EDDIE BRAZIL takes a look back at Most Haunted: The Hellfire Caves
Episode Title: The Hellfire Caves
Location: West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Series: 4 Episode Number: 44
Originally broadcast: 2004
I have a love hate relationship with Most Haunted.
On the one hand, without the program, it is arguable that the recent renaissance in ghost hunting and the myriad of paranormal research books published just a few years back would not have occurred, without the inspired concept dreamed up by Yvette Fielding and her producer husband Karl Beattie.
The shows probably did as much for psychical investigation as Tony Robinson’s “Time Team” achieved for archaeology and British history.
Nonetheless, as a ghost hunter myself, some of their methods of examination and the paranormal related conclusions reached, have left me scratching my head at times.
Most Haunted’s episode 44 in series 4 saw the team head to the Hellfire Caves at West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.
What better place to investigate? Phantom ladies in white, floating apparitions, unknown figures in 18th century clothing and the residual energy of those engaged in the black arts have been reported within the caves.
For those of you unfamiliar with West Wycombe, I shall briefly paint the picture.
West Wycombe lies some 2.5 miles from the centre of High Wycombe, 30 miles north west of London. Rising above the village looms West Wycombe Hill, the site of an iron-age hill fort, the ramparts of which can still be traced. A bronze age settlement is widely believed to have first existed here, and research has shown that a pagan temple was constructed in a similar style to Stonehenge. The Romans also built their own settlement and religious temple here.
In 1724, Sir Francis Dashwood (1708-1781), Lord of the Manor, succeeded to the estate. Of all Sir Francis’ grand schemes for West Wycombe, perhaps the most ambitious was undertaken between 1748 and 1752 with the extension of a series of ancient chalk tunnels under West Wycombe Hill in to an elaborate labyrinth of caves and chambers.
Between 1763 and 1766, The Hellfire Club is said to have held its nefarious meetings here, and, allegedly, indulged in dark, satanic practises. The perfect place for a ghost hunt? One would have thought so. And yet, the investigation of the caves would prove to be one of the Most Haunted team’s least successful vigils.
As usual Most Haunted began with the familiar scene setting of “spooky, gothic” music, odd camera angles, haunting sound effects, people dressed as phantoms, and Yvette Fielding and regular contributor Richard Felix looking grim and serious as they briefly related tales of the caves, hinting at what might be in store for them as they prepared to enter the labyrinth.
Certainly letting the imagination get the better of one’s reason when you enter the caves is undoubtedly to be expected. Within, lining the walls, are located alcoves from which mannequins and classical statues peer. In the centre of the tunnels is the vast banqueting hall lined with niches and recesses, wherein the members of the club indulged in drunken debauchery with willing females. Today, mannequins of Dashwood and his cronies stand in perpetual sinister silence staring back at those who have braved the deepest part of the labyrinth, the inner chamber.
The atmosphere of the caves soon got to one of the team. Phil Wyman, a sort of paranormal observer refereeing the night’s events, found the location just a bit to much. Feeling dizzy and nauseous, he had to leave the tunnels and recover in the open air.
Soon to the rescue was Derek Acorah, the team’s resident medium. Derek, with the help of his sprit guide, Sam, had picked up on the presence of Suki, an 18th century barmaid who was allegedly murdered in the caves. Right on cue the members of the team were sure they heard the cry of a woman somewhere in the tunnels.
Also the ghost of Dashwood’s close friend, poet Paul Whitehead made his presence felt to Acorah. At one point a stone was heard to sound clanging against one of the metal grills lining the alcoves.
“Whiteheads here, he’s here!” exclaimed the dapper medium. Whitehead is trying to make contact. He has come in search of his heart, continued Acorah. But someone stole it. Who? Not the poet’s lost love, but an Australian soldier who, for a bet, made off with the heart in the early 19th century
The team proceeded further into the caves in complete darkness in the hope that “lights out” would encourage the appearance of apparitions.
Acorah once again picked up another presence – someone called Francis Dashwood whom he believed was the leader of the men who had used the caves for their evil practises.
Soon came a thud from somewhere in the darkness.
Was it Francis? Or perhaps, as Derek’s guide, Sam, picked up on, the presence of a procession of ladies dressed as nuns who divested their Sister of Mercy attire, much to the delight of the phantom men.
The program concluded with the appearance of orbs, the mysterious closing of the gate into the inner chamber and peculiar sounds which couldn’t be explained. Fielding and co, however, came away from the vigil in a somewhat dispirited frame of mind. They had hoped for more from the Hellfire Caves.
The atmosphere, history, and previously, reported paranormal incidents had not resulted in the ghosts of Suki, Paul Whitehead or Sir Francis Dashwood putting in appearance.
Although all agreed that the caves are probably haunted. It’s just that Most Haunted had had a bad night. No matter. If, in the end, it is dubious psychical research, it still makes for great TV.
Tell us what you thought of this Most Haunted episode in the comments section below.