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Witchcraft and Ghostly Apparitions at the Hellfire Caves

Nell loves nature and has studied Witchcraft, Paganism and Herb law all her life.

The Hellfire Caves make for a creepy destination.

The Hellfire Caves make for a creepy destination.

What Are the Hellfire Caves?

Set in the beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside—outside the main town of High Wycombe—you will find one of the most fascinating, historical and intriguing networks of caverns in the West Wycombe hillside. The caves are just around the corner from the famous Lord Dashwood Mausoleum. With its towering hexagonal shape and brooding atmosphere, it has been the source of gossip and ghostly stories since the 1760s.

Walking up the hill towards the mausoleum is quite difficult as it is very steep. So if you are planning to visit, I suggest taking the longer but flatter route around the roadway. I have puffed my way up a few times, and believe me when I say, the older you get, the more difficult it is. Most people visit the caves first and then take a walk up the hill.

The caves were first built—or I should say extended—in the 1740s, as they were already a vast network of caves and holes in the hillside. Evidently, they were centuries old when they were first discovered.

The Hellfire Club was first established shortly after Sir Frances Dashwood decided to add to the caves, which were originally built and added to because he wanted them as part of his garden. Lord Dashwood was a great traveler and wanted to do something a little bit different from all the other society gardens that were the fashion of the time. Little did he realize that his famous caves and mausoleum would have people telling stories about the witchcraft and ghostly apparitions that many visitors have supposedly seen over the years.

Hellfire Caves.

Hellfire Caves.

Sir Frances Dashwood and the Famous Hellfire Club

Lord Dashwood supposedly started to use the caves for political meetings, but this was rumored to be a cover for much more sinister goings-on. Debauchery, witchcraft, and prostitution seem to be the main accusations. But some believe that evil took place there—murder.

One of the most frightening things about these meetings was that Lord Dashwood had the most prominent men of society there with him. Most went on to be leaders in their fields of work. Dashwood actually started his Hellfire Club a few years before the Hellfire Caves. The only trouble was that he held the club meetings in the local George and Vulture inn, which was not very private.

Over time it seems it became clear that the inn was not private enough for their shenanigans! To make the club sound more select and secretive, Dashwood named them the Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe, or the Order of the Knights of St. Francis. Their motto was Fais ce que tu voudras (Do what you will). Says it all doesn't it?

Dashwood at his devotions.

Dashwood at his devotions.

Meetings and Club Activities

The main parts of the ceremonies consisted mainly of innocent Pagan worship, however there were times when they included a much more sinister Satanic ritual. Openly worshiping Baccus and Venus, the members flaunted their beliefs in front of new members to shock them. This, of course, was at a time when the country was predominantly Christian.

So, you can imagine how that went down with the locals! Even Dashwood's gardens were full of Pagan statues—much to the chagrin of the local population. A lot of the early meetings were conducted six miles away at Medmenham on Thames, just a few miles from where I live.

From local gossip and tales passed down from mother to daughter, father to son, there is a tunnel that takes you from Mednemham to West Wycombe. This is mentioned in Diana Gabaldon's wonderful series of books, which mentions the caves in Lord John and the Hellfire Club.

Is this the ghost of Sukie?

Is this the ghost of Sukie?

St. Lawrence Church or Golden Ball.

St. Lawrence Church or Golden Ball.

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Read More From Exemplore

The Ghost of the White Lady: The Legend of Sukie

One of the most tantalizing stories is the Legend of Sukie, also known as the "Ghost of the White Lady." The story goes that Sukie (some sources call her Susie as most people were illiterate at the time) worked at the local inn called the George and Dragon.

Sukie fell in love with a rich gentleman from whom she supposedly received a note asking her to meet him in the secret tunnel that runs from the pub to the cave. She rushed to the tunnel believing the note was asking her to run away with him and get married. Sukie dressed in a white wedding dress and stood waiting for him, not realizing that the note was written by local lads who were having a laugh at her expense.

Upon realising that she had been duped, Sukie panicked and started to run away. The lads threw stones and laughed at her. Sadly, one of the stones hit her on the head, and she fell down and died.

In a panic, the boys took her body back to her room at the inn and tried to make it look as though she had died from an accident there. Her ghost is said to have been seen since that tragic murder, haunting not only the inn but the Hellfire Caves.

A Strange Happening

When my son was two years old, I took him for a walk around the caves and up to the Golden Ball, which is on the Church behind the mausoleum. Locals always call it the Golden Ball as it has a large ball at the top of the tower.

