Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Hellfire Caves

Sukis Ghost

Amongst the labyrinth of Gothic arches there have been a number of reported ghostly sightings.
Suki was a servant girl who was employed at the nearby Public House, the George and Dragon. Apparently she was most appealing and had high hopes of being noticed by the local squires and nobility. She desired to be a bride of an aristocrat. As such, she kept herself pure and rejected the propositions of the local lads who grew increasingly irritated by her manner. There came a day when a young and wealthy nobleman visited the George and Dragon and seemed quite taken with Suki who flirted “most seriously” with him.
After he departed the angry local lads who had witnessed this interchange decided to teach Suki a lesson. Apparently, they wrote her a letter purportedly from the young man that she had just met. It stated the he wanted to elope with her and that she was to meet him in the caves in her wedding dress. Suki did as she was asked and arrived at the caves to find that she had been tricked and it is said that “Stones were thrown”. It seems that one struck Suki on the head and she collapsed to the ground. Horrified at what they had done the young men carried her to the Inn but she died during the night. Her ghost is said to roam the caves and is also sometimes seen at the George and Dragon and many paranormal experts have claimed to have been able to make contact her.

Unfortunately we didn't have any sightings although a lot of people claim to have seen the ghostly figure of lady in a wedding dress.

The mysterious 22 steps ??
Along the passage between The Circle and Franklin’s Cave you will discover the Roman numerals XXII deeply engraved into the chalk wall. Nobody knows for sure why they were carved at this point and various explanations have been proposed. The most interesting is that they mark the starting point from which an undisclosed tunnel can be discovered that leads to hidden caves and passages that contain the real secrets of the Friars of St. Francis. A contemporary poem from this time refers to this as a possibility:

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 hide this cell divine
Where lay my love in peace sublime.

The entrance to the Hellfire Caves

The Caves were originally excavated by Sir Francis Dashwood in the 1750's. They were and still remain totally unique. Dashwood was a man whose name has become a byword for hedonistic debauchery, and who is today best remembered as a leading light in the most infamous of all the so-called “Hell Fire” clubs!
The caves were all dug by hand and it is still possible to see the individual pick marks on the wall.
John Wilkes (1725 – 1797), the radical politician, and an enthusiastic member, described their gatherings as “A set of worthy, jolly fellows, happy disciples of Venus and Bacchus, got together to celebrate women in wine”. I suppose thats one way of describing it ??

The select central core of just thirteen “apostles”, led by Sir Francis Dashwood, included Lord Sandwich, John Wilkes, the painter William Hogarth, poets Charles Churchill, Robert Lloyd and Paul Whitehead, whilst American, Benjamin Franklin, was reputed to have been an occasional visitor.
The animosity felt by Lord Sandwich for John Wilkes would lead him to pursue a vendetta against him that would see Wilkes expelled from the House of Commons and ultimately, lead to his being jailed for three years.

Despite the fact that these self -styled monks certainly indulged in a goodly amount of sexual frolicking, and did include mock religious services in their rituals, there is no evidence to suggest that, as has been frequently claimed, they ever practiced Satanism.

The rumour that they did, was probably begun by their enemies in the late 18th Century, and gathered momentum throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries.

There is, however, a delightful, though spurious, tale that at one of the meetings, John Wilkes concealed a baboon, which he had dressed as the Devil, in a chest beneath his seat.

At an appropriate moment, he jerked a cord which opened the chest and the creature jumped onto Lord Sandwiches shoulders who, believing that he had conjured up the Devil, cried out “Spare me gracious Devil: spare a wretch who never was sincerely your servant. I sinned only from vanity of being in the fashion; thou knowest I never have been half so wicked as I pretended: never have been able to commit the thousandth part of the vices which I boasted of…”.

At the height of the Wilkes scandal, Sandwich is supposed to have exclaimed at him, “Upon my soul Wilkes, I don’t know whether you’ll die upon the gallows or of the pox” “That depends, my lord,” replied Wilkes “on whether I first embrace your lordships principles or your lordships mistresses”.

This was pretty much the beginning of the end of the Hellfire Club..


  1. I found your blog today. I am also a wildlife and Nightwish fan, so I had to write you some lines

  2. You are very welcome Elisa - Thank you for your comments!

  3. I definitely would love to see this if I ever get to go out there sometime. Nice pics Pete.