Tom Knox Books

Genesis Secret: the Hellfire Club

This is probably the best-known element of the book, in terms of general awareness, so I shan’t labour the point: the 18th century Hellfire Club certainly did exist. They were a bunch of highly-sexed freethinkers, or a cabal of conspiring Satanists, or just some posh Georgian bohemians with too much spare time – depending on your point of view.

A good place to learn about them is West Wycombe Caves, the entrance of which is pictured here. The caves are one of the places where they held their most notorious parties; these dank old caverns are conveniently near the ancestral Buckinghamshire home of the Hellfires’ founder, Sir Francis Dashwood.

The portrait above, of “Sir Francis Dashwood at his Devotions” is by the great British artist William Hogarth – who was another Hellfire member. Dashwood himself was Chancellor of the Exchequer.

This is a suitably old photo of the infamous Dublin home of the Whaleys. The building is now known as Newman House and belongs to University College Dublin (it’s on the south side of Saint Stephen’s Green). Many stories of mayhem, wenching and murderous riot attach to this building.

Thomas “Jerusalem” Whaley, descended from Oliver Cromwell, died a mysteriously broken figure in the Isle of Man. He lived in a castle called St Anne’s Fort (below); it was reputedly built on imported Irish soil, so he could fulfil a promise to his Irish wife.

I paid a visit to all the Irish Hellfire locations used in the book. Such as Montpelier Lodge (seen below), overlooking Hellfire Wood – and distant Dublin. Not a place you necessarily want to linger.

Just south of this gutted ruin is Killakee House, where recent excavations unearthed a statuette of a demon, and a child’s skeleton.

And yes, Benjamin Franklin was a member of the Hellfires, and yes, a few years ago workmen made an extraordinary discovery: a huge cache of human bones in the cellar of his London home.

The reason why the bones were left here remains something of a mystery. If you want to know more, try this Guardian article.