CHRISTINE MILLER takes a look at the sixth episode of Great British Ghosts centred on the Hellfire Caves, West Wycombe, and The Ostrich Inn, Slough
The Hellfire Caves, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Today, Michaela is heading underground to the notorious Hellfire Caves built by Sir Francis Dashwood in the 1700s, where the secret aristocratic society known as the Hellfire Club would conduct their meetings, Members of the club included some of the most prominent and powerful figures of the day. It is said that members of the Hellfire Club conducted devil worship and black magic in the creepy caves.
The usually camera shy Sir Edward Dashwood, current owner of the family seat where the caves were built, meets with Michaela to discuss his infamous ancestor.
‘They had great fun’, Sir Edward explains, with lots of female company and heavy drinking to be had. The club’s members were the very definition of hedonistic.
There are a lot of reports from people claiming to have had otherworldly experiences in the caves.
Sir Edward describes a story he is familiar with; it goes that about 20 years ago ‘a middle-aged spinster, who had been frigid all her life, and had no sexual experience’ visited the caves. She left saying that she was attacked by Frances Dashwood, and the experience had turned her into a raging nymphomaniac! What happened after this story hit the national press was an influx of middle-aged women arriving at the caves, for reasons unknown…
Having learned a bit of the history and some of the stories attached, Michaela and her guide, Lisa, descend into the Hellfire Caves. Lisa explains that footsteps are often heard on the gravel in the dark tunnels by staff just before they close and that there is an unmistakable atmosphere within the fabric of the caves. ‘Something is down there’, she says.
When Paul Whitehead, poet of the Hellfire Club and Chief Steward died, his heart was taken out and placed in an urn in the family mausoleum, but it was stolen about 100 years ago. Since then, his spirit has been seen in the caves and other areas of the estate clutching at his chest, looking for his heart.
Moving further in the caves to the Banqueting Hall where most of the dastardly and nefarious deeds were carried out in the 40 foot cavern, Michaela is told of one of the most famous ghost stories attached to the caves. The tale begins with Sukie, a young girl who worked in a nearby pub. Very attractive and known as quite the flirt, Sukie got to know a wealthy man who she fell in love with. Many of the locals boys, who had tried and failed to woo Sukie were jealous at her new found infatuation, and hatched a wicked plan. Sending her a letter pretending to be from the wealthy man, it stated that she was invited to meet him at the Hellfire Caves wearing a wedding dress, as they were going to elope together.
The boys lay in wait for Sukie, where she was heartbroken to find no sign of her new love. In her disgust, she threw a handful of gravel at them. This only served to anger the young men, who began throwing gravel back at all, until one of them grabbed a large stone and struck her so violently on the head that she succumbed to her injuries.
Screaming has been heard in the Banqueting Hall on occasion ever since, and a photo taken by a visitor to the caves captures what appears to be a female figure in what looks like a wedding dress. The visitor said she saw the figure in the dress just about to move around a corner, and so she quickly snapped the image.
The Ostrich Inn, Slough, Berkshire
Next, Michaela visits the 12th century Ostrich Inn, just half a mile from Heathrow Airport. One Mr Jarman was one of the more nefarious former owners of the inn – he is purported to have murdered up to 60 of his wealthy guests as they slept by using a contraption that would upturn their beds and plunge them into a vat boiling liquid on the floor below.
Gruesomely, the Ostrich Inn even has a working model of the apparatus used by Jarman to commit his numerous cold blooded murders in their pub area!
Jarman and his wife, Mary, were both eventually hanged for their crimes, and it is Mary Jarman who is said to haunt the stairs of the old Ostrich Inn. She has been reportedly sensed sitting at the top of the stairs by visitors and staff alike.
On occasion, she likes to frequent the ladies lavatory also. One barmaid at the Ostrich Inn refuses to use these toilets because she has so strongly felt an invisible female presence standing beside her.
In the beautiful Function Room, complete with stunning original 15th century beams, the multiple candles used have to be checked and rechecked to make sure they are extinguished, as they have an eerie habit of relighting themselves.