Hellfire Caves – West Wycombe, England - Atlas Obscura

Hellfire Caves

West Wycombe, England

Human-made caves excavated to hide a secret society of wealthy pagans. 


Orgies, bacchanals, sacrifices, and more have been said to have taken place in the privately created Hellfire Caves.  

Originally excavated in the mid-1700’s, the Hellfire Caves were the work of legendary rake and co-founder of the Hellfire Club, Sir Francis Dashwood. The tunnel and its warren of adjoining chambers and halls were dug a quarter of a mile into the earth, directly beneath a church. The network consists of a main hall which branches off into rooms such as the Steward’s Cave, a banquet hall, and Franklin’s Cave, which was named after Dashwood’s friend, and Hellfire guest, Benjamin Franklin. The tunnel ends in a chamber known as the Inner Temple, which was reached after crossing a small underground stream known as the River Styx. Outside the entrance to the caves a faux facade was built out of irregular pieces of flint to resemble a Gothic church. Walls were also built around the facade to create a courtyard. 

The Hellfire Club would hold their meetings in the Inner Temple, sharing drunken toasts, contests of wits, and bawdy stories. The spirit of the club was firmly pagan and the gatherings often also included mock rituals and all manner of Bohemian indulgence. Given the anti-establishment, and literally underground nature of the club, accounts of occult and criminal happenings have sprung up over the years, but neither history nor the caves themselves lend concrete credence to these stories. 

The Hellfire Caves were opened to the public in 1951 and have become a popular tourist attraction. They been updated and reinforced to make sure they are safe with a modern electric system and a cafe/gift shop being installed. Many of the smaller chambers have been fitted with mannequins and tableaus, which give visitors a pale reflection of the original uses of the caves. The modern amenities have stripped some of the mystery from the site, but the spirit of the Hellfire Club still remains.   

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