JOURNEY INTO THE HELLFIRE CAVES

Back in the 1970’s when I was a youngster I remember rushing excitedly to the local corner sweetshop to spend my pocket money on Hammer Horror movie bubblegum cards which at the time was all the rage.(http://wp.me/p1ZPuc-2Jx)

It gave a glimpse of risque movies that we were far to young to view and before the days of video and DVD, were not able to see anyhow except on the occasional late night black and white TV showings like “Dracula” and “Curse of the Werewolf”and “Quatermass and the pit”,which sent us running to the bedroom terrified.

Later as we grew up I watched with fascination as a TV series from the same film makers produced called the Hammer House of Horrors (http://www.hammerhouseofhorrortvseries.co.uk/) and looked forward to such horror instalments as “The House That Bled to Death” and”Guardian From The Abyss”.

Later in life I was lucky to meet Christopher Lee in the course of my work in Los Angeles and listened with fascination as this giant in the acting profession recalled prose from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, prior to his role in the film, during an interview in a Los Angeles hotel.

As the years passed I moved to London and rekindled my interest in filming that had taken place over the years.I became aware that many of the film locations from the classic films I had been a fan of were filmed in locations in the areas of Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and the High Wycombe area and I spent some time tracking down a few of these locations. The bulk of these films were made at Bray Studios in Bray,Berkshire, a giant in the film industry that diabolically has now fallen into decline despite the surge in British film making at nearby Shepperton and Pine Wood.Films Such as The Mummy(1959), Alien and The Rocky Horror Picture Show where also made here and it is facing its own horror story of being turned into a care home by developers.(https://www.facebook.com/savebraystudios) Incidentally the location of the Gothic Style hotel in the Rocky Horror Picture Show portrayed as Frankenfurters mansion was indeed the Oakley Court Hotel right across the road from the Bray Studios.(http://www.oakleycourtwindsor.com/) Indeed whole area around these studios supplied the film industry with hundreds of film locations for years and it is quite fascinating to find that a sleepy village where you are quietly munching your cream tea was indeed a film set for a Satanic horror movie chase or the stamping ground of one of the Mummy horrors that unwound on the silver screen. One such location was the Hellfire caverns in the village of West Wycombe,located just off the A40 road.As you approach the village you see a sinister looking Mausoleum perched on the hill overlooking the quaint English village below.The Mausoleum was in fact used as the setting for the 1976 Hammer film “To the Devil a Daughter” starring starring Christopher Lee, Nastaasja Kinski, and Richard Widmark.The nearby Hellfire cavern was probably the influence for the film”Taste the Blood Of Dracula”. West Wycombe and the Hellfire Caverns indeed are one of those places where reality indeed is stranger than fiction. West Wycombe Park, Caves,Mausoleum and St Lawrence’s Church with its mysterious golden globe on the spire were all constructed in the mid-18th century by Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the Dilettanti Society and co-founder of the notorious Hellfire Club which met at the George and Vulture Inn in London. The Hellfire Club with its club motto, Fais ce que tu voudras ,(do what thou wilt), would certainly have raised eyebrows and the attention of the tabloids,had they existed at the time.It was a secret society in the 18th Century that allegedly included Benjamin Franklin among its many high profile visitors. Dashwood and other high-powered politicians and society members,originally formed a club then known as The Knights of St Francis of Wycombe. They first used Medmenham Abbey, eight miles away from West Wycombe. Later on,the rather more discrete caves were allegedly used for nefarious orgies and black magic that included the presence of female”guests”referred to as nuns. Entering the creepy church like entrance of the caves you wander into the darkness occasionally stumbling across strange carved rock skulls and phallic symbols ,the whole place has a creepy atmosphere that is enhanced by the knowledge that a lot of strange things are alleged to have happened here over the centuries.As you pass through the caverns you enter the Banqueting Hall,the Miner’s Cave and finally, across a subterranean river aptly named the Styx you enter the final cave, the Inner Temple, where the meetings of the Hellfire Club said to have been held.This final cave is said to lie 300 feet directly beneath the church on top of West Wycombe hill. According to Greek mythology, the River Styx separated the mortal world from Hades, and the Inner Temple directly beneath St Lawrence’s Church signifies Heaven and Hell.Indeed it seems that all the landmarks here are linked in a symbolic manner known only to the secret society and one cannot help but suspect that the caves open to the public are only the tip of the iceberg and that there are many more hidden away in this enormous hillside.There are even rumours that members would pass unscrutinised into the caves as the moon rose and night fell via connecting tunnels from the village inn the George and Dragon and that the caves and the Inn are haunted by a servant girl called Suki that walks the corridors and caverns. In all a truly spooky place and a great day out.

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