At this time, I had never heard of the White Lady. As we were walking towards the mausoleum, my son's shoelace came undone and I bent down to do it up. My son was staring at the stones on the outside of the mausoleum, and suddenly he pointed towards the towering walls and said, 'White Lady mummy, White Lady'.

So I looked over to where he was pointing, and I couldn't see anything. There was no other person around—only me and him. And the mausoleum. I tried to see if there were any statues there of a White Lady, or even just a statue of a lady.

Nothing.

So, we carried on walking. I thought that on the way back I would take him around that way again, and see if he said anything. About an hour later, we walked back that way. Stopping a bit further on to make sure that he was near the place—but not close enough to remember what he said—I stopped to get something from my bag. I saw my son looking around, and then suddenly he said, once again, 'White Lady, mummy.' I said, 'Where?' And he pointed into the mausoleum grounds again.

There was nothing there. By the time I managed to drag him away, he was upset. I would imagine he was thinking 'why can't mummy see it?' We eventually got back home and he forgot about it.

After this experience is when I first opened a book about the mausoleum and caves and read about the White Lady Ghost! It has fascinated me ever since.

The exact spot at Dashwood Mausoleum where I was standing with my son when he saw the White Lady.

The exact spot at Dashwood Mausoleum where I was standing with my son when he saw the White Lady.

Candlelit entrance to a tunnel leading to the Hellfire Caves.

Candlelit entrance to a tunnel leading to the Hellfire Caves.

Introduction to the Hellfire Caves

Taking that first step into the caves, you get a sense of foreboding. It is quite dark as you look down past the entrance with its candlelight flickering shadows off the entrance walls.

The darkness seems to want to suck you in, and for a few seconds, I felt a bit claustrophobic. The tunnels arch down and travel over half a mile underground. As you walk down, the tunnel begins to get lighter, and then you come across your first exhibit. With each statue, there is a commentary telling you the history of the subject. Halfway down the tunnel, the poem below they believe is a reference to the secret tunnel.

'Take 20 steps and rest a while,
Then take a pick and find the stile
Where once I did my love beguile
'Twas 22 in Dashwood's time
Perhaps to hid this cell divine
Where lay my love in peace sublime

The Exhibits

There are many signs and exhibits that show how the cave was carved and the tools that were used. In the Steward's Cave, you can see shovels, hammers, crowbars, and candles with their holders.

Paul Whitehead's chamber is another exhibit based on a minor poet who was employed to keep an eye on the drinks and make sure they were topped up. He was mainly a steward. This part of the cavern is said to be one of the spookiest parts. Even the most staunch unbelieving person is likely to rush through it as it is said to be haunted. The feeling is very eerie, believe me!

The Numerals XXII are probably a measurement that was used in the caves. However, it is also believed they were part of a secret code used to point the way to the tunnels.

Franklin's Cave is named after Benjamin Franklin, who was a great friend of Sir Frances Dashwood. He is said to have stayed at West Wycombe whenever he was in the area. This cave is meant to be something mythical, or even part of the human anatomy.

The Children in the Caves exhibit houses actual paintings of the Dashwood children in West Wycombe Park in 1880.

The Banqueting Hall is 40 feet in diameter and is about 1,000 feet from the entrance to the caves. A lump of chalk was recovered here, as well as some coins dated from 1720 to 1754.

The Miner's Cave shows more workers tools, a wheelbarrow, and lots of other implements used for the digging out of the cave. Local workers were paid a shilling a day. It was a dirty and very dangerous job as the ceiling of the cave was prone to fall down, and the whole tunnel was in danger of cave-ins.

The River Styx exhibit is named after the legendary river. In 1796, it had to be crossed by using stepping stones, though previously it was crossed by using a small boat.

Last but not least, we come to the Inner Temple. Directly beneath the Church, it is 300 feet straight down. The scene shows some of the members of the club, including John Wilkes and Charles Churchill, standing by the statue of the famous Venus De Milo. This exhibit shows that women who attended the meetings had to wear a mask, and in some places, a disguise.

A Great Day Out

If you are visiting the area for the first time, it is a good idea to head for High Wycombe first to make sure you follow the right directions. The caves and mausoleum are situated in West Wycombe a few miles from Wycombe town center. When you get to the caves, it is well worth the climb up the hill to the Dashwood Mausoleum.

The views are amazing. While you are there, go around the back of the mausoleum and you will find the private Church. There is a very spooky pathway that you walk through that is well worth the visit.

