The Hellfire Club is also the name of a horror novel by Peter Straub which uses as background the nebulous activities of a group possibly modeled on the legend of the original Dashwood club, described below.
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.
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, Vansittart, Hogarth, Potter, Duffield, Thompson, Whitehead), but the list of potential members is immense. They did not call themselves the Hellfire Club but used a number of mockingly religious titles, initially the Brotherhood of St. Francis of Wycombe but 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 from François Rabelais. Although indulging in pseudo-Satanic rites the 'monks' were keener devotaries of Bacchus and Venus.
The George and Vulture burned down in 1749, possibly due to a club meeting. 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 delved. 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 meeting 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.
The name "Hellfire Club" has since been used by numerous other unrelated swingers and BDSM clubs in cities around the world: