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Road to West Wycombe Church

Road to West Wycombe Church

Artist: Grimm, Samuel Hieronymus

Medium: Ink wash on paper

Date: 1773

Shelfmark: Additional MS 15537

Item number: f.31

Genre: Manuscript

This church, standing atop a 600 ft hill, is dedicated to St Lawrence - the Patron Saint of prostitutes! It was extensively restored by Sir Francis Dashwood (1708-1781) in 1752. Sir Francis, (an aristocrat, Member of Parliament, aesthete and enigmatic hedonist), founded a secret society called the Knights of St Francis, or the Monks of Medmenham - later known as the Hell Fire Club. Many prominent members of society joined this club to indulge in activities of a quite scandalous nature - there were even rumours at the time of Satanic activity!

The tower of the church is particularly striking capped with a magnificent Golden Ball - 80 feet above ground, seven feet across, with a trap-door for access with wooden seats inside to accommodate three or four people.

John Wilkes (1725-1797), politician and member of Dashwood's secret society, recounts the following after being invited for "divine milk punch" in the Golden Ball in 1763, "..the magnificent gilt ball on the top of the steeple, which is hollowed and made so very convenient in the inside for the celebrations not of devotional, but of convivial rites...the best Globe Tavern I was ever in...I must own that I was afraid my descent from it would have been as precipitate as his Lordship's was from a high station, which turned his head, too. I admire likewise the silence and secrecy which reigns in that great globe, undisturbed, by his jolly songs very unfit for the profane ears of the world below".

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