Tales from End to End
The Custodian’s Tale
One Man’s Dream
A tale of chivalry, King Arthur and a better world
by Roger Toy
Trevena House, Tintagel, on the rocky north coast of Cornwall, was built in 1860 by John Douglas Cook, a London magazine editor and self-confessed glutton. His meals were always feasts, washed down with quantities of wine from the well-stocked cellars beneath the house.
While all this feasting was going on, a man called Frederick Glasscock was setting up a factory in Clerkenwell, London, to manufacture a range of sweet food products to tempt the Victorians’ adventurous palates. With his business partner, a Mr. Monkhouse (grandfather of the late Bob Monkhouse) he developed his most famous product, a special recipe custard powder which was sold in tins under the brand name ‘Monk & Glass’ with a picture of a splendid fat monk holding aloft a glass filled with delicious yellow custard on the label. This brand continued into the 20th century, eventually being sold to Bird’s Custard Co. by the Monkhouse family in 1958.
The vast wealth which the custard business brought to Frederick Glasscock enabled him to retire from the company around 1920, leaving the Monkhouse family to continue running it. Mr Glasscock had been greatly affected by the Great War and he moved to Tintagel with a vision of saving the world from another global conflict through the code of chivalry followed by the Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. It was in the style of a mediaeval hall with thrones for Arthur and Guinevere, his Queen, and paintings lining the walls showing scenes from the Arthurian legend, specially commissioned from artist William Hatherell. This was to be the initial ceremonial centre of the organisation, ‘The Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table of King Arthur’, through which Glasscock hoped to ‘sell’ chivalry to the world. However, it was the next part of the project which was to be his master stroke.
At the rear of Trevena House was a garden of some note, described as one of the finest coastal gardens in the country, and it provided the land upon which Frederick Glasscock could build the main ceremonial centre of the Fellowship, leading directly from King Arthur’s Hall. This was to be a huge oblong building from the rear of the house through the gardens, with a giant granite throne and round table at the far end and containing 73 stained glass windows, showing scenes from the Arthurian legend in six large windows (half the height of the building, three at each end), designs representing the Virtues of Chivalry in eighteen windows high up on the side walls, and the remaining windows in the corridor around the outer part of the Hall depicting the shields of the Knights and badges and symbols of the Fellowship.
The Hall was to be called the Great Hall of Chivalry and was built of Cornish granite, using stone from the length and breadth of the County so that the varied colours of the stone could be used to emphasise the theme of the Hall, which was of a movement from darkness into light as one moves down the Hall learning of Chivalry. The message was reinforced by the stained glass windows, commissioned from artist Veronica Whall. The windows are predominantly dark colours at the end of the Hall which is against the back of the house, and the windows at the far end, which face open fields and the sea, are of light glass, with the centre window at this end showing Sir Galahad achieving sight of the Holy Grail in a blaze of pink, white and turquoise coloured glass.
The Great Hall was completed and opened with a grand ceremony in June 1933, reported far and wide, and Frederick was then able to concentrate fully on building up membership of the Fellowship and he embarked on a series of recruitment drives.
In July 1934 he was returning from Boston U.S.A. on the liner ‘Scythia’ when he collapsed and died. The ship was in mid-Atlantic and his wife was advised that he would have to be given a burial at sea, and he was laid to rest in the middle of a great ocean between two of the world’s greatest continents, a destiny which seems somewhat symbolic for a man who was trying to bring the peoples of the world together.
His Fellowship was by this time some 17,000 strong, but within three years it was disintegrating and was formally wound up in January 1937. The rest, as they say, is history.
Mr. Glasscock was a Freemason, and the Halls were acquired as a new Masonic lodge in 1952 and since then have been open to the public. People from all over the world still come to Tintagel to learn about Chivalry and many come to King Arthur’s Great Halls to marvel at the paintings and windows and at the ‘One Man’s Dream’ of a custard millionaire.
Roger C. Toy
Custodian, King Arthur’s Great Halls, Tintagel, Cornwall PL34 0DA
Tel. 01840 770526