Once you’ve passed the Steward’s Cave the next alcove is Paul Whitehead’s Cave named for the poet and satirist who was a member of the Order and a close friend of Sir Francis Dashwood. Some articles, many repeating each other without original research, describe Whitehead as “A Minor Poet” and “A person whose work was of little consequence.” Nothing could be further from the truth. We now have brand new and original evidence that he, and Sir Francis Dashwood, may have had a tremendous and shocking influence on history that has yet to be revealed. (And … we will reveal it when we’re ready. Be patient … this is for real!)
Whitehead was born in 1710 to Mr. Edmund Whitehead a wealthy tailor. He first studied his father’s business and was then apprenticed in the City. During this time he foolishly agreed to countersign a bond of surety for Mr. Fleetwood of the Drury Lane Theatre. Fleetwood defaulted on the bond and Whitehead was imprisoned in the “Rules of the Fleet”, a notorious debtors jail. A political activist with Jacobite sympathies he started his writing career at this time and published poems and pamphlets denigrating the current government. He married in 1735 and was released from prison.
There are several modern references that he was nothing more than a minor poet but Walpole wrote at the time that Whitehead needed no description as his works are seemingly read by everyone. Alexander Pope considered him important enough to insult and Benjamin Franklin found him interesting enough to spend an afternoon with at West Wycombe.
Unfortunately, Whitehead had two characteristics for which history has never forgiven him. Firstly, he was drawn to the “rakes” and had a love of wine, women and the erotic. Secondly, he wrote materials for which he was loved by the masses and hated by politicians. 1n 1739 he went too far and published “Manners” a work that attacked several very powerful members of the House of Lords. They retaliated and imprisoned Whitehead’s publisher “Dodsley” and would have imprisoned Whitehead if he hadn’t gone into hiding. It would appear that in the “Great British Tradition of Discretion” a deal was struck and Dodsley was released from jail and Whitehead stopped publishing. It was around this time that Sir Francis Dashwood returned from his last European tour and set about entering politics. Whitehead appears to have been recruited as a political advisor and soon become a friend of the wealthy nobleman. When Sir Francis formed his version of the Hellfire club – The Friars (Knights) of Sir Francis in 1746. it was Paul Whitehead who was appointed to manage the Order as both Secretary and Steward.
Over the next thirty years it would be Paul Whitehead who would be the “fixer” for the various secret societies founded by Dashwood including the Monks of Medmenham. His various duties appear to have included the procurement of prostitutes, political advisor, satirist, speech writing, keeper of the wine lists, blackmailer, researcher and master of the minutes. It is likely that there has never before or again been a man who knew so many secrets about so many powerful British, European and future American leaders. However, his most important role was to record the “Testament of St. Francis of West Wycombe”. From the lack of letters and books it would appear that Sir Francis neither had the time for, nor enjoyed, writing and employed Whitehead for this purpose. There are clues to this “alleged” book that can be found if you take the time to read the poetry of Whitehead which only exist in 18th century English. Take it from us … its slow and painful work. (Source: The poems and miscellaneous compositions of Paul Whitehead By Paul Whitehead, Edward Thompson.)
Whatever Paul Whitehead knew about the Monks of Medmenham, he was determined to keep it secret. A week before his death a messenger arrived at his house and delivered an important letter and then, three days before his death in 1774, he summoned the servants of his home, Colne Lodge, and ordered a great bonfire be built in the garden. It burnt as a “conflagration” for the next 76 hours as books and papers were piled onto it day and night. He is reputed to have said: “Neither history nor my critics shall judge me by my works. No man shall pick over my words and divine the sublime.” Once the last of his papers were ashes he took to his bed and within six hours was dead. (Given the synchronicity of his demise it is likely that Whitehead committed suicide by taking opium or arsenic.)
Bizarrely, his will stipulated that his body was to be left to medical science but his heart was to be given to Sir Francis Dashwood and placed in an urn for which he bequeathed 50 Pounds for said purchase. His wish was duly carried out and a satirical procession of the Bucks Militia did deliver both the Urn and Paul Whitehead’s heart to the Mausoleum of Sir Francis Dashwood. There is a record in a 19th century pamphlet that visitors to the Mausoleum would open the urn and throw the shriveled – lead encased – heart to each other until one day it was lost. (or stolen) A local legend has it that the ghost of Paul Whitehead haunts the caves and hill until either his heart is returned or the secret of Sir Francis is revealed.
Our photographs of Paul whitehead’s cave make it look better than it does in reality. Unfortunately, the management of the Hellfire Caves have chosen to use unrealistic displays – perhaps they don’t want to scare the children. However, and according to their website, the urn is the original one into which Whitehead’s heart was placed and the face of the mannequin is based on based on a contemporary bust – whatever that actually means.
Paul Whitehead was no “Minor Poet” but, together with his patron Sir Francis Dashwood, was a shaper of great political events. History has not been kind to his achievements or his memory.
The inscription on the urn said: