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Hellfire and Brimstone

( Directory of Archaeology and Antiques to the Westminster Spelaeological Group).

This may appear to be a departure from caves and caving, but whilst investigating the cave at West Wycombe, Bucks, which is not particularly interesting, I unearthed an account of the ‘Medmanham Monks’ and followed it up.

Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord le Dispenser, was born in 1700 and at an early age became interested in black magic and Satanism. In 1752 he founded the Hell Fire Club, otherwise known as the ‘Monks of St. Francis’ in the converted ruins of Medmenham Abbey which he had leased from Francis Duffield.

It is said that at Medmenham there was not a vice for which Sir Francis did not make provision. The membership was extensive and Frederick, Prince of Wales was a visitor.

The ‘Monks’ were summed up by one author ‘of all these profligate and satanical fraternities, that coven which had left the most infamous and enduring name is no doubt the sodality known as ‘The Monks of Medmenham’.

In 1762 the Club, which had suffered from publicity and ridicule, ceased to exist and the contents of the chapel were transferred to the mansion of Sir Francis Dashwood at West Wycombe.

The following year Dashwood rebuilt the Church of St. Lawrence which is situated on the summit of the hill overlooking the village.

At the same time, adjacent to the church, was built a mausoleum in which it was intended to bury the members of the Hell Fire Club.

Beneath the hill was excavated a cave running for a length of almost a quarter of a mile. At the end of this passage was dug out a large chamber which is approximately directly beneath the church. Here it is generally believed the Hell Fire Club continued to practise the worship of the devil.

Paul Whitehead, a member of the fraternity, died in August, 1775, and bequeathed his hoard to Sir Francis who deposited it in the mausoleum with great ceremony.

The procession consisted of “….an officer, nine grenadiers, two German flutes, two choristers, two more German flutes, eleven singing men, two French horns, two bassoons, six fifes, and four muffled drums. This was followed by the urn containing the heart which was supported by twelve soldiers. Then came Lord le Despenser as chief mourner, wearing the uniform of the Colonel of the Bucks. Militia, then a Major, a Captain, and seven other officers, two fifes, two drums and twenty soldiers with firelocks reversed. The Dead March was played all the way, with bells tolling, and cannons being discharged every 3½ minutes. An hour was spent in marching round the mausoleum and performing funeral glees. When the ceremony was concluded the soldiers fires three volleys and marched off to a merry tune…..” This was taken from an eyewitness report.

One of the strangest things is that 64 years later, in 1839, the mausoleum was broken into and the heart was stolen and never traced. Lord le Despenser who was Treasurer of the Chambers, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Master of the Wardrobe, and Joint Post Master General, died in 1731 and was himself buried in the mausoleum.

Perhaps a closer inspection of the caves, with particular attention to the two chambers, would be well worth while. Since they are symmetrical there could be some reason, possibly symbolic, to account for the design.

(This article will be published in the July issue of the Journal of the Westminster Speleological Group. Price 2/6).

I am grateful to the W.S.G. for permission to print this article.


Cave at West Wycombe Bucks

Cutting from Daily Express

The Cave Man’s Post.

Madrid, Wed. – Twelve explorers went down 3300 feet to ’s deepest cave near Alcoy. It took them two days. ‘We have camped art the far end of a sloping chamber 159 feet long, and hear a strange whirring noise under our feet’ says a message received from them today – by carrier pigeon.

Reports that one Pete Bird is training bats to open a service between Swildions II and August Hole Boulder Chamber have not been confirmed as yet.



On Saturday, 11th. April, Messr. Roy Bennett and Jack Waddon formerly celebrated their 21st. birthdays in the time-honoured custom on Mendip. Thanks to a truly magnificent effort on the part of Dora Bindon, Maisie Hudd and Beryl Ifold, a gathering of Belfyites were able to sit down to a most sumptuous dinner. Afterwards the party repaired to the Hunter’s Lodge Inn, where liquid refreshment was partaken, and entertainment on guitar and banjo provided by Messrs. Oliver Lloyd and Alfie Collins, accompanied by Jones on a discordant harmonica.

