Explore West Wycombe Hill
West Wycombe Hill offers commanding views over the surrounding countryside, including the historic landscape of West Wycombe Park. There are 55 acres of grassland, scrub and woodland to explore in and around the hill. Discover the fascinating grade 1 listed church of St. Lawrence with its famous golden ball. Visit the Dashwood family’s mausoleum and the famous Hell-Fire caves.
Overlooking the village of West Wycombe is the steep-sided and imposing West Wycombe Hill, which was once home to an Iron Age settlement. Standing on the edge of this prehistoric structure is the imposing hexagonal Dashwood Mausoleum; an impressive roofless structure built from local flint, which contains urns and plaques which commemorate members of the Dashwood family and some of their associates.
Close by, is St. Lawrence Church; a building of medieval origin, but which received a substantial makeover in the 18th century by Sir Francis Dashwood, the owner of West Wycombe Park. One of the church’s many notable features is the hollow golden ball on top of the tower which could seat between 6 and 10 people. It was described by author John Wilkes as ‘the best globe tavern I was ever in’.
Chalk grassland is a rich, ancient and colourful habitat, but it is not entirely natural. As long ago as the Bronze Age, the land in the Chilterns was cleared of trees for grazing animals, so for over two thousand years, the cattle, sheep and rabbits introduced by people have helped to stop scrub species, such as hawthorn, bramble, dogwood and birch, from re-growing, and from shading out the sun-loving flowering plants that the butterflies enjoy. West Wycombe Hill is common land and as such it has probably be subject to continuous grazing for many centuries. However, the reduction in rabbit numbers, and the impracticality of grazing sheep and cattle on West Wycombe Hill means the National Trust rangers and volunteers have to lend a timely hand, cutting the grass in the later summer.
- Free parking is available at the National Trust Car Park on West Wycombe Hill Grid Ref. SU827950.
- There are public toilets in West Wycombe at SU828946, close to the village school at the lower Church Lane car park, and there are toilets at the Hell Fire Caves.
- There are several public houses and tea rooms in West Wycombe and there’s a café at the Hellfire Caves.
- Strictly controlled dogs are welcome on the hill.
- Benches and other places to picnic can be found on West Wycombe Hill. Please take your litter home with you.
- St Lawrence’s church is open to the public on Sunday afternoons starting from Easter Sunday - 12:30-5:00pm - until the end of September. For a small donation you can climb the tower, which is famous for its 'Golden Ball'. It is open to visitors, subject to the weather (it is too slippery if wet) and to stewards being available.
The history and landscape of West Wycombe Hill are interlaced with the interests and exploits of the Dashwood family who have occupied West Wycombe House for over 300 years. West Wycombe Park, Caves, Mausoleum and St Lawrence's Church were all constructed in the mid-18th century by Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Baronet, and founder of the Dilettanti Society and co-founder of the notorious Hellfire Club.
West Wycombe Hill has been continuously inhabited for many centuries. The earliest settlement at West Wycombe survives in the form of an Iron Age ditch and rampart contour camp on Church Hill, dating from the 4th or 5th Century BC. A Roman settlement later occupied the Hill. The site was also occupied by the Saxons, who established a settlement named Hæferingdune (Hill of Hæfer's people in Old English). The name later evolved into Haveringdon. A church is said to have been erected by St Birnius (who later became the bishop of the West Saxons in AD 635). A Norman watch tower is also said to have been built on top of the hill.
Haveringdon's population is believed to have been greatly reduced by the Black Death in the 1340s. By the mid-18th century the hilltop village had all but disappeared, and the village church was remodelled by Francis Dashwood and renamed Saint Lawrence's.
St Lawrence’s Church
The spectacular 18th century design was completed by the mid 1760’s. The tower was raised to make it more visible from afar, and it was crowned with the wooden golden ball that was reputed to be a meeting place for the Hellfire Club.
The golden ball could seat 6-10 people, and was described by the author John Wilkes as “the best globe tavern I was ever in”. The interior of the Church is equally magnificent. The design of the nave is said to have been derived from Robert Wood’s prints of the ancient Temple of the Sun in Palmyra. It has five arched windows of timber on each side, and is lined with engaged Corinthian columns under a continuous entablature. The painted ceiling is by Giovanni Borgnis, and there is spectacular Rococo plasterwork, on the ceiling, frieze and walls.
The mausoleum (not NT) is an unroofed hexagonal structure, formed by a series of linked triumphal arches, which was built from local flint in 1765 by John Bastard the Younger of Blandford at a cost of £495 5s 3d. The Mausoleum’s design is based on the Constantine Arch in Rome. In the centre stands a pedestal and urn dedicated to the wife of Sir Francis Dashwood, Lady le Despenser (d.1769); a wall plaque commemorates his mother (d.1710) and stepmother (d.1719); and three inscriptions in the frieze refer to Dashwood himself, his friend, Dodington, and his uncle, the 7th Earl of Westmorland. There is also an urn containing the heart of the poet, Paul Whitehead, who was also steward of the Hellfire Club.
Exporing the West Wycombe Countryside
There are plenty opportunities for some fresh air and exercise on one of our downloadable walks in the in the West Wycombe area.