Dashwood Mausoleum: Final Resting Place for Family of Hell Club Founder
Prominently sitting atop a hill in West Wycombe, United Kingdom, is an unusually shaped building called the Dashwood Mausoleum. This open-top, hexagonal structure houses the remains of the Dashwood family members, a prominent family related to Sir Francis Dashwood, who was the 11th Baron le Despencer. Not only was Sir Francis Dashwood a Baron, but he also was a politician, Chancellor of Exchequer between 1762 and 1763, and most famously, the founder of the infamous Hellfire Club.
The edifice was conceived by architect Nicholas Revett and built by John Bastard in 1765. It is said that Francis was incredibly impressed with the classic buildings he saw on his Grand Tour of Italy. Hence, the mausoleum was inspired by the Arch of Constantine in Rome. He built the structure to house members of his family and closest friends, and the structure still belongs to Sir Francis Dashwood's progeny until this day.
The Dashwood Mausoleum with St. Lawrence’s Church tower behind. (matt/ Adobe Stock)
Sir Francis Dashwood and His Clubs
Sir Francis Dashwood spent most of his time as a young man traveling to places such as Germany, Italy, and France. He was purportedly a lascivious man who mocked the Church and spent most of his time surrounded by morally bankrupt friends and licentious women. Upon returning to Britain, Francis founded the English Society of Dilettante so that intellectual gentlemen could meet and do whatever it was that gentlemen did in those secret societies.
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Although it cannot be ascertained what went on in the gentlemen's club due to its secrecy, the sentiment of the time, at least among the well-to-do in British society, was one that challenged the norms of religion. Much of this is due in part to Voltaire's teachings of Enlightenment.
Portrait of Sir Francis Dashwood, 11th Baron le Despencer (1708 – 1781) by William Hogarth. (Public Domain) The painting is a parody of Renaissance images of Francis of Assisi. The Bible has been replaced by a copy of the erotic novel ‘Elegantiae Latini sermonis,’ and the profile of Dashwood's friend Lord Sandwich peers from the halo.
Therefore, if the gentlemen mocked the Church during their meetings, this would not have been very shocking. Francis Dashwood was fascinated with the Ottoman empire and established another club called the Divan club dedicated to all things Turkish. This would explain why some depictions of him show him wearing turbans and other Middle Eastern attire.
As if these two clubs were not enough, Francis established yet another club - The Brotherhood of the Friars of St. Francis of Wickham. This one would go on to become what is now known as the Hellfire Club. It is alleged that this club of statesmen and aristocrats, who called themselves "Monks" or "Friars," engaged in unrighteous acts of Satan worship, orgies, and drunkenness into the late hours of the night in the caves built by Francis. ‘Fais ce que tu voudrais’ (Do as you will) was the club’s motto.
There is no physical evidence to prove that any of Dashwood's clubs performed satanic rituals or engaged in immoral behavior, however. In reality, since most of these high society men were free thinkers who followed Voltaire's teachings, it is likely they did not believe in heaven or hell. The rumors about the Hellfire Club can only be accepted as rumors. According to the strict provision of the so-called Hellfire Club: "What goes on underground stays underground." Thus, anything that can be surmised about the secret society is most likely conjecture.
Details About the Dashwood Mausoleum
The Dashwood Mausoleum is a flint and stone uncovered structure built in the shape of a hexagon. Each of the edifice walls has a sequence of arches and rectangles, some of which are open and others recessed and sealed off. Many of the urns belonging to the Dashwood family are encased within the rectangular and arch-shaped structures that are sealed.
Dashwood Family Mausoleum, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. (Simon Q/CC BY 2.0)
The arches and rectangles that are not sealed are fitted with wrought iron gates that allow one to look into the structure but not enter. In the center there is a smaller structure that resembles a stone gazebo that houses the urn on a pedestal dedicated to Sir Francis Dashwood's wife, Lady le Despencer. It, too, is an open structure that is cordoned off by wrought iron.
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Although the structure is a few centuries old, it is still in top-notch shape. A graveyard surrounds the site's exterior. Right behind the mausoleum and the graveyard is St. Lawrence's Church, which still holds church services.
The 18th century Church of St. Lawrence, with its golden ball on the top of the hill, is a well-known landmark, visible for many miles due its hilltop location, visually dominating the village. (Amanda Slater/CC BY-SA 2.0)
Accessing the Dashwood Mausoleum
Since Dashwood Mausoleum is a gravesite, it is open to the public 24-hours a day. The actual structure itself is not accessible to the public, however. The main entrance has a wrought iron gate that remains locked at all times. Visitors can still peer inside the structure from beyond the gates.
Dashwood Family Mausoleum, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. (Simon Q/CC BY 2.0) The urn on the pedestal is dedicated to Sir Francis Dashwood's wife, Lady le Despencer.
The West Wycombe Events Team holds a summer and winter Fayre in July and December. Also, the Hellfire Caves hold events throughout the year. Due to the pandemic, many of these events may be canceled. For more information about the events held in West Wycombe village, visit www.westwycombevillage.co.uk/events/.
Top image: The Dashwood Mausoleum with St. Lawrence’s Church tower behind and golden ball visible through the arch. Source: Des Blenkinsopp/CC BY-SA 2.0
By ML Childs
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King, C. (2013) ‘The Dashwood Mausoleum.’ Contrary Life. Available at: https://www.contrarylife.com/2013/06/the-dashwood-mausoleum-18339/
McCann, N. (2016) ‘Digging up the truth about the notorious hellfire clubs.’ BBC News. Available at: www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-37609835
National Trust. (n.d.) ‘Explore West Wycombe Hill.’ National Trust. Available at: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/west-wycombe-park-village-and-hill/features/explore-west-wycombe-hill
The Hellfire Caves. (2019) ‘The Dashwood Mausoleum.’ The Hellfire Caves. Available at: http://hellfirecaves.co.uk/history/dashwood-mausoleum/
The Mausolea & Monuments Trust. (2021) ‘Dashwood Mausoleum.’ The Mausolea & Monuments Trust. Available at: http://www.mmtrust.org.uk/mausolea/view/16/Dashwood_Mausoleum