Aleister Crowley in Strathpeffer
Boleskine House, between Foyers and Inverfarigaig, was severely damaged by fire on the 23rd December 2015. It was built in the 1760s by Colonel Archibald Fraser as a hunting lodge but owes much of its public reputation to having been bought in 1899 by Aleister Crowley. His reputation goes before him but he was a free thinker, who dabbled in drugs, sex and the occult and had a unique way of seeing the world. Boleskine House is also notable for having been the home of Led Zeppelin guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, who was a Crowley adherent. He owned the house for 22 years but was an infrequent visitor.
In the summer of 1903, when Crowley was 28, his friend the painter Gerald Kelly joined him at Boleskine. Kelly’s mother and sister Rose were taking the waters in Strathpeffer, along with Mr Hill and Miss Hill from London, and were resident at Whyte’s Hotel from the end of July till mid September. Gerald and Aleister joined the party at Mrs Kelly’s invitation. Aleister soon learned that Rose was in a difficult position – not only was Mr Hill, an elderly solicitor, in love with Rose but she had been carrying on an affair with a married man, Frank Summers. Rose’s mother was determined that she should remarry to save further social embarrassment to the family. On 11th August Rose and Aleister accompanied Mr Hill and Gerald to Strathpeffer golf course and over lunch Rose unburdened herself to Aleister who hatched a plan to allow her to escape from a forced marriage. He simply suggested that she marry him instead and he would disappear after the marriage, unless, he added, he could be of further assistance to her. Hill would therefore have no claim on her and if she wanted she could go off and live in a flat provided by Summers. Rose agreed and as they walked the golf course during the afternoon they made the final arrangements.
Early on the 12th they slipped out of Whyte’s Hotel and took the first train to Dingwall, where they were married, not under the names of Crowley and Kelly, but under the names of MacGregor and Skerrett. The Ross Shire Journal reported on the 21st August 1903 as follows:
‘On 12th inst. at Dingwall, Edward Aleister Crowley MacGregor, of Boleskine House, Foyers, Inverness shire, to Rose Edith, daughter of the Rev F. F. Kelly, vicar of Camberwell, and widow of the late Major F. T. Skerrett, RAMS’.
(At the age of 21 on Aug 31st 1897 Rose had married Major Frederick Thomas Skerrett, a man 20 years older. She lived with him in South Africa till his death 2 years later whence she returned to England).
The couple were then obliged to register their marriage with the local sheriff. It is interesting that their relationship went far beyond a marriage of convenience and grew into a loving partnership.
An account of the episode can found in chapters 45 and 46 of the ‘The Confessions of Aleister Crowley’ here.
Rose had two daughters with Crowley but their firstborn died before her second birthday and the marriage began to suffer. Rose became increasingly dependent on alcohol and they divorced in 1909, Crowley divorcing her on the grounds of his own adultery. The decree was signed at Dingwall by Alex Dewar, the same registrar who had issued the official Sheriff’s marriage warrant six years earlier.
Both of them remained friendly and Rose continued to live at Boleskine House where she looked after Lola. However her alcoholism worsened, allegedly getting through a bottle of whisky a day over the course of five months, and as a result she was committed to an asylum in 1911. She did return to better health and married again in 1912. Crowley sold the house in 1913.