Friday 26 December 2008

Happy Times with a Dark History

Today was a happy day. Our friend Bramble, a tan and white spaniel, came with us to visit a village with a dark history. We took her to see some friends who’ve moved out to Norton St Philip. They used to work in our local pub and now they run their own, so we can drop in whenever we feel up to a 70 mile round trip with one of us driving and therefore not drinking. That of course has to be me, since hubby drives all week for work.

When I opened the car door at home, Bramble immediately hopped in and onto the passenger seat, refusing to budge over to the back, so that hubby could sit next to me. He was all prepared to sit in the back until I said I didn’t want an unrestrained dog sitting beside me in the front. After some rather hilarious pushing and shoving, we finally managed to get her out on the passenger side and then back in behind the two of us. And off we went amid some happy laughter.

Since the weekend, it’s been cloudy and grey with only people’s Christmas lights to brighten the streets. But today was a lovely day for a drive. The sun shone, burnishing the naked trees and brightening the grass. It was good to be out in the countryside with summer’s curtains of leaves drawn back to air the views.

The Fleur de Lys in Norton St Philip had not long opened when we arrived. Only one regular was sitting at the bar reading his newspaper; “escaping from in-laws”, he told us. To his surprise, we were welcomed with hugs and kisses by the landlady. And on the bar stood a glass wellie full of dog biscuits. Bramble was a happy doggie too.

The pub sits on a corner immediately opposite The George, and it's these two buildings that have the dark history. The George is reputedly one of the most haunted inns in England, and possibly the oldest. Probably first built in the 13th century, The George is recorded as having a continuous licence since 1397. In 1685, The Duke of Monmouth stayed here when he tried to usurp the throne of England from James II, and is said to have narrowly escaped assassination when a bullet was fired into the building through a window. His followers secured the village and fought off a Royalist attack, but Monmouth did not survive long afterwards for he himself was caught and executed.

The George also served as a court for his Bloody Assizes by the infamous Judge Jefferies, The Hanging Judge, who tried Monmouth's supporters, showing no mercy. Prisoners were either locked up in the George’s dungeons awaiting transportation, or hanged nearby. One of the accounts I have read says the executions took place at the Fleur de Lys and their bodies were displayed there. You can see it here, together with some photos of the two pubs that sit on opposite sides of the road.

We’ll have different memories of our visit to the village today, though, as we passed a happy hour with our friends before the skittle teams arrived for their lunch ahead of a game. We took our leave when they started to get really busy and wended our way home, let Bramble out for a run by the river, and settled in with some Christmas sarnies in front of the telly, before she had to go back to her regular master.

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