A tour down the Caves takes you long deep winding passages which extend over a quarter of a mile underground and lead past various small chambers to the Banqueting Hall, and then further down over the River Styx. According to mythology, this River separated the living world from the Underworld. You finally reach the Inner Temple are now some three hundred feet beneath St Lawrence's Church with its Golden Ball on the top of the hill.
Don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for our resident ghosts, Sukie and Paul Whitehead.
A stone pedestal, which still stands next to the aptly named “Pedestal roundabout’ just East of West Wycombe Village on the main road to High Wycombe, was erected in 1752, about the time the Caves were completed. It was built at a cost of £27 7s 8d.
The inscription reads "F Dashwood Erae Christianae MDCCLll, from the University Miles XXII, from the County Town, Miles XV, from the City Miles XXX".
The splendid flint entrance, built to look like a Gothic church, stands high above West Wycombe and the valley. Flints are found locally in the fields in the Chilterns and were much used as a building material.
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. The light was entirely provided by candles.
The picks were for hacking at the chalk, which is hard and tends to come away in flakes or chalk blocks, known as ‘clunch’. You can still easily make out individual pick marks in many places on the walls of the Caves, and also in odd places, small recesses where candles were placed in holders in the walls to provide light.
Paul Whitehead's Chamber
Paul Whitehead was the steward of the Hellfire Club as well as a poet. One of his roles was to maintain the Cellar Book accounts of the Hellfire 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.
These numerals are inscribed on the wall about halfway down the Caves. They are supposed to refer to a secret passage that is said to run from the Caves to the Church. However, no passage has ever been found, nor is it likely to exist as the Caves are some 300 feet below the Church.
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.
Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of the United States of America was a great friend of Sir Francis. They collaborated together to produce a revised edition of the Book of Common Prayer, which is now in the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.
The Children in the Caves
For generations, the Caves have been an attraction for local visitors, especially children. The children depicted 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.
Sir George was to become the Whig member of Parliament for Wycombe for 31 years and supported, in opposition to his Tory father, the Great Reform Act of 1832, the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and Catholic Emancipation.
The Banqueting Hall
This chamber is about five hundred feet from the entrance, about halfway down the Caves. The cavern has a spectacular ceiling and 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.
After its restoration in 1973, a visitor to the Caves, a Mr Brooks of High Wycombe, found a lump of chalk embedded in the wall with coins dating from 1720 to 1754 stuck in it. These dates coincide exactly with the time the Caves were being excavated.
If you want a spooky candlelit ghost tour or a tour bursting with history, we offer guided tours to suit everybody’s requirements. It can be a swift 15 minutes or an hour of historical facts about The Hellfire Caves. We can also include the splendid Dashwood Mausoleum on the hillside above the Caves and take you for a walk around the unnerving graveyard of St Lawrence’s Church. Beverages and food can be provided on request.
As most of our customers require a tour to suit their group we do price each tour exclusively but a guide to our charges is a 1-hour tour of the Caves for £10 per head with a minimum spend of £200.
Please contact us for more information: 01494 533739 or Contact Us