Life at The George (now The Crazy Bear) in 1940-1943
Pam Parham/Mike Grace
The following is an account of life in The George (now The Crazy Bear) in Wycombe End, Beaconsfield during the years 1940-1943. It was written by Pam Parnham in 2014 in a letter to the Beaconsfield & District Historical Society:-
“I was nine when my parents, Arthur and Doris Willats, took over the management of the George Hotel, because the owner Richard Blackwell, a retired RAF officer, was recalled by the Air Ministry. One day I was playing with my school friends, dolls and my beloved dog Bob, the next day I was living in a hotel, sharing a bedroom with the cook, [called] Betty, a very superstitious Irish lady.
Ghost in the attic
The staff bedrooms were on the top floor, which also housed the attic. This was a large airless room which housed the hotel junk – it was also the home of Charlie, the resident ghost, supposedly one Charles Duval, the notorious highwayman, who held up coaches bound for London, along the woody stretch of hill between Loudwater and Holtspur. The attic had a very heavy large oak door which was fastened by long broad hinges, five I think, and very firmly secured. On some nights, maybe a week or more between or other times every night for a week in the very early hours of the night, heavy plodding footsteps, up the stairs along the passage of the staff bedrooms – the ghost of Charles Duval, or Charlie the friendly ghost, I was told. Only one thing I never understood was how these huge securing bolts of the attic door came undone, but if Charlie walked, the door would be open, swinging backwards and forwards. There would be no sleep for me, Betty used to push me out into the passage, to lock the door and lock Charlie up. Oddly enough, although I didn’t like doing this, it was more leaving the warmth of my bed, than the fear of seeing a ghost. Charlie was almost a friend.
In the lounge bar there was on a wall beside the big open fire, which had long seats either side, a lighted small square window which marked, I was told, where a passage for the incumbents of the rectory, could walk under what is now the A40 along an underground route to enjoy in secrecy, despite their vows, the spirits of a hotel.The hotel itself housed brasses of every description, the most famous the original Post Horn, because the George had been a staging hotel on the route to London. One night during the war, the Old Town was awakened, not by bombs, but by a Canadian soldier stationed at Bower Wood, blowing from the centre roundabout, the Post Horn Gallop. It was not until the notes echoed through the town that my father discovered the Post Horn missing. It was returned next day by the police and stern warnings to lock and chain it to the beam where it rested.
Two notable residents at that time were a Major Smithers who was connected to the army at Wilton Park and the War Office, and a Free French Officer, Monsieur De La Fontaine, who in civvy street a member of the Coty family, but attached to the French Navy in London. Whilst the former kept to himself, rarely speaking to anyone else at the hotel, the latter behaved as if we were a big family. I certainly owed him my respect as he explained the meaning of French verbs and my French marks in my school certificate proved it.
Care of animals
Whilst I lived there I was expected to help keep the shelves stocked, but my principle job was the care of the animals. Bob was put into kennels but I used to go after school every day to take him for a walk, until the kennel owner said that it upset Bob too much, so would I please leave him alone. For the first time in my life I rebelled, I would run away with Bob and live in the woods. Bob joined us along with Judy, the hotel’s Dalmatian, Mickey, the grey Persian cat and the bane of my life, twelve fantail pigeons, who made the Old Town their flight to freedom, until I lured them street by street , sprinkling corn, so they followed me home.
Leaving The George
We left The George when my father received his calling up papers – only to fail the medical, but [he was] put into a job costing materials and overseeing work by the Air Ministry.I feel sad to think what a lovely historical hotel The George was and what it is now. Then a hotel built around an oak tree which stretched, supporting stairways for three flights, what history was made there even in my short stay”.