A Regency Road Trip Story with a Side of Romance Legend (and a Twist)

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:

http://numberonelondon.net/2021/04/historic-pub-crawl-the-spaniards-inn/

 

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.

“You knew?”

“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.”

Oh dear.

“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.

https://www.hellfirecaves.co.uk/gallery

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.

West Wycombe Park

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.

Entrance to the coaching inn of The George and Dragon
Interior courtyard of The George and Dragon Inn
Bedchamber in The George and Dragon

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:

https://www.thalia.de/shop/home/artikeldetails/ID153031268.html

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/between-duty-and-the-devil-s-desires

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/between-duty-and-the-devils-desires-louisa-cornell/1140132068;jsessionid=DBEC4D334169240B3FB30BF395CDE115.prodny_store01-atgap03?ean=2940164546465

https://www.scribd.com/book/523104517/Between-Duty-and-the-Devil-s-Desires-A-Legend-to-Love-5

https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1584440038

https://www.amazon.com/Between-Duty-Devils-Desires-Legend-ebook/dp/B07GXG2F9W/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Between+Duty+and+the+Devil%27s+Desires&qid=1631028636&sr=8-1

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.

 

GUNSMITHS OF REGENCY LONDON – James Wilkinson, Edward James Bond, Edward London and Boss & Co.

By

Louisa Cornell

 

James Wilkinson, Gunmaker

No. 10 Ludgate Street

Established 1804

Henry Nock died in November, 1804 and listed no legal heirs in his will. He left his stock and business to James Wilkinson, his foreman. The pertinent entry in the will read:

I leave to my foreman, James Wilkinson,

my stock in trade and effects in Ludgate Hill and entreat him to carry on

the business for the benefit of my workmen in my said premises in

Ludgate Hill and I hereby give to Ann, the wife of James Wilkinson

mentioned in my said will, the sum of £100.

While Nock had no legal heirs, it is believed he had essentially adopted Ann and her brother, John, when their father, one of Nock’s workers, died. As Wilkinson frequently identified himself as Nock’s son-in-law most agree that is the case. This theory is credible as on later trade labels James Wilkinson refers to himself as “Successor and Son-in-Law to the Late Mr. Henry Nock.”

A label inside a case for a pair of pistols made after Wilkinson took over the business reads:

James Wilkinson

Gun Maker

To His Majesty

and the Hon East Indian Company

Successor to the late H. Nock

Ludgate Hill

London

James Wilkinson had been foreman and general manager of Nock’s many workshops all over London. He was, however, quite inventive himself and a superior businessman. Wilkinson became Gunmaker-in-Ordinary to the king in 1805. Contracts with the East India Company ensured the success of the business. The name became James Wilkinson & Son around 1818 when James’ son Henry joined.

PAIR OF DOUBLE BARRELED ENGLISH FLINTLOCK COACH PISTOLS BY JAMES WILKINSON, LONDON, CIRCA 1810

Because of the company’s superior work in creating bayonets and swords it eventually became Wilkinson Sword and continued to make fine weapons until 2005. The company survives making razor blades and other products.

 

Edward James Bond

45 Cornhill

Established 1816

Took over father’s Gunmakers business at 59 Lombard Street up to 1810.

Gunmakers business at 45 Cornhill 1800 to 1816. A family business for several generations.

A 32-Bore Brass-Mounted Flintlock Pistol

1820

With two-stage barrel (light pitting overall), octagonal breech engraved with maker’s address along the top, foliate engraved tang, signed border engraved flat beveled lock lightly decorated with foliage and with stepped tail, engraved safety-catch, semi-rainproof pan and roller, figured full stock with chequered rounded butt, border engraved mounts comprising butt-cap, trigger-guard with pineapple finial and decorated with a Britannia shield and foliage on the bow, vacant brass escutcheon, slotted ramrod-pipes, and original horn-tipped ramrod with iron worm.

 

Edward London

50 London Wall, 1826-7

51 London Wall, 1828-66

Established 1826

This company appears to have had a fairly long history. There was an Edward London, gun maker of London Wall in 1734, who appeared as a witness in an attempted murder case. In 1838 there is record of Edward London, gun maker of 51 London Wall, insured with the Sun Fire Office. It is not, however, clear when the company went out of business.

Four bore percussion game rifle made by Edward London

 

 

Boss & Co. Gunmakers

73 James’s Street

Established 1812

The Boss family originated from Leicestershire and had no roots in gunmaking when William Boss began an apprenticeship in 1773, aged just 15. His commitment to becoming a gunmaker was clear, and he moved away from his family to Birmingham to be closer to his mentor; gun and pistol maker Thomas Ketland.

Excelling at his craft, and already making a name for himself, William Boss then moved to London where the finest guns were being produced. There he could further refine his skills and become a part of the dominating London gun industry.

Soon he found a new mentor: Joseph Manton, a leader in his field and a man who only employed top-rate journeymen which, by this time, William was now known.

