Sir Francis Day

DunstanvilleFor several centuries, from the late fifteenth century until well into the nineteenth, the Mazehouse formed part of the estate of May Hill Hall, home of the Day family, key figures in the local aristocracy. The most famous of the Days, although the word infamous might be more appropriate, was Sir Francis Day, the twelfth Baronet, who lived at May Hill in the latter half of the eighteenth century.

In local legend Sir Francis cuts a dramatic and dangerous figure. He and his cohorts, known as the Demons, apparently conducted Satanic rituals in a temple in the gardens of May Hill, rituals that culminated in the raising of Satan himself. The Devil, it seems, granted Day a true demon as a familiar in return for the hand of Day’s sister in marriage. The deal was concluded in an obscene parody of a wedding ceremony that ended with the Devil carrying his unfortunate bride off to Hell with him.

Needless to say, there is very little evidence that Lucifer got married at May Hill. The story, though, does have some basis in fact, and the tragedy of the Day family is certainly true.

For one thing, Day did have a temple in his grounds – several, in fact: classical follies in the fashion of the time. And one of them was certainly used for meetings of the Daemons, an exclusive gentleman’s club of which Sir Francis was a founder member. For all that their name was surely chosen to provoke the conservative ecclesiastical establishment, Satanic rituals were not what they were about. Their name was also intended to evoke classical philosophy and they were a group of men dedicated to following a new rationality in contemporary politics. For Sir Francis was, in fact, extremely active in politics and social reform, particularly becoming known for his charitable work on behalf of illegitimate children, who he maintained should not be made to suffer for the ‘moral infirmities of their progenitors’.

This attitude may have had a lot to do with Sir Francis own half-sister. Augusta, who Sir Francis lodged at the Mazehouse, was herself illegitimate, the result of one of Sir Francis’ father’s many affairs, but Sir Francis insisted on treating her as a full and legitimate member of the family.

The two were certainly very close, and when someone came between them, only tragedy could result. That someone was a local worthy called John Hiver, who began to pay attentions to Augusta, attentions which appear to have been reciprocated, judging from family letters.

Sir Francis, however, was incensed, and eventually challenged Hiver to a duel. Hiver ended up severely injured, eventually dying of his wounds and Augusta committed suicide soon after. Although he was never prosecuted for duelling, Sir Francis subsequently withdrew from public life, leaving his tragedy to grow into the wild folk tale of black magic and evil deeds it has since become.

He is now buried next to his beloved Augusta in the chapel at May Hill.

A barely recognisable version of the Sir Francis myth was used as the basis of a rather cheap British horror film in the late sixties: The Devil’s Bride.

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