Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Hell Fire and Sherbet Lemons

So, it was off to Buckinghamshire today for an outing with Daughter No 2, whose birthday it is.  She had heard about the Hell Fire Caves near High Wycombe and wanted to visit, what with there being ghosts there and all, so we did.  

What are the Hell Fire Caves? you might wonder.  Well, they're a series of tunnels (originally mine workings) under West Wycombe Hill, carved out by hand for Sir Francis Dashwood in the 1750s.  They were used as the secret meeting place for the notorious Hell Fire Club, aka the Order of the Friars of St Francis of Wycombe - a front for a group of aristocrats who wished to take part in 'immoral acts', their motto being Fais ce que tu voudras.  


Who was in this salacious club? I hear you cry.  Members included minor poet, Paul Whitehead, and possibly William Hogarth, major artist.  And a lot of posh knobs.  Oh, and Benjamin Franklin, who, in a distasteful note stuck to the wall, is quoted as advising a young man looking to take a mistress to choose an older woman as 'they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an Intrigue to prevent Suspicion', and, after all, 'in the dark all Cats are grey'.  

Hmmmm.  So what is there to see in these caves?  The answer to that is ... not a lot. Some motheaten mannequins behind metal grilles, the odd notice ... and that's it.  Not even cutting edge in 1965, let alone now.  But they do host children's parties there, should you decide it's a suitable and/or interesting place to take your child.  

Singularly unimpressed, we made our way to the top of the hill to visit the Georgian Church of St Lawrence.  The churchyard gate was locked so we scrambled through the hedge to find that the Church was also padlocked.  I was beginning to feel that my dislike of most things 18th century was justified, today at least.  


One thing we couldn't miss, since it dominates not only the churchyard but that end of High Wycombe, is the Dashwood Mausoleum, an ostentatious monument housing the ashes of the Dashwood family, including the nefarious Sir Francis.  The aforementioned Paul Whitehead, who predeceased him, left him his heart, which was placed in an urn in the Mausoleum so that they would always be together in death.  It was the custom, apparently, to pass this heart around amongst visitors - until an Australian soldier stole it.  Now the empty urn is kept in the caves and the ghost of Whitehead wanders the tunnels and passages in search of his missing organ.  Or so the story goes. 

There were, however, lovely views from the top of the hill, of scenery just tipping into autumn.  

Then it was on to West Wycombe, now a quaint outpost of High Wycombe.  Lots of photogenic buildings - I'd forgotten my camera so had to master my new much-smarter-than-me phone quickly - and a few nice shops including one selling lovely Christmas stuff which I couldn't bring myself to buy as it's early October, dammit.  Will have to go back when I'm feeling rather more seasonal.  

I was interested by the 16th century Church Loft with its original Clock, which used to serve as a pilgrims' rest house and lock up.  In particular, it has some beautifully weathered timber.   



Jenny's favourite shop was at the far end of the village - the Sweet Shop, which provoked much reminiscing on my part about Mrs Jeffries' sweet shop which used to stand on the corner of Cambridge Road and Clevedon Road in Bishopston, opposite the high red-brick walls of Horfield Prison, and whence my cousins and I were frequently dispatched by our grandmother with a handful of coppers between us.  I managed to resist the sherbet-filled flying saucers, but succumbed to 100g (had to make such an effort not to ask for a quarter) of sherbet lemons, which did a good job of keeping me awake all the way back down the M4 to Bristol.





1 comment:

  1. Sherbet lemons for me, every time. That hell fire stuff's a bit overrated if you ask me. Yurk, hearts. I remember seeing Hardy's heart's grave at Stinsford and thinking of the heart we used to have for dinner.

    ReplyDelete