West Wycombe Caves
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
West Wycombe Caves, also known as Hellfire Caves, located in the Chiltern Hills, Buckinghamshire, England, are most well known as a meeting place for members of The Hellfire Club. The caves were extended by Sir Francis Dashwood (later Lord le Despencer) between 1748–1752. They provided work for unemployed farm workers following a succession of harvest failures, and lie close to Dashwood's country house, West Wycombe Park (now owned by the National Trust).
The chalk mines that were extended to form the caves had existed near High Wycombe for a considerable time. The mines are said to have a prehistoric origin, and were presumably created to extract the flint found in the chalk to make hand tools. Locally, flint is used as a building material. The entrance to the caves is built from flint, and St Lawrence's church, above the Inner Temple, is also built using flint. Due to the extensive alterations made by Dashwood, all evidence of the caves' earlier history seem to have been destroyed.
The underground "rooms" are named, from the Entrance Hall, through the Circle, Franklin's Cave (named after Benjamin Franklin, a friend of Dashwood who stayed with him at West Wycombe), the Banqueting Hall, the Triangle, to the Miner's Cave; finally, across a subterranean river named the Styx, lies the final cave, the Inner Temple.
An alternative viewpoint was advanced by Daniel P Mannix in his book about The Hellfire Club. This theory suggests that the caves had been deliberately created by Dashwood according to a sexual design. Template:Fact The design begins at the 'womb' of the Banqueting Hall, leading to rebirth through the female triangle, followed by baptism in the River Styx and the pleasures thereafter of the Inner Temple. Template:Fact This theory is not mentioned in National Trust literature and is allegedly refuted by the Dashwood family. Template:Fact The flint mining theory is also questionable because the Chiltern Hills flint bed overlays the chalk escarpment and does not have to be mined except by means of small open flint dells of which there are many on the area. Template:Fact
The caves were refurbished and made suitable for visitors during the 1950s by the late Sir Francis Dashwood, 11th Baronet. They are now open as a tourist attraction, with life-sized waxwork figures in period costume illustrating the life of the caves in the 18th century. The caves have attracted over 2 million visitors since 1951.