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The Lower Lodge and entrance gates of Friar Park from Gravel Hill in 2009
|Architectural style||Gothic revival|
|Town or city||Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire|
Friar Park is a 120-room Victorian neo-Gothic mansion in Henley-on-Thames built in 1889. It was formerly owned by eccentric lawyer Sir Frank Crisp and purchased in January 1970 by musician George Harrison. The site covers about 62 acres (25 hectares). Features include caves, grottoes, underground passages, a multitude of garden gnomes, and an Alpine rock garden with a scale model of the Matterhorn.
The main house is listed Grade II on the National Heritage List, and the gardens of Friar Park are also listed Grade II on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. In addition to the main house, the Lower Lodge, Middle Lodge, and Upper Lodge are all also individually listed Grade II. The entrance walls and piers of the Lower Lodge, and the railed wall piers and gates of the Middle Lodge are also listed Grade II.
Since the early 1970s, the property has become synonymous with the former Beatle's home studio, known as FPSHOT (i.e , "Friar Park Studio, Henley-On-Thames"). Harrison biographer Alan Clayson has described the Friar Park estate as being "as synonymous with his name as the Queen's with Windsor Castle".
Harrison put the whole property up as collateral in order to fund the Monty Python comedy team's movie Life of Brian after their original backers, EMI, pulled out at the last minute. As a huge fan of the Pythons, Harrison simply wanted to get to see the film − something that his friend Eric Idle has often described as "the most expensive cinema ticket in movie history".
The Friar Park estate was owned by Sir Frank Crisp from 1889 until his death in 1919. The property was then sold at an auction to Sir Percival David. Following their divorce, Lady David moved into the Coachman's Cottage on the Southwest corner of the property when the rest of the estate was donated for the use of nuns belonging to the Salesians of Don Bosco order. The nuns ran a local school in Henley, the Sacred Heart School, but by the late 1960s Friar Park was in a state of disrepair and due to be demolished.
In early 1972, Harrison installed a 16-track tape-based recording studio in a guest suite, which at one stage was superior to the one at EMI's Abbey Road Studios. By 1974, the facility had become the recording headquarters for his company, Dark Horse Records. The album covers for projects Harrison recorded there usually mentioned "'F.P.S.H.O.T."' − or Friar Park Studio, Henley-on-Thames. These include the bulk of his own albums, from 1973's Living in the Material World onwards; among them, Dark Horse, Thirty Three & 1/3, George Harrison, Cloud Nine and Brainwashed. In addition to Harrison's solo albums, overdubs for the two Traveling Wilburys releases, and the recording and filming of The Beatles' 1995 Anthology project were also recorded at Friar Park Studio Henley on Thames. In 1996, Harrison recorded and produced the critically acclaimed Chants of India album for Ravi Shankar at FPSHOT. Interviews with family and friends for posthumous documentaries such as 2003's Concert for George, the 2005 Concert for Bangladesh DVD release, and Martin Scorsese's George Harrison: Living in the Material World in 2011 were all conducted at FPSHOT or just downstairs in the main part of the house.
Friar Park has extensive gardens and water features designed by Henry Ernest Milner for Crisp, including a grotto, and stones just underneath the surface of the pond (providing a walking-on-water illusion). The park also includes a sandstone replica of the Matterhorn. Reflecting Crisp's sense of humour, among the statuary is a monk holding a frying pan with holes in it, and a plaque reading "Two Holy Friars". The year Harrison and his first wife, Pattie Boyd, moved in, he was photographed among four garden gnomes located on the main lawn for the cover of All Things Must Pass, and again with his father Harry six years later, with the photo appearing inside the gatefold cover of Thirty Three & 1/3.
Harrison immortalised the grand building and its surrounds in his 1976 song "Crackerbox Palace", which was his nickname for the mansion (after Lord Buckley's home in California). The All Things Must Pass track "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)" was inspired by Friar Park's history, and the lyrics of later songs such as "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" and "The Answer's at the End" directly quote from the many carvings around the property. His humorous video clips for the likes of "Ding Dong, Ding Dong", "True Love" and "Crackerbox Palace" were all shot within the gardens and grounds of Friar Park, as were the album covers for some of his FPSHOT-recorded Dark Horse acts − Splinter's The Place I Love and the Ravi Shankar's Music Festival from India album being the most obvious.
Harrison and his second wife Olivia restored the gardens. Until his death in November 2001, he loved tending to them personally − an activity that a visiting Rolling Stone journalist in 1987 deemed a "decidedly un-rock-star-ish pastime" − and among the groundskeepers were his older brothers Peter and Harry. George's son Dhani would later recall for the Scorsese documentary: "He'd garden at night-time until midnight. He'd be out there squinting because he could see, at midnight, the moonlight and shadows, and that was his way of not seeing the weeds or imperfections that would plague him during the day ..." Talking of the tranquility he felt at Friar Park, Harrison once said: "Sometimes I feel like I'm actually on the wrong planet, and it's great when I'm in my garden. But the minute I go out the gate I think: 'What the hell am I doing here?'"
The mansion was largely open to the public, until the murder of John Lennon in December 1980. Shortly afterwards, the gates were locked and security features such as razor-wire fences and video cameras were installed. Despite these measures, an intruder, Michael Abrams, broke into the residence in the early hours of 30 December 1999, attacking Harrison and his wife Olivia, leaving him with five stab wounds and a punctured lung. In 2009, Olivia Harrison won the right to put in a permanent fence for her protection, to which some of the neighbours objected, out of concern that their cats could be injured by the sharp edges of the razor-wire.
Olivia Harrison has continued to live in the mansion since Harrison's death from cancer on 29 November 2001.
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