The Monks of Medmenham

The stories abound about the Monks of Medmenham long after they have ceased to exist. Although most of the stories could only be counted as rumours or gossip, they have been passed through generations and they all seem to corroborate each other. West Wycombe, the setting for these tales, was a very sought out destination at the turn of the 19th century, with the interest fueled in part by some of these stories.

Monks

Mostly the stories surrounded Francis Dashwood and one of his lovers Paul Whitehead. As well as tales of ghosts and debauchery there were stories of wealth and opulence and devil worship. It wasn’t long before the locals saw the potential to capitalize on all the curiosity. They would invite tourists to the sites that were rumoured to have been the sites for supposed meetings of the Monks, places like the Churches, the caves of Wycombe and tunnels of Dashwood. They repeated all of the stories and these spread like wildfire.

The Monks earned a reputation for having excessive sexual appetites although many authors portrayed that as something was not unusual at that time period. The men were also represented as blasphemous and the public interest did not seem to die down over time. They had essentially become a part of the fabric of the community and their stories a source of attracting tourists.

Once the 20th century rolled around, the stories began to morph, however, and they became more ominous with undertones of satanic ritual and then came the added accusations of bestiality. These still contributed to the local economy, drawing attention that continued to bring the tourists in to gawk at the site of the terrible stories.

The press picked up the stories and printed them in papers such as the Times which went pretty far in keeping the interest alive. They wrote of the ghosts, the monks’ reputed hedonism and blasphemy, and they kept the rumours alive. By the 1920’s, the stories were still popular and that persisted well into the 20th century, sometimes becoming more and more distorted depending on who was telling the stories and what they hope to get out of that. Not only were the tales being recounted by word of mouth but now they were in the hands of the press and moving beyond the local borders. The property was transferred into the National Trust in 1934, followed shortly afterward by the caves, the church hill and the many acres of land. The mythmaking continued and there is no shortage of stories in pop culture literature of evil monks, debauchery and ghosts.

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