Spooky Bucks – October Halloween special

Liz Nicholls

Missenden Abbey

Bucks is home to many spooky sites including the Hellfire Caves… Liz Nicholls gathers up some local ghost stories

Some 300 feet beneath the Church of St Lawrence, capped with its gold ball, lie the Hellfire Caves. This intricate network of caverns a quarter of a mile into the hillside was created by Sir Francis Dashwood who, in 1747, introduced a poor relief bill to pay workers a shilling a day to mine the chalk here and build a road into Wycombe.  

Once the haunt of members of The Hellfire Club, whose former HQ in Medmenham Abbey invited river-bourne visitors to Fait Ce Que Voudras (“do what thou wilt”), as Bill Spectre (ghosttrail.org) explains… “As guests could arrive without being seen by the pappazzi, the great and good would play there with their mistresses. They say ladies of the night were hired to walk around dressed as nuns [“dollymops”]. When he took it over in 1750, Sir Francis had the grounds turned into a ‘garden of lust’ with explicit statues, fruity plants and suggestive topiary. He was finally pushed into moving to the Hellfire Caves after a monkey he’d released ran riot during a church service.” 

Tall tales of satanic rituals and debauchery here abound, and Hellfire Caves is a thriving tourist attraction today, as well as Hughenden Manor, whose former resident Prime Minister & Earl of Beaconsfield Benjamin Disraeli is said to make his presence felt. The caves, with their imposing flint entrance, have featured on screens big and small, including TV shows Inspector Morse, Most Haunted and Chucklevision.  

As David Kidd-Hewitt explores in his book, Buckinghamshire Stories of the Supernatural (with good spirits and a generous pinch of salt), Hellfire Club steward Paul Whitehead left his heart to be entombed in the Mausoleum but it was stolen by an American soldier. Paul’s ghost is said to stalk the caverns and hills above. 

Others have related visits from “Sukie”, a young woman, dressed in white, said to have been summoned to meet her suitor in the caves before realising she was the victim of hoax by local lads. She’s said to linger here amid the dripping caves and at her place of work, the nearby George & Dragon. As David notices: “Pubs and taverns always seem to predominate when it comes to supernatural stories and Buckinghamshire is no exception. In fact, so many public houses across the country claim to be haunted, it would be unusual to find a pub without a ghost or two…” The book explores paranormal stories at the Ivy House, The Greyhound in Chalfont and The Boot & Slipper in Amersham, as well as Wycombe Swan and the abandoned Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital in Taplow. 

The Royal Standard in Forty Green, which claims to be England’s oldest pub is said to be haunted by a 12-year-old drummer boy who was among a dozen Royalists beheaded by Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. Charles II’s mistress is also said to visit in spirit. 

You can book in for a spooky sleepover with Haunted Rooms (hauntedrooms.co.uk) at venues including Missenden Abbey, which was founded in 1133 and favoured by King Henry III. The November dinner & stay is already booked up by eager ghoul-hunters seeking the immoral “Black Monks of Missenden” and the lady in crinoline carrying flowers floating down the stairs and through a door. 

Henry VIII brought Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (the two wives he had beheaded) to Chenies Manor, another Haunted Rooms ghost hunt venue. I used to do silver service here during my shortlived teenage career as a waitress and always felt a shudder as I passed the staircase. But when I stayed last December for a last-minute birthday treat, no spirits slipped by (except for a few vodkas). But plenty of other spirits are reported at Chenies where, during the English Civil War, parliamentary troops used the long gallery as a barracks. 

As many as five ghosts are claimed to frequent the Crown Inn in Amersham, the setting for Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell’s romantic scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral, as well as my own parents’ wedding. Staff at the 16th century coaching inn have complained of shouts to “get out now!”. Some punters have reported a spectral drinker at the end of the bar at last orders. 

Make of all these spooky stories what you will, but as David adds by way of caveat: “The devil is in the detail runs the saying, but more often than not you would find it difficult to locate very much ghostly detail, let alone a devil.” 

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