One of Beaconsfield’s oldest buildings was associated in the 1600s with a famous highwayman and, 200 years later, with two long serving and highly respected law firms.
The Gallant Highwayman
Situated astride the road from London to Oxford, Beaconsfield was a coaching stop which attracted not only travellers but highwaymen who plied their trade in such places as Cut Throat Wood on the wooded hill between Holtspur and Wooburn Moor. The white bow fronted building in London End, originally The Crown Inn, was reputedly a haunt of Claude Duvall noted for his gallantry and courtesy. Born in Normandy in 1643, he was brought to England by one of the exiled aristocracy who returned upon the restoration of Charles ll. By 1666 he had become a highwayman with a reputation for avoiding violence. Once, a lady in a carriage he had stopped started to play a recorder-like instrument to disguise her fear. Duvall produced his own flageolet and, having danced with the lady, escorted her back to her coach where he relieved her husband of £400 as payment for the entertainment. Eventually he was caught and sentenced to death despite the efforts of ‘ladies of quality’ several of whom, wearing masks, attended his hanging at Tyburn in 1670.
The Crown Inn
The Crown Inn became divided into two residences; the larger named Burke House, the smaller Burke Lodge. The larger was lived in by one of the ladies of the prolific Charsley family. Amongst those for whom she provided a home, one went on to join the family law firm which for much of the 1800s practised from The Elms opposite. Burke Lodge became the residence of James Gibson who joined the Charsleys as a partner. In due course he set up a practice of his own under his last two names, Baily Gibson, next to The Elms until his son moved it to the New Town. James Gibson’s wife, Ethel Rigby, was a formidable lady in her own right. Having cycled across much of eastern Europe ‘as it was the easiest way to get around’, and scored a century at Trent Bridge as one of a women’s team against an all male team, she settled for being a country solicitor’s wife confining herself to being a tennis coach to the Astors at Cliveden with her son, later a Tennis Blue and successor to his father’s practice, as ball boy.
This article was originally printed in The Beaconsfield Advertiser