Biography of William Beckford Eccentric Builder Part 3
About the eccentric English builder and aristocrat William Beckford and the strange construction projects at his abbey.
WILLIAM BECKFORD (1759-1844). Eccentric builder.
They were greeted by a brass band playing "Rule Britannia," and soldiers from Beckford's "private army," whom he had hired solely for decorative purposes. The guests feasted at a 50' table and were thrilled beyond words, albeit a bit disappointed. Beckford, it seems, had promised them "a few comfortable days of repose--uncontaminated by the sight and prattle of drawing-room parasites"; yet when they arrived, they found that quite a few other guests had been invited.
The sumptuous meal that was served that evening had to be cooked at the old family estate and carried over to the abbey, where the kitchen had not yet been built. But on Christmas Eve, Beckford decreed that the morrow's meal would be cooked at the abbey. This meant that a kitchen would have to be built literally overnight. Again, his builders worked through the night at breakneck pace, skimping on materials here, cutting corners there and producing by daybreak a kitchen--of sorts. It was functional, fully equipped, and appeared at 1st glance to be solid enough; but of course, it was of the flimsiest construction. Later that day, as Beckford and his guests dined on an excellent meal, the 1st ever cooked at the abbey, they were distracted by a thundering crash. Predictably, the heat of the cooking fires had been more than the still-damp mortar and cement could bear, and the kitchen had collapsed. Beckford was informed of the mishap and, without so much as rising from his chair, he directed his servant to see that a new kitchen be built at once. He then returned to his food, as if he had been interrupted by nothing more disturbing than some spilled wine.
Shortly thereafter, Beckford took up fulltime residence in the abbey, moving into one of its 18 tiny, badly ventilated rooms. He was waited upon by an army of servants, which included a Spanish dwarf in livery who received guests.
As the years wore on, Beckford's fortune dwindled and his income disappeared altogether. Growing bored with the abbey, he sold it for pound 350,000 to a munitions dealer, John Farquhar; he then moved to Bath, building himself a 130' tower there. Beckford was phobic about 2 things--mirrors and women--and, as at Fonthill, he built niches into the corridors for his maids to hide in when their master passed nearby. Comfortably ensconced at his new estate, he laughed quietly to himself when he heard that Fonthill Abbey was completely destroyed by a strong gale. He lived out his years complacently at Bath, and died in 1844 at the age of 84.
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