Staying with Manton for a number of years, William fathered three sons during his time with the firm, each of whom became an apprentice to their father. Sadly, while teaching his youngest son Thomas the art of gunmaking, William died. At this time, the death of a gunmaking father marked the end of any apprenticeship for his remaining sons. But Manton made an exception for the 19-year-old Thomas and allowed him to continue with the firm as his natural talent for the craft was clear.

Eventually Thomas established a name for himself as a top gunmaker. Working mostly as an outworker, a position that saw him finishing guns for the best-known gunmakers of the time, was something he excelled at.

This way of working continued for many years and the sheer scale of the London gunmaking business at this time meant he was a man in demand. The quality of his workmanship ensured his reputation as a gunmaker of esteem across the city.

In 1812 Thomas placed adverts in newspapers addressed to gentlemen, sportsmen and others, announcing the establishment of Boss & Co. These adverts promoted ‘self-acting safety guns, constructed to remove all apprehension of danger as they cannot be discharged except when held in the shooting position’. These guns were manufactured ‘in a superior style of elegant workmanship’ by Thomas Boss of Edgware Road, London.

At this time Thomas provided home visits to potential customers by day, and at his private home of an evening, but that was soon to change.

As is true of any company wanting to make a name for itself amongst established competition, Thomas Boss knew the importance of image.

A home visit was a great way to start, but the monied gun buyers of London liked the kudos of visiting premises where they could touch and feel the product and see it being made. A move to the West End sent out the right message, and 73 James’s Street became the home of Boss & Co.

As the reputation of Boss & Co grew, so did the number of customers through the door. Soon Thomas Boss sought his own apprentices and journeyman gunmakers, needing up to ten skilled staff and two apprentices. Two of these new employees were nephews of Thomas Boss, men who would go on to play an important role in the future of Boss & Co as it developed.

Boss & Co dueling pistols made for the Great Exhibition in 1851

 

 

GUNSMITHS OF REGENCY LONDON – CHARLES LANCASTER AND JAMES PURDY

By

Louisa Cornell

 

Charles Lancaster and Company

151 New Bond Street

Established 1826

 

Charles Lancaster was Joseph Manton’s barrel maker and in 1811 he went on to set up his own shop in Drury Lane, supplying barrels to Manton and the rest of the London Gun Trade and later went on to making complete guns in 1826 at 151 New Bond Street.

Barrels supplied to the trade during this period were marked with CL, now days if you can find an English gun with initials CL on the barrels then they are made by Lancaster even if they have another maker’s name on the top rib.

By 1843 Charles Lancaster had been awarded his first Royal warrant from the Prince Consort and there were many more that followed.

Lancaster died in 1847 and the business was carried on by his son, Charles William and in 1855, a second son Alfred, joined the company, but left in 1859 to set his own business as a gun maker trading as A. Lancaster, Gun & Rifle Manufacturer.

Four-barreled Charles Lancaster gun

 

 

James Purdey & Sons

4 Princes Street

314 ½ Oxford Street (1826)

Established 1814

 

James Purdey was 14 when he was apprenticed to the gunmaker Thomas Keck Hutchinson. The guns of the day were flintlocks and James set his mind to learning every aspect of making them. He forged Damascus barrels out of nails from old horseshoes, heated up, hammered into strips and then beaten around rods. Horseshoes were believed to make the toughest of steels, having been hardened by trampling hooves.

James completed his apprenticeship in 1805. In seven years, he earned a place with Joseph Manton of Oxford Street – England’s greatest gunmaker. Manton had transformed the sporting gun into a thing of exquisite beauty. James Purdey was later to say: ‘but for him we should all have been a parcel of blacksmiths’.

James rose to Head Stocker at Manton’s in three years. In 1808, after learning all that he could, James left to join another famous gunmaker, Forsyth at 10, Piccadilly. Dr Forsyth had invented a new kind of lock, which worked by detonation. James spent the next four years there, as stocker and lock-filer, again learning all he could.

James Purdey founded James Purdey & Sons Limited in London in 1814 on Princes Street in a modest shop off Leicester Square, building single and double flintlock guns, dueling pistols, and rifles.

By 1824 Purdey was being called the finest gunmaker in London. In 1826 the company moved from the Princes Street location to Manton’s former premises in Oxford Street.

The founder’s son, James Purdey the Younger, took over the running of the company from his father in 1858.

One of the costliest pistol ensembles ever made by James Purdey, selling for £101 10s in 1831. They were made for one of the most famous British aristocrats of his era, the fourth Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne. The duke purchased the set for self-defense three months after being assaulted by a mob in the streets of Newark due to his opposition to the Reform Act.

GUNSMITHS OF REGENCY LONDON – JOHN BLANCH AND EZEKIEL BAKER

By

Louisa Cornell

 

 

John Blanch

29 Gracechurch Street

Established 1809

Born in 1784, at the age of 16 John Blanch was apprenticed to London gun maker, Jackson Mortimer. After a short-lived partnership with Mortimer, who at this point had become Blanch’s father-in-law, Blanch established his own business in 1809. He worked mainly for John Manton, but he soon became well established and respected as a gun maker in his own right. Blanch’s respected standing as a businessman and gun maker is evidenced by his rapid advancement through the ranks of the Farriers Company, culminating in 1834 with the prestigious appointment of ‘Master’.

He was an early advocate of the breech loading gun.

In 1826 the business was moved from the premises in Fish Street Hill to 29 Gracechurch Street where it would stay for the next 89 years.

Physical Description

Small steel blade foresight let into 16-pointed star inlay of gold. Two gold breech bands with an engraving of game. Steel screw in vent under nipples, hand hold guard bow, wooden stock, chequered grip and cheek piece. Mounts finely engraved with game and leaf scrolls. Silver monogram plate.

 

 

Ezekiel Baker

24 White Chapel Road

Established 1775

Ezekiel Baker was apprenticed to gunsmith Henry Nock and opened his own shop in 1775. He wrote a book about his experiences making and using rifles—Twenty-three Years Practice and Observations with Rifle Guns which was published in 1804. His greatest accomplishment was the design for what became known as the Baker Rifle.

The British Army experimented with rifles after the American Revolutionary War, but found all available rifle designs either too fragile, cumbersome or slow firing to be able to use in a generalized war. On 4 February 1800, a number of leading gun makers were invited to Woolwich to trial their rifle designs by the Board of Ordinance, who were responsible for the procurement of weaponry for the army. Baker’s design was chosen, and he was given an initial order for 800 rifles. That same year the “Experimental Corps of Riflemen” was raised by Colonel Coote Mannington and Lieutenant-Colonel the Hon. William Stewart. The corps was manned by volunteer officers and soldiers from a variety of British regiments and militias. It was renamed and normalized into the army under the name the 95th Rifles Regiment of Foot.

By 1810, five British battalions, three of the 95th and two of the 60th Regiments, as well as several light companies of the King’s German Legion were equipped with the Baker rifle. The rifle was renowned for its accuracy and range. It was used throughout the Napoleonic Wars and continued in service until the 1830s.

 

A .65″ Baker type smooth bore flintlock cavalry carbine, combining elements from the 1803 pattern.

GUNSMITHS OF REGENCY LONDON – HENRY NOCK

By

Louisa Cornell

 

 

Henry Nock, Gunmaker

Elm Street, Mount Pleasant, Clerkenwell, London

No. 10 Ludgate Street – Shop

No. 9 Castle Alley, White Chapel – Manufactory

Established 1768

Henry Nock learned his trade as a gunsmith in Birmingham in what was known as the Gun Quarter, an area of Birmingham known for years as the world’s center for gun making and munitions manufacturing. At the age of 27 he made his way to London and in 1768 opened up a gunsmith shop.

In addition to being a skilled craftsman Nock was a pioneer in the realm of firearms and has to his credit many innovations and inventions. One such patented invention would impact the gun trade and be adopted as a standard within the industry. It was a removable octagonal barrel that facilitated much improved maintenance. This development would come to be known as ‘Knoxform’ and is described in the patent application as a process to: “…take the Barrell from the lock, which renders the Barrell exceedingly easy to be cleaned, and there is no obstruction of the Breech Pin as in other Guns.”

The making of guns and gun locks were not Nock’s only business. He knew that diversification was paramount to a successful business. The first recording of this manufacture of edged weapons appears in the Board of Ordnance records for December 20th 1777 where it is recorded that he is advanced 200 pounds to provide bayonets, which suggests a rather large order.

Henry Nock was one of the finest and most influential arms makers of his time. His contribution cannot be understated, and he produced some of the very finest and most beautiful guns of that era.

An exquisite example of Henry Nock’s work. This circa 1780 ‘seven’ barreled volley gun was part of an order of 500 such weapons made and supplied by Nock during the 1780’s to the British military at a cost of £13 each.

In 1784 Nock became a Freeman of the Gunmakers Company. In 1789 he was appointed gunmaker-in-ordinary to King George III , largely as a result of his patented breech for hunting guns and other inventions.  In 1802 Nock became Master of the Gunmakers Company. He made weapons covering the whole field from pistols to muskets. The great variety is perhaps illustrated by his coach blunderbuss which, like naval pistols, had a more corrosion resistant brass barrel. Such weapons were intended to be used at short range and did not take a large enough charge to require iron barrels. Nock continued to innovate until his death – late in life he was making breech loading muskets

Coach Blunderbuss

The brass barrel with a flared and ringed muzzle, tapering inward and backward to a ring fronted octagonal staging. The barrel topped with a spring release triangular and concave sided bayonet. The steel flint lock mechanism engraved ‘H NOCK’ for Henry Nock, 1741 – 1804. The underside with a ramrod held within ringed brass pipes, the trigger guard with floral engraving, finished to the end with a flower head finial. The walnut stock with a hatched hand hold, and brass butt plate.