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Friday 4 March 2011

Hellfire Caves

The meeting place of a notorious eighteenth century Pagan Sex Cult is not, one might be forgiven for thinking, the obvious venue for a fun day out for all the family. Yet that is exactly what the current proprietors of the Hellfire Caves in Buckinghamshire have been forced to turn them into (presumably driven by the First Law of 21st Century Tourism: if it's not a fun day out for all the family, it won't make any money).

The Hellfire Club, or the "Order of Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe", was a mock religious society founded by Sir Francis Dashwood of West Wycombe in 1746. It held its meetings in a network of caves, designed by Dashwood himself, which were adorned with statues of pagan gods and goddesses. Despite its religious trimmings, however, it seems likely that the club's members were simply world-weary atheists looking for a novel form of entertainment.

At the heart of the cave network is the so-called Inner Temple -- pictured at left as it is today (as usual, the photograph comes courtesy of Paul Jackson). It was in this Inner Temple that the Hellfire Club's most secret activities took place. And they really were secret... speculations as to their nature range from sinister Satanic rituals to wild Caligula-style orgies. Whatever they were, they were probably more fun that the rather genteel tea party depicted in the management's current tableau!

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