I love a good road trip movie. From It Happened One Night to Romancing the Stone a witty battle between two people forced to travel together under the most impossible of conditions is a comfort watch for me. Everything that can go wrong usually does, and when it ends up crashing those people directly into love? Even better!
When I decided to write a road trip romance novel set in the Regency I discovered there was a great deal more research involved than I ever would have believed. A coach trip off the main roads from London to Cheshire in November of 1815? Yikes! I had to find out how far a heavy travel coach might go in a single day. (Thirty to forty miles.) I had to research which coaching inns might be available along the way. (Quite a few.) I also researched what the weather was like in November of 1815. (Cold, damp, and snowy.)
Between Duty and the Devil’s Desires ended up being one of my favorite books to write. One of the perks of researching for this story was my discovery of a series of little known coaching inns, still in operation as pubs today, with some fascinating histories. Histories which I thought I’d share in a series of blog posts. Especially appropriate for late September and early October as most of these histories involve ghost stories associated with each inn!
Excerpt from: Between Duty and the Devil’s Desires
The lady had a pistol.
Devlin had to admit it gave him pause. He’d had women throw vases at him—with and without flowers. Women often threw themselves at him. They’d thrown hairbrushes, slippers, jewelry, glasses of wine, a bottle of brandy, and even a singularly unattractive porcelain shepherdess. In all his thirty years, not a single woman of his acquaintance had ever pointed a pistol at him. He’d found it… arousing. Until she pulled the hammer back.
“Shall we, my lord?” She waved the pistol, a weapon she gave every sign she was accustomed to wielding, in the direction of the stable door and then brought it back to bear on him.
“One wonders what sort of people you keep company with, madam, that you needs must carry a pistol,” he said.
She gave him an inspective perusal, from his bare feet and legs, to his misbuttoned buckskins, over his open waistcoat and cutaway, to the neck of his shirt, agape and sans neckcloth. Her blue-green eyes, sharp and hard as polished jade, missed not a thing. And said a great deal.
“Point taken,” he said and tapped two fingers to his brow in salute.
This scene takes place at The Spaniard’s Inn, just outside of London. This particular establishment has already been featured on Number One London in a previous post. You can check it out here:
Excerpt from: Between Duty and the Devil’s Desires
“My chamber has no windows, Miss Perkins,” he started.
“Not at all surprising, considering what happened at the Spaniard’s Inn this morning,” she replied.
“I suspected. I did move your boots to the door.”
“You are a hard-hearted woman.”
“I am woman who trusts her instincts and her intellect. After all, on 12th November last year, you plied Lord Ethan Vines with enough beer, claret, and port to flood London again and left him insensible against your chamber door whilst you escaped out the window not to be seen again until the Duchess of Devonshire’s Christmas Ball at Chatsworth. Thereby missing your wedding on 18th November. Here we are, Lord Hadley. Do try and get some sleep. We have an early start tomorrow.” She’d managed to finish her entire recitation as smoothly as if she were lecturing Lady Margaret on proper ball etiquette. No mean feat when a man who exuded strength and barely contained carnal vitality at every step he took, seared her with every glance he turned on her.
“Good God, woman, does the Home Office know about you? How do you know…” He fell silent and ignored the chamber door George had unlocked and opened for him. “Miss Perkins,” he said as if for the first time. “Miss Elegy Perkins.”
“You are Lady Margaret’s own governess.” His eyes widened, alight with humor and admiration. “You are Perfect Perkins, the most notorious governess in England.”
“Hardly notorious, my lord.” She’d never intended to give him her name, let alone have him recognize her by her reputation. She slipped her arm from his.
“To any man even attempting to speak with Lady Margaret you are notorious, Miss Perkins. You pushed Reggie Vandiver-Smythe into the Serpentine for attempting to kiss her hand.”
“It wasn’t her hand he was attempting to kiss. And once you and she are lawfully wed, you will be responsible for keeping rakes like Reggie Vandiver-Smythe away from her.”
“You are the reason she has not thrown me over for some other man more than willing to marry her. This is all your fault.”
This scene takes place at The George and Dragon in the village of West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.
The current building dates back to 1720, but an inn has been situated on the site since the 14th century. The building, the location, and nearly the entire village are so lovely and historic that nearly all of it is owned by the National Trust. Nearby, one of the area’s most fascinating attractions is the West Wycombe Caves, better known as the Hellfire Caves due to their association with the notorious Hellfire Club led by Sir Francis Dashwood. It is said the labyrinth of caves led to passageways under West Wycombe Park, the home of the club’s infamous leader.
