The Hellfire Caves (also known as the West Wycombe Caves) are a network of man-made chalk and flint caverns which extend a quarter of a mile (250 metres) underground. They are situated near West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, Southeast England. The caves are reportedly haunted by Whitehead and Sukie.
Background[edit | edit source]
The caves were excavated between 1748 and 1752 for Sir Francis Dashwood. The club he formed was called The Brotherhood of St. Francis of Wycombe; the Order of the Knights of West Wycombe; the Order of the Friars of St. Francis of West Wycombe before he called it the Hellfire Club.
The underground passage passes through the following chambers: The ENTRANCE HALL to the STEWARD’S CHAMBER, to WHITEHEAD’S CAVE, through LORD SANDWICH’S CIRCLE (named after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich), to Franklin’s Cave (named after Benjamin Franklin, a friend of Dashwood’s, and a visitor to the caves on more than one occasion), the BANQUETING HALL, the TRIANGLE, to the MINER’S CAVE, across the subterranean RIVER STYX and finally to the final chamber, the INNER TEMPLE where the meetings of the Hellfire Club were held. This chamber lies 300 feet (90 metres) below the church on top of West Wycombe hill.
The meetings were said to notorious, pagan, full of debauchery and occult rituals where they consumed copious amounts of alcohol. The club included some very important political and social 18th century figures such as William Hogarth, John Wilkes, Thomas Potter , and, as mentioned before, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich and Benjamin Franklin. These men were referred to as ‘monks’. They did have ‘guests’ (not members) of ‘nuns’—prostitutes, local girls, wives, mothers, sisters, and many ladies of society join them. They were rumored to have carried out Satanic rituals, dabbled with the Occult and performed Black Magic as well as behaved drunkenly and lewdly.
After Sir Francis Dashwood’s death, and the demise of the Hellfire Club in 1781, the caves were no longer used and fell into disrepair.
The caves were renovated and turned into a tourist attraction during the during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s
There are said to be two main ghosts haunting the caves and a lot of paranormal activity.
Paul Whitehead[edit | edit source]
Paul Whitehead was a close friend of Sir Francis Dashwood and served as the Secretary and Steward to the Hellfire Club. When he died in 1774, he requested that his heart be placed in an urn and stored in the Mausoleum at West Wycombe. This was done but was allegedly stolen by an Australian soldier in 1829.
Legend holds that Whitehead’s ghost haunts West Wycombe Caves and Hill searching for his heart. Numerous visitors and staff have reported seeing a man in old-fashioned clothing wandering the passageways. When faced, he vanishes into thin air.
The White Lady[edit | edit source]
Another popular legend is that of Sukie (short for Susan), the White Lady. She was a 16 or 17 year old barmaid at the local George and Dragon Inn in the late 18th or early 19th century. She was very attractive and many men sought her affections but Sukie wanted to marry into ‘society’ and rejected the advances of her male admirers. She began dating a local aristocrat, and one day, she received a message from her beau (assumedly) to meet him in the caves one night wearing her best white dress as a wedding gown. She arrived in her white dress but the note was a hoax. Three village boys were waiting for her and started teasing and tormenting her. Sukie threw stones at the boys and one of the boys, laughing, threw one back at her. She was knocked unconscious which scared the boys. They carried her back to the inn but she died during the night. The caves and inn are said to be haunted by her ghost. Many staff and visitors report having seen a girl in a white dress wandering in the west side passageways!
Hauntings[edit | edit source]
These caves are purported to hold a frightening amount of paranormal activity. There are regular experiences of Poltergeist activity in the form of stones being thrown and footsteps in the gravel. And chanting is said to have been heard coming from the Inner Temple.