This site is open to the public.
The Hellfire Caves are an extensive folly, constructed through chalk in the 1740s. They were commissioned by Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd baronet and owner of the land and the nearby West Wycombe House. There had been an open cast quarry on the site previously. It is thought that the change to a series of tunnels was both a response to provide local employment to relieve poverty after several failed harvests and also a reflection of the trend for follies and grottoes inspired by wealthy individuals taking a Grand Tour of Europe.
The design of the tunnels and chambers is deliberately symbolic with a variety of unusual shapes including a circle and triangle and culminating in a room named the “inner temple”.
The exterior of the cave entrance has a Gothic facade constructed from Flint with vaulted windows and was clearly designed to be viewed from West Wycombe house across the valley.
The caves were used by what was retrospectively called the Hellfire club which had been founded by Sir Francis Dashwood and also included William Hogarth, John Montague and Thomas Potter. According to Horace Walpole the member practice was “practice was rigorously pagan: Bacchus and Venus were the deities to whom they almost publicly sacrificed; and the nymphs and the hogsheads that were laid in against the festivals of this new church, sufficiently informed the neighbourhood of the complexion of those hermits.”
The club had dissolved by 1766. Decayed been open to public since the 1850s But were in poor condition with little maintenance. I was proposing to use them as an air raid shelter during World War II but the remote location away from towns and the lack of air raids targets meant that this did not come to fruition.
The caves have been open to the public again since 1951 and visitors take a self-guided tour not 25 miles underground through the chambers and passages. The site often runs halloween and paranormal themed events.