Here is a great gallery of photos of the caves.
This gentlemen’s club gained infamy throughout the British Isles during the 18th and early 19th centuries for its practices of debauchery, orgies, generous imbibing of drugs and alcohol, and according to some stories the practice of pagan rituals and witchcraft-including human sacrifice, although that aspect of their activities was never actually proven.
Members of the club were known to visit The George and Dragon during their visits to Sir Francis Dashwood’s home for the Hellfire Club festivities.
For further reading on the club and its activities might I suggest:
The Hell-Fire Clubs: A History of Anti-Morality by Geoffrey Ashe
The Hell-Fire Friars by Gerald Suster
The Hell-Fire Clubs: Sex, Satanism and Secret Societies by Evelyn Lord
Of course, like any good historical inn, The George and Dragon has a couple of creatures about that go bump in the night. One is said to be the ghost of a patron who was robbed and murdered at The George. He makes himself known by his heavy footsteps going up and down the main staircase. One hears his approach from behind, but when one turns not a soul is there. Or is there?
The most famous spectre associated with the George and Dragon is that of Sukie, a servant at the inn during the 18th century. Sukie, an incredibly attractive young woman, had higher ambitions than an entire life of servitude at a country inn. She was said to be quite keen to use her beauty as a means to find a better life. Her ultimate goal? A life as a rich man’s mistress or wife. As a result she spurned the attentions of the local boys and set her sights on the wealthy patrons who stopped at the inn on their way to and from London.
According to the story, one night a quite rich and handsome young gentlemen stopped at the inn and quickly became enamored of Sukie. They began to see each other at the tavern on the first floor of the inn on a regular basis. Sukie was certain she had found her way out of a life of poverty and servitude. Unfortunately her spurned local beaus joined forces to play a trick on the young maid in order to get revenge on her for turning her nose up at their advances.
It is said they bribed another servant to tell Sukie her rich suitor wanted her to meet him, dressed in a gown for a wedding no less, at the entrance of the West Wycombe Caves from which they would elope. Of course when she arrived there was no handsome suitor waiting, only three local lads drunk as lords and mocking her. There are two versions of the story at this point. In one, they chase Sukie into the caves, smash her lantern, and leave her to stumble about in terror. When she falls in the dark and hits her head, the would-be beaus sober up quickly and carry her back to the village, but it is too late. She dies of her injuries in her bed at the inn. In another version there is an argument at the mouth of the cave that turns violent and Sukie is struck on the head. One of the boys goes for the doctor whilst the other two carry her back to the inn where she dies in her bed dressed in her wedding gown not long after the doctor arrives.
Unexplained incidents began to happen in Sukie’s old room soon after her death. Two other maids were so terrified by these incidents they demanded to move rooms. Soon visitors to the inn reported the presence of a young woman in a white dress wandering the corridors all hours of the night in search of her handsome suitor.
There is no mention of Sukie in Between Duty and the Devil’s Desires. I suspect the ghostly maid felt Miss Perkins more than had her hands full with Major Lord Devlin St. George !
My next post will be on the second stop on Devlin and Elegy’s journey – The White House, also known as The Marlborough Arms on the road between Bladon and Woodstock in Oxfordshire. Should you wish to go along on their journey you will find Between Duty and the Devil’s Desires at the following links:
A determined governess, a reluctant bridegroom, and a winter’s journey from London to Cheshire…Reputed to be the most exacting governess in England, Miss Elegy Perkins has cared for Lady Margaret, the spoiled daughter of the Marquess of Braemar, for twelve interminable years. Then she receives a life-changing offer that would bring her a prize of 5000 pounds and the chance at financial freedom. All she must do is find and escort Lady Margaret’s reluctant bridegroom to his wedding. A simple enough task, until she meets the bridegroom in question.Major Lord Devlin St. George has very little control of his life. For the past sixteen months he has done his utmost to avoid contracts, signed when he was a child, to leg-shackle him to the daughter of a wealthy marquess. Evading the efforts of his betrothed’s brothers to drag him to the altar, Devlin has successfully missed three wedding dates so far. The only thing that stands between him and missing a fourth is a pistol-wielding, strait-laced governess. A lady who is far more woman than she dares reveal.