Monday 5 September 2022

The naughty boys club

For a long time now I've wanted to see the caves made famous by Sir Francis Dashwood and passing right near by on our journey back from Tewkesbury a couple of months ago, gave us the perfect opportunity.

Following a terrible famine in 1748 many men found themselves starving and unemployed, so in a bid to help the jobless Dashwood stepped in and organised the building of a chalk road between High and West Wycombe. The caves were created by the chalk extraction needed for the successful completion of the project. That much we know for sure. It's also known that Dashwood and a number of other hugely wealthy and powerful men were in a very secret order called the "Knights of St Francis of Wycombe".  William Hogarth was a member. It seems to have been a faux religious order which held two chapter meetings a year and had an annually appointed abbot. He was distinguished by the crimson robe with the rabbit trim he wore, whilst the 12 "monks" of the inner sanctum wore white. Certain mask wearing "nuns" were invited along too....they weren't nuns in any true sense of the word and celibacy certainly wasn't their watchword👿😆

Rumours abound as to what actually went on in the caves, but it's mainly supposition. There's talk of black masses, satanic worshipping, but their business was kept completely secret. The caves are known to have been decorated with mythological scenes and phallic symbols and certainly the banqueting hall with four dark niches where the "monks" could erm "retire" with their "nuns".  So a lucky guess would be drinking, feasting and wenching then!! With my naughty head on dare I suggest we have seen not disimiliar shenanigans by those currently in power😉 One Benjamin Franklin is known to have paid the caves a visit in 1772. Upon having been asked his advice by a young man wanting to take a mistress he suggested that the best option would be to involve himself with an older woman...not only because she'd be extremely grateful for the attention [all charm these 18th century gents], but she'd also be appropriately experienced. His exact words were all "in the dark all cats are grey."!!

I am, of course, writing about the Hellfire Club [although it wasn't known as this by those within it]. The whole thing came to a grinding halt in 1763 following ferocious disagreements and the incident of the baboon. Heny Vansittart had brought the primate back from a trip to India and a fellow wag, John Wilkes, thought it would be a jolly jape to dress it as the devil and hide it in a box. The terrified creature jumped onto the back of Lord Sandwich who ran away terrified believing that he had really encountered the horned one. The place lay closed and out of public view until it was reopened in 1952. As is oft the case, it's not as big as it looks on the various programmes where I've seen it featured, but it's got some edgy carvings and is not an unreasonable entry price. Whatever the outside temperature it's always 8C which was very welcome on what was a very warm day!


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