In the caves courtyard is a great little shop that sells all sorts of collectibles. I bought a fantastic slate notebook with a Gothic pen. It looks really old and is not something that you can buy anywhere else, which is fantastic!

When you have finished your walk around the caves, buy a cup of coffee or tea, and sit outside admiring the view over the hills. It's a great day out. Oh, and don't forget to watch out for ghosts!

More Eerie British History!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Nell Rose

Comments

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 10, 2020:

Hi Shauna, yes I did ask him a while ago, but he doesn't remember a thing. Which is a shame. but it was so strange. tying his shoe he looked up and said, white lady mum! we then walked around came back and he said it again. I looked everywhere, but just a couple of statues, ancient, and nothing else.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 09, 2020:

Nell, have you asked you son if he remembers seeing the White Lady?

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 09, 2020:

Hi Shauna, it was when my son was around 2 years old he saw the white lady. it was definitely spooky! around 38 years ago now. I remember winning something from hubpages for this hub, so its really one of my favorites. can't wait to go back to the caves again. Side note, Diana Gabaldon wrote about it in one of her Outlander John Grey books! how amazing is that?

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 09, 2020:

Nell, I don't know how I missed this! Your photos and detailed accounts of the history of Hellfire Club and the caves is wonderful. I love stuff like this, but also believe in ghosts (not to mention I'm claustrophobic) so I highly doubt I'd brave a tour myself.

What your son saw and experienced is eerie to say the least. Have you asked him if he remembers what he saw that day? How many years ago was it?

I'll have to come back and check out the video.

In the meantime, thanks for this interesting look into the past and the shivers that are crawling up my spine!

Nell Rose (author) from England on March 31, 2014:

Thanks Maureen for visiting, glad you liked it, and have a wonderful day!

MMECD53 on March 30, 2014:

I voted no way only because I am claustrophobic not afraid of ghosts. Very Interesting Nell. Has been a while since I have been in Hub Pages. Enjoyed this very much.

Maureen

Nell Rose (author) from England on November 16, 2013:

Thanks info, yes it was very spooky when he said it! I even took him around twice to double check! lol! thanks so much for reading, nell

informationshelte on November 16, 2013:

Hi Nell,

Your narrating style certainly captured my imagination. It is like I have visited the place myself through your words.

Especially the point when your little son said that he saw the ghost of the White Lady. This must have been a hair-raising experience!

Nell Rose (author) from England on November 16, 2013:

Thanks Lizzy, I remember watching it too, with yvette fielding if I remember right, it is a great spooky place, in fact its not so much the caves that are spooky but its the walk up to the mausoleum and round the church, it really sends chills up your spine just looking at it from the foot of the hill, then my son goes and sees the ghost! arghhh! lol! thanks as always, nell

Nell Rose (author) from England on November 16, 2013:

Hi midnight, lol! thanks so much for reading, nell

Nell Rose (author) from England on November 16, 2013:

Hi Anna, yes it freaked me out when my son saw that ghost! phew! lol! thanks so much for reading, nell

Nell Rose (author) from England on November 16, 2013:

Hi MysticMoonlight, you would love it, if you ever get the chance to visit its well worth it, and the countryside around there is amazing too, thanks so much for reading, nell

Nell Rose (author) from England on November 16, 2013:

Thanks Wiccan, yes it's a fascinating and spooky place! I did panic when I got stuck on my own in the cave! lol!

Mackenzie Sage Wright on November 15, 2013:

Fascinating Nell Rose-- thanks for sharing your trip here. Wow, it just makes you wonder how much is rumor and how much was actually going on. Sounds like a pretty amazing place.

MysticMoonlight on November 15, 2013:

Absolutely fascinating, Nell! Wonderfully done article with such rich information, truly makes me want to go! I've heard about this place when the 'Ghost Adventures' TV show from here in the States visited there. I've been fascinated ever since. The story about your son seeing the woman in white was amazing. I hope to get to visit there one day, I love creepy places!

Anna Haven from Scotland on November 15, 2013:

Oh Nell I love your hubs! Really interesting. Your son seeing the White Lady makes it all the more spooky.

Haydee Anderson from Hermosa Beach on November 14, 2013:

Ooh, that was spooky! I couldn't begin to imagine how scary getting lost in the Hellfire Caves without adequate lighting would be. Add a dark stormy night into the picture with lots of fog and animal noises and eerk! The history of civilization beyond the borders of the United States has always fascinated me, especially European countries. ~ Thanks, I very much enjoyed this hub. Voted up!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 14, 2013:

Oh, so very interesting! I've seen this investigated by one of the TV ghost hunter shows--Ghost Hunters International, I believe....(an offshoot of "T.A.P.S." that's here in the US).

Interesting that your son saw the apparition--children usually are more sensitive, and if their abilities are not scoffed at, can retain them, and become very gifted in their prime years.

I would love to visit, but I'm afraid a hop across the pond is not in the budget. :-(

Voted up, interesting, useful and pinned.

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 21, 2013:

Thanks Laura, great to see you, nell

Laura Deibel from Aurora, CO on June 21, 2013:

Weird, spooky article, thanks!

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 20, 2013:

HI Phyllis, lol! no nothing funny about those caves! I agree with you, I like exploring them on my own, but I did get a bit spooked when I got lost in there! lol! thanks!

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 20, 2013:

Hi pearl, you could well be right there! lol! glad you liked it, and thanks!

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 20, 2013:

Thanks starbright, glad you liked it, nell

Lucy Jones from Scandinavia on June 20, 2013:

Spooky stuff Nell, but very interesting. Voted up and shared.

Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on June 20, 2013:

Nell, I wonder why it is that you have so many 'ghosty' places? This is fascinating stuff. I'm surprised with today's technology that those tunnels have not been found yet! Must be something or someone keeping them hidden . . . goosebumps!

Very enjoyable spooky article my friend ;) Pearl

Voted Up++++ and pinned

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on June 19, 2013:

OMGosh! Nell, I would love to visit that area, especially walk through the caves -- yes, it would scare me, but I would prefer to walk there alone so I can focus on things that interest me and take my time lingering here and there. How marvelous and such awesome pictures you included. Well done, Nell. All votes up except funny - nothing funny about those caves!

Nell Rose (author) from England on August 08, 2012:

Aw thanks Integrity! lol! glad you liked it, and thanks for reading, cheers nell

IntegrityYes on August 08, 2012:

I voted way up. That is so interesting,Nell. I am proud of you and I am glad that you won! COO!

Nell Rose (author) from England on August 01, 2012:

Thanks for reading francisassissi.

Nell Rose (author) from England on July 25, 2012:

Hi Karine, thanks for reading, and thank you so much for your email, really appreciate it, nell

Karine Gordineer from Upstate New York on July 25, 2012:

Hi Nell - thanks for another great one! Truly fascinating.

Nell Rose (author) from England on July 20, 2012:

Hi rcrumple, thats a shame, yes its off the beaten track but well worth going to, the hellfire caves are our secret little wonder of Bucks! thanks for reading, cheers nell

Rich from Kentucky on July 19, 2012:

Spent quite a bit of time in England in the 70's. Visited Portsmouth, Stonehenge, and London (Carnaby Street/Madame T.'s/The National Gallery/etc.) but had no knowledge of the Hellfire Caves. I obviously missed out bigtime. Great hub! Well investigated and presented!

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 10, 2012:

Hi Larry, thats great! tell her when she comes over to England I will take her to the caves! lol! thanks so much again, nell

Hi unknown spy, it certainly does when you are in the cave thanks!

Life Under Construction from Neverland on June 10, 2012:

wow spooky! gives me chills..

Larry Fields from Northern California on June 10, 2012:

An online friend is a Goth, and she will love your hub as much as I do. Voted up, interesting, and shared.

Nell Rose (author) from England on March 07, 2012:

Haha! Thanks Mary!

Mary Helafitily on March 07, 2012:

arghhhhh scary!!!

Nell Rose (author) from England on June 09, 2011:

Hi, beth, thanks for reading it, I am glad you liked it, that mausoleum is really creepy! ha ha

Beth Perry from Tennesee on June 08, 2011:

Nell Rose, what a wonderful article! I've read about the Hellfire club before but I had never seen photos of the Mausoleum before and it is just awesome. Thanks for contributing!

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 24, 2011:

Hi, Sa'ge, great to see you! you would definitely love this place, so spooky! thanks again nell

Sa`ge from Barefoot Island on May 23, 2011:

sounds like some real haunting to me, wish i lived close enough to check this one out. gosh I love places like this. great report on this one. Love you girl. Tops to you, will be back around moon i hope. :) hugs :)

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 18, 2011:

Hi, poet, sorry it took me so long to get here! lol this is a great day out, if you like spooky things! and I know you do! and the added bonus is a ghost floating about! ha ha thanks again nell

poetvix from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country. on May 17, 2011: