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West Wycombe Caves

The Hell-Fire Club & The Knights of St Francis of Wycombe

We were exploring the South of England by car when we spotted what appeared to be a large mosque on the top of a hill on the road to Aylesbury. This isn’t what you expect to see in the middle of the English countryside so we investigated and found it to be the rather extravagant mausoleum of the Dashwood family, built in 1726. It is built next to a church which is itself unusual for having a large golden ball on the tower, large enough to seat 6 people though why anyone would want to sit in a large golden ball above a church isn’t divulged.

The Hell-Fire Club

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Much more interesting though are the caves, the Hell-Fire Caves, several hundred feet under the church. These caves were excavated in the 1750s by Sir Francis Dashwood, the same person responsible for the mausoleum, the golden sphere and incidentally founder of the notorious Hell-Fire Club, originally known as The Knights of St Francis of Wycombe. The caves extend for about half a mile into the chalk hill and are up to 300 feet deep. Although it’s just one tunnel, it has numerous side caverns and alternative passages up to the final cavern which was the venue of some of the later Hell-Fire Club chapter meetings. The Hell-Fire Club has the reputation of being a devil worshipping society though it was probably nothing more than a mischievous gentleman’s club to, among other things …

celebrate women in wine

using the theme of a monastic order. Holding most of the meetings on the site of partly restored ruined abbey, Medenham Abbey, no doubt helped the myth.

West Wycombe Caves

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Today the tunnels and caves open to the public have a rather creepy atmosphere, being cold, damp, slippery and dimly lit. Every so often there are caverns containing colourful wax work scenes complete with models in period costume, including one showing Sir Francis in conversation with Benjamin Franklin who visited West Wycombe several times in the 1770s. These tableau have taped accompaniments explaining the history and background. You can even throw your own parties down in the caves providing you don’t mind getting chalk all over your clothes, while umbrella hats would be a good investment as the ceilings do drip.

Visitor Information

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The caves are open daily from March–October and on weekends the rest of the year. Entry to the caves costs £3.75 while the church is free. Across from caves, the other side of the village of West Wycombe is West Wycombe Park, home to current Sir Francis Dashwood. Both house and grounds are open to the public.

The official website is Hell Fire Caves.

For more information visit the National Trust web site.

Getting There

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The caves are in West Wycombe Village on the A40 High-Wycombe – Oxford Road about 1 mile before High Wycombe.

If you are coming by bus there is a stop in the village. The nearest rail station is High Wycombe, on the Chiltern Line from London Marylebone.



 

 
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