The Hell-Fire Clubs, By Evelyn Lord

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The Independent Culture

What does Alistair Darling have in common with Sir Francis Dashwood (1708-1781), founder of the notorious Medmenham Friars?

Though Darling does not (as far as we know) own a garden landscaped in the shape of the female pudenda or feature in a painting as a friar, he shares with Sir Francis the distinction of imposing "an extremely unpopular cider tax" when Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Lord's relishable history of a curious 18th-century craze throws up odd revelations on every page. We learn, for example, that the tearaway poet Rochester disguised himself as a quack doctor in order to examine "young ladies' privy parts".