What are the Hellfire Caves? A network of man-made caves that go 500 metres underground, they were excavated between 1748 and 1752 for Francis Dashwood, 11th Baron le Despencer – co founder of the Hellfire Club.
Where are the Hellfire Caves? Situated above the village of West Wycombe, at the southern edge of the Chiltern Hills near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, England.
What is the Hellfire Club? The club was rumoured to be the meeting place of “persons of quality” – who wished to take part in socially perceived immoral acts and the members were often involved in politics.
There are 10 different parts in the caves:
- Steward’s Cave: After entering the Caves you will come to the small Steward’s cave on the right, here you will find tools similar to those used by the 18th. Century workers; picks with both long and short heads, crowbars, hammers, shovels. Light was entirely provided by candles.
- Whitehead’s Cave: Paul Whitehead was the steward of the Hell-Fire Club as well as a poet. One of his roles was to maintain the Cellar Book accounts of the Hell-Fire Club which involved keeping a list of the wine consumed by its various members when they met at Medmenham Abbey (before the Club moved to the Caves).He died in 1774 leaving £50 in his will with a special request to Sir Francis. He left his heart to the founder ‘as a token of his warm attachment to the noble founder’ and asked to be placed in an urn in the Mausoleum. It is said that Paul Whitehead’s ghost haunts the caves.
- Franklin’s Cave: Named after Benjamin Franklin, a great friend of Sir Francis. They worked together when Sir Francis was Postmaster General of Great Britain from 1766 until his death in 1781, and was Franklin’s superior officer who was Deputy Postmaster for North America during some of this time. Franklin stayed at West Wycombe on numerous occasions and described the place as ‘a paradise’ and also referred to the Caves which he clearly enjoyed.
- Children’s Cave: For generations the Caves have been an attraction for local visitors, especially children. The children’s paintings in the Caves are Sir George Dashwood, 5th. Baronet and his sister Mary (later to become Mrs. Berkeley), as youngsters in about 1800. Their portraits from this time hang in West Wycombe Park. Their ghost’s supposedly haunt the caves.
- Banqueting Hall: This chamber is about five hundred feet from the entrance, about half way down the Caves. The cavern has a ceiling that is forty feet in diameter, in a compass-like design; this is clearly symbolic and features four niches containing various classical statues from Italy. It is still used to this day for occasional private parties and functions.
- Miner’s Cave
- River Styx: According to mythology this River separated the living world from the Underworld.
- Inner Temple
There have been plenty of sightings of ghosts in the caves, including ghosts of children and Paul Whitehead. There is also a girl who haunts the caves called Sukie – A 16 year old barmaid who worked at the George & Dragon pub in the late 18th century fell for a handsome, gentleman who was passing through the village. Annoying three local boys who liked Sukie. By a way of getting back at her, they sent a message to Sukie from the gentleman asking her to meet him at the cave at night wearing a white dress. She believed that they were going to run away together and marry. She entered the caves and realised that the message had been a hoax. The boys started laughing at her, so she started throwing rocks at them. The boys threw them back at her, one struck her on the head and knocked Sukie unconscious. She was secretly brought back to her room at the Inn but the next morning, she was found dead.
Watch the Most Haunted visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19nM9bNV-sw