Tuesday, 30 March 2010
I went to the Dashwood Mausoleum and the Hellfire Caves in West Wycombe today. I wanted to get ideas for the setting of something I'm working on. The weather was a bit stormy at the time, so it was more than usually atmospheric, if rather slippery on the way up to the monument. The dog insisted on coming, which was unfortunate for him as he had to wait tied up outside the caves, (unfortunate also for the back of the car). Due to the bad weather outside, I had the cave to myself, where once met the notorious Hellfire Club. They consist of deep artificial passages with Gothic arches, and various chambers and cells carved out of the chalky rock. Very spooky, sending the imagination into overdrive about the dark doings that may have gone on there during the hayday of Hellfire Club in the mid eighteenth-century. Here the 'great and good', aristocrats and members of the government of the day, indulged in debauchery, tomfoolery and blasphemous ritual, along with local wenches. The ringleader was the local toff Francis Dashwood, 15th Baron le Despencer, who had an interesting life. It is said that he has the caves dug out to provide work for unemployed tenants. This, however, strikes me as an attempt, on the part of more recent Dashwoods, to put a positive gloss on his motives of their notorious ancestor.
Another prominent member of the secret society was the Earl of Sandwich, who apparently received a shock when another member unleashed a baboon at him, which the earl mistook for the actual Devil, come to claim his soul. The artist Hogarth was also said to be involved, as was the political radical John Wilkes. Even Benjamin Franklin dropped by... Naturally there is a lot of talk about the caves being associated with the occult and the supernatural, but I didn't see any ghosts when I was there.