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Stumped!

Aberdeen Place, St Johns Wood

Ok, so not the most inspiring photo, but as they say, “Every picture tells a story”. What you’re looking at here was the proposed site for the London terminus of the Great Central Railway in the 1890s.

An enterprising businessman, Frank Crocker somehow got wind of these proposals and realising that the terminus would need a hotel for travellers to use before or after their journeys bought land opposite and proceeded to build a modestly sized but very opulently decorated hotel and public house, safe in the knowledge that he would be one step ahead of his competitors. Every wall, window and ceiling was decorated in ornate style, with soaring pillars, wood panelling and elaborate stucco featuring gambolling cherubs. Its grand saloon used 50 types of marble to create a magnificent bar-top, archways, an enormous fireplace and soaring pillars, which in turn supported the opulent part-gilded beamed ceiling. Even the chimney and walls were faced with marble.

The proposed terminus was a very short distance from Lord’s Cricket Ground and this left Frank on a very sticky wicket indeed as the proposed route would at best incommode Middlesex Cricket Club and possibly the worst case would be the loss of some or even all of the hallowed ground. Objections were made by the committee which consisted of very powerful men of business, nobility and politicians and in the end a compromise was reached and the site of the terminus was moved half a mile away to what is today Marylebone Station. The change of route was achieved by building a cut and cover tunnel through the ground constructed between September 1896 and May 1897, avoiding the cancellation of any cricket.

So Frank was left with something of a hotel shaped white elephant and as is so common in these sort of stories it appears he had risked all on the venture. Here’s the bit where myth takes over. The story goes that Frank now bankrupt and in deep despair jumped from the highest window to his death. In fact Frank died of natural causes in 1904, but there is an element of truth in the tale, as a subsequent landlord Charles Durden did commit suicide in the same way.

In later years the premises were known as The Crown, but unofficially known as Crocker’s Folly, until 1989 when it’s nickname was properly adopted. The Folly closed it’s doors in 2004 and stood empty for ten years until it was bought by a restaurant chain and now operates as a Lebanese restaurant but retains the Crocker’s Folly name and has been restored it’s former opulence.

It is said that Frank’s ghost still walks through the building, probably chiding itself for not thinking of opening a Lebanese restaurant before anyone else had thought of it.

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