The two instigators of this ‘binge’ wish to express hearty thanks to the three girls who succeeded in making such an excellent culinary achievement, with the limited cooking facilities available.


Query Corner

What was it Mervyn Hannam found to do more interesting than caving when he spent a week in Derbyshire recently?????

Was it mud in Sago’s gumboots?????

Has anyone told Pat Brazier that her Bantam will go much faster under tow by Tony J’s Ariel than under its own steam????

How much is Sett paying Keith Gardner not to print photographic evidence that he is still has the bloom of youth on his cheeks?????


It is noted by Jones’ absence that his ‘Homework’ is still retarding his caving activities.


Some People


When at Nempnett tea I sip,
Telling news and village gossip,
Stalwarts enter with great din,
Bearing packs and hats of tin.
They all come on motor bikes,
Except for one – he rides a trike.
That which follows needs some sorting,
Talk of babies and of courting!
Mention of binder’ and of ‘pots’
And ‘choking squeezes’ quite a lot.
One talks of caves, and in he tucks
A farming reference – ‘mucky ducks’.
They talk of ‘Belfry’ and of ‘belles’,
I think they qualify for Wells.
“But”, they say with great propriety,
“We’re a Speleological Society”.

Additions to the Club Library

Wessex Cave Club Journal No. 39.

Transactions of the C.R.G. Vol. 2. No. 2.

C.R.G. Newsletters for Jan. & Feb. 1953.

W.S.G. Bulletin, April 1953.

Birmingham C. & C.C. Newsletter, April 1955.


Letter to the Editor.

The Castle,
Near Wells
1st March 1953.

The Hut Warden,
c/o the Editor,
Belfry Bulletin.


His Grace desires to make it clear that he is most dissatisfied with the accommodation of a future Belfry as indicated in the recently published extract form the ‘Guide to the Belfry for New Members’.

No mention is made of suitable accommodation for His Grace’s personal attendants. It must be clear that we could not travel without our body-servant and chauffeur and so few servants as this would definitely be regarded as ‘pigging it’, if one may use the vulgar term. Normally, of course, his Grace would also be accompanied by his Masseuse, Butler and Chef as well as by myself.

It is also to be hoped that suitable garaging and hangarage will be available as our Mark VIII Bentley (the new turbine model) could not be left exposed to the weather, nor could the helicopter be left in the park.

We trust you will take note of those matters as we are sure you do not wish to lose our patronage.

Incidentally, His Grace always stubs out his cigars before throwing them on the carpet.

I remain, Sir,

Yours truly,

R.M. Wallis

Private Secretary to

His Grace the Duke of Mendip, Fourteenth Baron Priddy.
K.G.B., C.H., P.C., etc.

Another QUERY????

Who told Jack Waddon it was more comfortable under a bench at Conway Falls than at the N. Wales Hut????


R.J. Bagshaw, Hon. Gen. & Hon, Treas. Sec. 56, Ponsford Road, Bristol. 4.

K. Dobbs, Hon. Assist. Gen. Sec. BB circ. & Printing. 55, Broadfield Road, Bristol. 4.

D.A. Coase Caving Sec. Batsford, Lower Failand, Bristol. 8.

P. Ifold, Climbing Sec.,5. Lydney Palce, Stapleton Road, Bristol. 5.

R. Setterington, Hut Warden, 21, Priorswood Road, Taunton, Somt.

J.W. Ifold, Hon. Librarian, Leigh House, Nempnett, Chew Stoke, Nr. Bristol.

M. Jones Sales officer. 12, Milton Crescent, Horfield, Bristo1.7.

T.H. Stanbury, Hon, Editor, B.B. 48, Novers Park Road, Bristol. 4..



Photographic Competition

A photographic competition is to be run by the Club. For further details see next months “BB