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The Box of Delights
Posted On: 05/03/20
We interviewed Dr Philip Marriott, a former student of Joyce Frankland Academy, then Newport Free Grammar School. We wanted to find out more about his remarkable life and “The Box of Delights”. His story is inspirational, one which delves into Viennese culture in the 1920s and talking to Dr Marriott has made us realise how after all these years, in the 21st century, school culture fundamentally has not changed.
Dr Marriott, born in 1946, enjoyed his studies, especially chemistry. He would visit the local town library in order to read more about the topics which caught his attention. In March 1962, aged just fifteen, Dr Marriott was in a biology lesson when he was called to go to the headmaster’s office. There were two men in the room with Dr Elcoat his headmaster. He knew both but he felt at a loss to understand. The headmaster broke it to Dr Marriott that his parents had been involved in a car crash on the A1 leading to the death of his mother and hospitalisation of his father. Sadly, his father died a few days later as a result of the accident. Legally, Dr Marriott’s new guardians were his aunt and uncle but, reluctant to leave his school and friends, Dr Marriot decided against going to live with them. A local doctor in Harlow, Dr Herbert Bach, asked if Dr Marriott would like to go and live with him and his wife and after getting to know them, he did.
Dr Marriott thoroughly valued living with Herbert Bach and his wife. He described the talks that he had with them much like “the talks that [he] had with [his] own mother”. A combination of Dr Marriott’s drive and Herbert’s encouragement saw him leave Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge University with a degree in medicine.
After leaving Cambridge Dr Marriott worked in medicine and dermatology at Guys Hospital and Saint Bartholomew’s in London and paediatrics at Queens University, Ontario and eventually arrived in General Practice in Crowborough, East Sussex. In 1971, on his first house job, Dr Marriott was told that Herbert Bach had taken his own life, and only ten years after his biological parents’ death this came as another harsh blow. Herbert Bach was an Austrian refugee who escaped to England in 1938 to escape the persecution of Jewish culture at that time in Europe. The lasting impact that and the unexplained loss of his own mother may have contributed to his death. It left Dr Marriott without a father figure in his life. But Herbert Bach had left Dr Marriott a snakeskin box that would later become known as the ‘Box of Delights’.
Herbert Bach had been given this box by his uncle, David Josef Bach, who was an influential figure in Viennese culture, and worked with some of the most famous writers, composers, and artists of his day. David Bach was presented with the box on his 50th birthday in 1924, almost a century ago now. It contained paintings by Oskar Kokoschka, musical dedications from Arnold Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Bela Bartok and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and poems and letters from Karl Krauss, Arthur Schnitzler and Stefan Zweig amongst many others. Dr Marriott, aware of the historical significance of the box, put it in a bank vault for safe keeping. It was not until he saw a film in 1999 about Schoenberg, in which David Bach was a character, that he realised just how poignant a figure David Bach was in Viennese society, for Herbert Bach and indeed Marriott himself.
On Boxing Day 1999, Dr Marriot was entertaining a few close friends, one of whom was Jared Armstrong, a musician and retired teacher. Dr Marriott had placed the snakeskin ‘Box of Delights’ on the table in the hope that it would spark the interest of Armstrong who was able to understand the manuscripts written in German and their cultural significance. As Armstrong was looking through the papers, he became increasingly excited by what he read. Some of the most valuable dedications of Viennese culture were contained within the box. Armstrong advised Dr Marriot not to return the box to the bank; instead he offered to do some research to find out more about the treasures. Previously, Armstrong had suffered a stroke which left him unable to play the instruments he had once dedicated so much of his time to. Armstrong purchased a computer and emailed all around the world to identify and translate everything in the snakeskin box. Doing so much in-depth research into ‘the Box of Delights’ proved to be a source of rehabilitation for Armstrong. After the tragic stroke he had suffered he retaught himself the skills of language and music that used to come so easily but also the new skill of IT.
Once Armstrong had identified the true value of the box it was up to Dr Marriot to decide what to do with it. His upbringing had taught him the value of community. He describes being a student at Gonville and Caius college, Cambridge as becoming ‘a member for life’ and he felt similarly about his experience at Joyce Frankland Academy. The box ‘wasn’t mine to sell or make money from’ he decided. Therefore, he felt that it was only right to donate the box to Gonville and Caius College with 10% of ownership to Joyce Frankland Academy. Joyce Frankland Academy and Gonville and Caius have connections that date back hundreds of years to 1557. At that time Joyce Frankland helped refound Gonville and Caius Cambridge and was their largest benefactor.
Last year, Gonville and Caius decided to sell the ‘box of delights’ and it was auctioned at Sotherby’s in London. The sale of the box has greatly benefitted Joyce Frankland Academy by enabling the school to refurbish an original building for the use of the sixth form to help ensure that students can explore in their learning, fulfil their potential and flourish in their futures. Speaking to Dr Marriot about the story of this box makes it clear that the legacy of the ‘box of delights’ is one to be remembered always.
Article written by: Connie Webb and Martha Hodges, Yr 10