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The French connection; Paddy Shennan on Anglo-French relations at stately Croxteth Hall.

Byline: Paddy Shennan

IT'S a story spanning many centuries and many chapters, but one which boasts a central theme: Croxteth Hall and the French.

Now a documentary is being made, while a book -telling the life story of one of its main characters -is also in the offing.

Raymond Lempereur, from Avignon, arrived at the Liverpool stately home to work as chef to Lord Hugh Sefton and his wife, the former model Lady Josephine Sefton, in 1949and, the following year,he was joined by his wife Elda, who worked as his assistant.

The couple still live in the grounds of Croxteth Hall, in an apartment which became theirs for a nominal rent after the death of Lord Sefton in 1972.

Raymond's book, Avignon to Croxteth -The Journey of Raymond Lempereur, is due to be published around Easter time by Birkenhead company Countywise. It will be available in local bookshops.

And Raymond and Elda will also feature prominently in the 30 minute documentary being produced by Dave Cotterill, of Liverpool-based Souled Out Films, the company behind last year's well-received film about the Liverpool seamen who became known as the Cunard Yanks.

It's also being supported by the Liverpool Culture Company, while children from Croxteth Community Comprehensive are involved in the project too.

``The book is almost ready and now we'reinvolved in a film -it's a very exciting time,'' says Raymond, now 78.

But while the Lempereurs' life in Croxteth began in the middle of the 20th century, the French connection became established towards the end of the 18thcentury.

April 8 this year will see the centenary of the signing of the Entente Cordiale, which aimed to settle long-standing disputes between the British and the French. But the spirit of that very agreement has been evident at Croxteth Hall since long before 1904.

In 1789, the French Revolution be gan and,following the overthrow of the monarchy and nobility, there wasn't much work for French chefs who had been used to catering for the high and mighty.

Dave Cotterill explains: ``King Louis XVI's chef,Eustache Ude,fled France and found employment at Croxteth Hall,before moving on to London.

``Eustache was followed by Louis' brother, Charles X, who took up temporary residence at the hall and left behind his portrait and some porcelain as a token of his appreciation.''

The links continued in the next century -in the 1890s,a French chef called Monsieur Cabuzet worked at the hall -but it was in the 20th century that a major new AngloFrench rapport was established.

Dave explains: ``Lord Seftonwas very friendly with King Edward VIII who, of course, became the Duke of Windsor after abidicating over the Mrs Simpson affair.

``And Monsieur Gonin, who had worked for the Duke of Windsor when he was in exile in Paris, was the chef who trained Raymond Lempereur.

``Lord Sefton and the King had a lot in common, as both married Americans who had been models, both were devoted to their wives and both died childless.''

Raymond, who,as a child,had listened,back home in Avignon, to the radio broadcast of the coronation of King Edward VIII in 1936 could not have dreamt that,just 12 years later,he would be training under one of the King's former chefs at the French Embassy in London.

Britain's royalty and American social circles had combined to renew the French connection -Raymond began working at Croxteth after Lady Sefton had received a recommendation from the Duchess of Windsor.

He recalls: ``It was very hard work, with very long hours. We worked weekends,Christmases and bank holidays,but it was so enjoyable. Lord Sefton was a gentleman and treated all his eight staff very well.

``Elda and I used to live in an apartment next to the kitchen and I'd roll out of bed and into work. Lord Sefton would often host shooting parties and I would sometimes be cooking for 35 people.''

And the Lord was a big man with a big appetite.

Raymond says: ``He loved his food, including French and Italian dishes. And,as he was 6ft 5,I never liked to stand next to him -because I'monly 5ft 7!''

Guests at Croxteth Hall included the Queen -as Princess Elizabeth,she popped in for tea in November, 1950 -and a whole host of aristocrats and Hollywood film stars, including Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, Ray Milland and Rex Harrison.

Elda was a big fan of Ray Milland, while Raymond says: ``My favourite film star was Douglas Fairbanks Junior.

``He was very good friends with Lord and Lady Sefton and visited quite often -he was a very nice man.''

In 1952,Raymond saved the day -and the hall -after seeing flames coming from the Queen Anne wing. He raised the alarm and,as a result, the fire wasn't able to spread throughout the hall.

Raymond jokes: ``I raised the alarm,but I must point out that I wasn't responsible for the fire!

Lord Sefton was the seventh and last in the family line and,after his death, in 1972,Raymond and Elda ran their own delicatessen,Le Petit Gourmet in Aintree, before retiring in 1986.

Today, they still live in the grounds of Croxteth Hall. Returning to France was never going to happen: ``This is home for us. We have spent so much of our lives here,'' says Raymond.

``I was 23 when I came here and I'm now 78. Elda was 19 and is now 72. I think we picked just the right place. It is so friendly here.''

Elda adds: ``I don't think either of us intended to stay for this long,but we made lives for ourselves here. We had very good jobs, were well looked after and were very comfortable.''

Before arriving in England, Raymond worked at the Hotel Europe in Avignon and the couple will visit this June, when more filming is carried out for the documentary, which is likely to be premiered in August.

And,as you may have guessed, the Avignon trip involves another link.

Dave Cotterill explains: ``Raymond worked at Hotel Europe before he came to England . . . and the Duke of Duchess of Windsor stayed there after they left England.''

Mon dieu!

CAPTION(S):

1; Raymond and his wife,Elda outside Croxteth Hall; Raymond and Elda Lempereur, who still live in the grounds of Croxteth Hall; Actor Errol Flynn as a swashbuckling pirate, who visited Croxteth Hall; Raymond Lempereur working in the kitchens for Lord Sefton in Croxteth Hall Pictured bottom right is Dave Cotterill, the producer of Croxteth Hall and The French Connection.; Raymond and Elda on a staircase in Croxteth Hall; Pictures by Frank Loughlin and; 5
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 27, 2004
Words:1110
Previous Article:Echoes of the ECHO.
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