“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Home of Hellfire

On a hill overlooking the village of West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire lie the Dashwood Mausoleum and the Church of St Lawrence. The church can be seen from some considerable distance away and is very distinctive as its tower is capped with a large golden ball.

The church and the Mausoleum were built in the 18th Century by Sir Francis Dashwood, who at the same time also excavated an extensive network of caves directly under the church which extend about a quarter of a mile underground. The caves are known as the Hellfire Caves, named after the notorious Hellfire Club (co-founded by Dashwood) which used the caves as its regular meeting place.

The internal layout of the caves is uniquely designed and consists of a number of individual chambers connected by a series of long narrow passageways, and even includes an underground river. The tunnels eventually culminate at a cave known as the Inner Temple, which apparently lies 300 feet directly below the church. It is in the Inner Temple where the meetings of the Hellfire Club were held, with the juxtaposition of the Inner Temple and church directly above supposedly representing Heaven and Hell.

The Hellfire Club (or the Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe, as the club was also known) seems to have offered some of the rich and powerful people of the time the opportunity to get together and indulge their fantasies. The clubs motto was Fais ce que tu voudras (Do what thou wilt), and the club was rumoured to be involved in black magic, satanic rituals and wild sexual orgies.

The rumoured immoral acts that occurred in the caves are also probably why the caves are said to be home to two ghosts. One ghost being that of the former club Secretary, Paul Whitehead, whose heart was interred in an urn in the caves after his death, until it was reportedly stolen in 1829. The second ghost being a “white lady” known as Sukie who is reported to wander the caves dressed in a wedding dress.

The Hellfire Caves have also featured on Andrew May’s Forteana Blog.

The Dashwood Mausoleum on the hill, with the church tower's golden ball in the background. 
Mausoleum. 
Mausoleum side view.
Inside the Mausoleum.
 The Church of St Lawrence. 
The golden ball on the church tower.
The entrance to the caves.
Pictures, Buckinghamshire (June 2013).

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