were Dali, Whistler, Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford and many of the famous aesthetes of the times. It wasn’t unusual for a horse to join its distinguished guests for tea as Lord Berners, to hide his shyness, was a practical joker and loved to shock.
He poured love and attention on the grounds too, creating a lake, a beautiful orangery, filled with statues and built a tower for Robert Heber Percy’s birthday, who sulked as he wanted a new horse. Life was grand and the sparsity after World War 1 was not adhered to at Faringdon where guests were waited on by butlers and served exotic food. This arrangement, when homosexuality was still illegal, was scandalous and highly combustible. Then Robert decided to introduce a new element into the mix, the pregnant ‘fast’ upper class girl called Jennifer Fry who entered the household in 1942 and this made life a misery for all.
She walked out fairly soon after Robert and her baby was born, leaving her fish shaped handbag on a chair in the drawing room, where it still sits.
Jennifer Fry was Sophka’s grandmother and the story of how she came to inherit the house can be read in her book.
The house is fabulous and although modernised in terms of bathrooms and amenities, it basically remains intact.
Now available for long term rent. Contact us.