The Real Hellfire Club
Many fans of Netflix’s Stranger Things may not realize that the Hellfire Club was actually a real secret society that existed during the 18th century. Possibly an inspiration for the writers, the actual Hellfire Club has a much darker and sinister place in history than the innocent Dungeons and Dragons fan club depicted on the show – The real Hellfire Club is shrouded in darkness, mystery, superstition and rumors of cult-like rituals, satanic worship and devilish sacrifices. Today, what remains of the Hellfire Club’s secret underground temple in West Wycombe, England, is known to be one of the darkest and most haunted places in England.
Founded by Sir Francis Dashwood, the club itself was one of the most notorious, spreading across both England and Ireland and recruiting many members known to be high profile politicians or influential socialites. The club was known for mocking the church, specifically by committing immoral acts, performing rituals, engaging in sex acts and orgies, and partaking in satanic worship. However, given much of the history and documentation about the club has been either stolen, burned or destroyed, many are left to question whether many of these things actually happened or whether they have been embellished over time.
The Hellfire Club Caves
Directly below the unsuspecting St Lawrence’s Church and Mausoleum of West Wycombe, England, the remains of the Hellfire Club’s underground temple sprawl in a series of dark, winding tunnels. The caves were excavated between 1748 and 1752 for Sir Francis Dashwood. Originally used as a chalk mine to combat a declining local economy, the caves would later be acquired and used by the Hellfire Club as their quarters and temple, where many of their satanic rituals and parties are said to have occurred.
The tunnel system is believed to have taken 100 men 6 years to dig out. It includes an entrance hall, stewards chamber, banquet hall, temple and even has a subterranean river known as the River Styx. Other areas of interest in the cave include Whitehead’s Cave, Lord Sandwich’s Circle, and Franklin’s Cave, named after Benjamin Franklin who was a close friend of Dashwood.
It is speculated that the underground temple, which lies directly beneath the St Lawrence’s church, was intended as a mockery to the Church. The temple is said to symbolize Hell, where as the church symbolizes heaven. Many other symbols linked to the Church and Greek mythology can be found throughout the caves, including the River Styx which is said to represent the crossing from life to Hades in death. Adding to the mystery of the caves, hundreds of devilish face carvings can be found throughout the caves.
Ghost Stories of the Hellfire Caves
There is an abundance of ghost stories and paranormal sightings reported at the Hellfire Caves. Many visitors report a feeling of being watched, hearing sounds of moving furniture, being touched on the back of the head or hair, hearing the crying of children, or even having gravel thrown at them by the unseen. Most reports tend to come from women, too, made curious by the fact that the Hellfire Club was exclusively for men – Women were prohibited from entering many parts of the caves.
One of the most well-known ghost stories of the Hellfire Club Caves is said to be that of Paul Whitehead. Paul was a steward of the Hellfire Club and good friend of Dashwood. Before his death in 1774, Paul left 50 pounds to Dashwood to buy an urn to house his heart after death. Dashwood did as he promised, but sadly the heart would be stolen by an Australian soldier some 100 years later. Sightings of a man in 18th century clothing reported all throughout the caves are believed to be Whitehead, endlessly searching for his stolen heart.
Another famed ghost of the haunted Hellfire Caves is that of an attractive local chamber maid, Sukie. It is said that Sukie was lured into the Hellfire Caves by a group of local pranksters under the false pretense that she was to wed and run off of with a wealthy man she once fancied. When she realized she was being pranked, she threw stones at the boys. In retaliation, the boys threw stones back at Sukie, with one fatal blow sealing Sukie’s fate. Many claim to sight a woman in white wandering the caves, or hear a woman crying from deep within the sprawling cave system.
Visiting the Haunted Hellfire Caves
The Hellfire Caves is open to the public for day tours, and also host a series of seasonal events during October for Halloween. The attraction is filled with creepy alcoves, decorated with mannequins and props playing out the stories of the ghosts that are still said to haunt it, whilst also treating guests to the mysterious history of the Hellfire Club.
If you enjoyed this article and are looking for more locations with ties to the Hellfire Club, check out the Dublin Hellfire Club in Ireland.
Thanks for reading!