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The Hellfire Club

Gilmerton Cove has been linked with the notorious Hellfire Club, formed in the 1740s by Sir Francis Dashwood, owner of West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.  Their main purpose seems to have been a gentlemen’s club for wine, women and song; however darker rumours circulate about 'debased religious practices'.  However, no-one has been able to really specify what may or may not have gone on, other than the sexual nature of activities, and a pseudo-ritual of initiation for members (who included numerous Members of Parliament, Lords and important figures).

It is interesting to note that the motto of the club was ‘do what you will’, and indeed much of the club's activities were directly inspired by the works of Rabelais.

Most of the meetings were in fact held at the semi-ruined Medmenham Abbey, just a few miles away from West Wycombe, and only later in the now notorious caves, which are entered through an impressive Gothic arch set into the side of the Hill. The caves themselves are entirely man-made (being the result of mining the materials for building the nearby roads; and also a means of easing serious local unemployment, due to harvest failures in the preceding years) however the rough interior was shaped to provide dramatic visual fare for members, and later tourists; for example the meandering tunnel divides and then rejoins itself, and there is a stream, the River Styx, which was crossed by boat in the Hellfire days.

Extract from (site archived in 2008)