Explore West Wycombe Village
The village of West Wycombe was once owed by the Dashwood family. It was an important coaching stop on the main road between London and Oxford. At its peak, no fewer than seven inns and alehouses thrived in the tiny village. In 1929 the village was bought by the Royal Society of Arts as part of the Society's ‘Campaign for the Preservation of Ancient Cottages’. The National Trust, has maintained the village ever since. The village features many buildings of architectural value which were built between the 16th and 18th centuries.
In the 18th century, West Wycombe was the halfway point for the London to Oxford stagecoaches and the High Street contained many coaching inns. In 1767 there were 17 public houses listed in the village. Although it is on the busy A40, the village retains much of its historical charm and the High Street has a number of traditional shops as well as three pubs.
You can explore streets lined with cottages and inns of varying architectural styles dating from the 16th century or visit a variety of quaint gift shops. At the end of the village is St. Paul's church, locally known as the 'Winter Church'. (The church of St. Lawrence on West Wycombe Hill is known as the 'Summer Church' as there was no road up to St. Lawrence until 1928).
The village of West Wycombe was once owed by the Dashwood family. In 1929 the village was put up for sale by the Dashwood family to raise cash following that year's Wall Street Crash. It was bought by the Royal Society of Arts as part of the Society's Campaign for the Preservation of Ancient Cottages’.
In 1934, after extensive repairs, the Society handed the property over to the National Trust, which has maintained the village ever since. The village features many buildings of architectural value which were built between the 16th and 18th centuries.
The Hellfire Caves
The Hellfire Caves (not National Trust) can be found at the top end of Church Lane at the foot of West Wycombe Hill.
Sir Francis Dashwood (2nd Baronet), had the caves built to relieve serious local unemployment caused by three successive harvest failures between 1748 and 1750, and to provide material for a new main road between West Wycombe and High Wycombe. Dashwood was co-founder of the notorious Hellfire Club, which held meetings in the caves. Members of the Club included William Hogarth, John Wilkes, Thomas Potter and John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Benjamin Franklin, a close friend of Dashwood, visited the caves on more than one occasion.
The caves consist of a long winding tunnel running a quarter of a mile into the hill with numerous chambers and divided passages leading off it, including a huge Banqueting Hall, allegedly the largest man-made chalk cavern in the world. The design is clearly symbolic and is thought to have been influenced by the Eleusinian mysteries of ancient Greece, which Dashwood would have learned about on his Grand Tour. Since 1951 the Caves have been open to the public (there is an entrance charge). Many of the profits have been handed to various charities, including the National Trust, to help pay for restoration and maintenance work in West Wycombe. The Caves are open every day from March to October, but only at weekends in the winter months.
- Free parking is available in West Wycombe Village off Chorley Road. Grid. Ref. SU826947.
- There are public toilets in West Wycombe at SU828946, close to the village school,
- There is a range of public houses and tea rooms in West Wycombe and there’s a café at the Hellfire Caves.
The history of West Wycombe Village
There has been a village at West Wycombe for at least 1000 years and many of the cottages date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Whilst some buildings were altered in the 18th century, they still retain much of their original timber-framed structure.
West Wycombe pre-dates nearby High Wycombe, and developed as an important 18th century staging post along the old coaching route from London to Oxford. West Wycombe was the halfway point for the London to Oxford stagecoaches and the High Street contained many coaching inns. In 1767 there were 17 public houses listed in the village. The village retains much of its historical charm and the High Street has a number of traditional shops as well as pubs and tea rooms.
In the late 16th century, timber-framed houses were built in the village. The wood came from the nearby Chiltern woods. Brick was made in local kilns taking advantage of local clay on the chalk hills. Later, in the 18th century, there was some remodelling done and some new buildings appeared using Queen Anne and Georgian architecture. A map printed in 1767 of Crown Court, at the eastern end of West Wycombe, shows a cluster of 11 cottages had 11 timber framed cottages. Much of the original brick and flint construction can be still seen, although the road frontages have been modified.
Nos. 57 and 58 were once the village poor house. The George and Dragon pub was a coaching inn dating from 1720. In the 18th century there were three wheelwrights’ yards beyond the inn. Steps House, across the street, reflects Queen Anne or early Georgian style, popular at the beginning of the 18th century. Please do not enter the courtyard of The George and Dragon, unless you intend to patronise the Inn.
Further west, Aston house has modern door and window frames, but its lintels are 18th century. The Swan Inn has 18th century brick fronts, although its extension only dates from 1932. Across from Aston house is a former Methodist chapel, dating from 1894.
To find out more about the village architecture, ask for a copy of the National Trust’s West Wycombe Village architectural Trail in the village shop.
There are many things to look out for in Church Lane, including the village pump by the old vicarage. Number 43 is a typical house built for a craftsman, tradesman or professional person. The entrance is raised over a semi-basement service area. It has vertical sash windows with curved and straight lintels. The front door is very fine.
At the bottom of Church Lane on the left is a traditional 19th Chiltern furniture factory which would once have been a common site in nearby High Wycombe. The workshops are located on the upper floors, with the timber store and saws at ground level.
The earliest surviving building in West Wycombe is the Church Loft, which bridges Church Lane as it meets the High Street. The building dates from the 15th century when it was a rest house for pilgrims. When first built it had four rooms below with a wagon way at each end and an accommodation hall above the rooms. Just below the Church Loft, look out for the village lockup on your right.