About the Hellfire Club
The Hellfire Club was the popular name for an exclusive English club that met irregularly from 1746 to around 1763, run by Sir Francis Dashwood. During the time of the club’s operation, they were commonly thought to hold notorious, orgiastic and Satanic meetings at Medmenham Abbey, beside the Thames and later at West Wycombe Caves.
The term was not invented by the 1750 club; they first met to celebrate an earlier club founded in 1720 by Charles Edward. Other clubs using the name were set up throughout the 18th century.
The club was founded by Sir Francis Dashwood after he returned from his Grand Tour of Europe. According to the 1779 book Nocturnal Revels, on the Grand Tour he had visited various religious seminaries, “founded, as it were, in direct contradiction to Nature and Reason; on his return to England, [he] thought that a burlesque Institution in the name of St Francis, would mark the absurdity of such Societies; and in lieu of the austerities and abstemiousness there practised, substitute convivial gaiety, unrestrained hilarity, and social felicity.”
At the first gathering in May 1746, they met at the George and Vulture public house in Lombard Street, London, the meeting place of the 1720s group. The initial membership was limited to twelve but it soon increased. Of the original twelve, seven have been almost certainly identified: Dashwood, Robert Vansittart, William Hogarth, Thomas Potter, Francis Duffield, Edward Thompson, and Paul Whitehead. Though not a member, Benjamin Franklin occasionally attended the club’s meetings. The later membership is potentially immense, including John Wilkes and John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.
They did not call themselves the Hellfire Club, but used a number of mockingly religious titles, initially the Brotherhood of St. Francis of Wycombe. Other titles used included the Order of Knights of West Wycombe and later the Monks of Medmenham. The members called each other brothers and referred to Dashwood as abbot; female guests were nuns. Unlike the more determined Satanists of the 1720s the club motto was Fay ce que vouldras (Do what thou wilt) from FranÃ§ois Rabelais, later used by Aleister Crowley. Although indulging in pseudo-Satanic rites the ‘monks’ were keener devotaries of Bacchus and Venus.
The George and Vulture burned down in 1749, possibly owing to a club meeting. However, it was rebuilt shortly afterwards and survives as a City chop house off Cornhill. Dickens lived and wrote here for some while and the Pickwick Club still meets there to this day. After a hiatus meetings were resumed at members’ homes. Dashwood built a temple in the grounds of his West Wycombe home and nearby ‘catacombs’ were excavated. The first meeting at Wycombe was held on Walpurgis Night, 1752; a much larger meeting, it was something of a failure and no large-scale meetings were held there again. Despite this and the factionalising of the club Dashwood acquired the ruins of Medmenham Abbey in 1755, which was rebuilt by the architect Nicholas Revett in the style of the 18th century Gothic revival. In 1762 factional stresses and political rivalries turned the affairs of the club into public clashes and under heavy pressure the club finally disbanded. – wiki