If you’re on the hunt for terrifying taverns, the Hellfire Club are just the sort of former tenants you’d want to see in the guest book. The George and Dragon in West Wycombe, can boast regular visits from Britain’s Naughtiest Blokes in its 300-year history, although their link to the inn’s most famous ghost is highly debatable.
While the current George and Dragon dates back to 1720, its site has been used as an inn since the 14th century.
It’s a striking building in a striking setting. West Wycombe is such a pretty and historic place that the village is almost totally owned by the National Trust.
One of the place’s biggest attractions is West Wycombe Caves, also known as the Hellfire Caves, eponymous home of the notorious 18th-century roisterers, led by Sir Francis Dashwood.
The George and Dragon’s most famous spirit resident is called Sukie, and met her end after a visit to the caves, though she wasn’t tempted there to join one of the Hellfire Club’s notorious orgies according to the commonest telling of her tragic tale.
Sukie was a servant at the inn. She was said to be incredibly attractive, not averse to male company, and very keen to use her power over the men who passed through the pub as a means to find a better life for herself.
Sukie’s perfectly reasonable ambitions – social mobility via the bedroom was probably one of the few routes to a better life open to a female domestic at the time – didn’t go down well with some of the local young men whose advances she spurned.
One night, an apparently rich and certainly handsome stranger arrived at the George and Dragon and made his attraction to Sukie very obvious. Sukie reciprocated, and the two began to see each other at the pub regularly. Three of her frustrated would-be beaus turned from rivals to conspirators as they saw a chance to play a trick on the social-climbing object of their affections.
Another servant was bribed to tell Sukie that the handsome stranger wanted to see her, dressed in a white gown, at the caves at midnight. Expecting an elopement to an exciting new life, Sukie prepared for the rendezvous with some excitement.
When she arrived at the caves, there was no handsome stranger, just the three village lads, drunk and mocking. A quarrel ensued, followed by some sort of violent incident during which Sukie was struck on the head. The lads sobered up pretty quickly and tried to get help, but Sukie lived only long enough to die – in her “wedding gown” – after she’d been carried back to the inn.
Soon unexplained incidents started to happen in Sukie’s former room. Two girls were so terrified they had to move rooms, and Sukie was soon a regularly reported presence in the inn’s corridors, always wearing the fateful white dress in which she died.
Another version of the story does link more directly with the Hellfire Club, whose members often visited the George and Dragon before and after meetings. This version reports that Sukie – again, painted as a naïve social climber – was simply lured to one of the club’s meetings where she was raped and beaten nearly to death, dying at the pub, and some sort of accident was faked to explain her death.
Another 18th-century guest was reportedly robbed and murdered at the George and Dragon, contributing another unquiet spirit to the pub’s collection of regulars. He is said to manifest himself in the shape of heavy footsteps going down the main staircase.
Sukie’s visitations are sometimes visual, but more often in the form of feelings of intense cold. One particular visit was vividly recorded by Mr Jhan Robbins, an American guest in 1966. Mr Robbins woke in the middle of the night to see a spot of light floating three-feet above the ground in his room, the light grew in intensity and size, until an undaunted Mr Robbins decided to approach it. On drawing close to the light, the intrepid visitor felt a terrible feeling of despair and cold. The light seemed to reach out to him, but that was too much, and Mr Robbins flicked on the light and broke the spell.
The George and Dragon is also said to be home to several other spirits, but it’s the tragic story of Sukie which has captured the imagination of visitors most strongly, and she’s the spirit most visitors would love to meet.