Archibald Boyle and The Glasgow Hell Club
Archibald Boyle is said to have been the leader of ‘The Hell Club’ in Glasgow during the 18th century. There is a story associated with his death which has appeared in Catherine Ann Crowe’s ‘The Night-side of Nature’ (1848), and repeated again in ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ by John Ingram (1897). The account below is taken from Ingram’s work.
There is a somewhat well-known story, of an extremely startling character, related by Mrs. Crowe, under the title of the “Glasgow Hell Club,” in that chapter of The Night Side of Nature styled “The Future that Awaits us.” The story, notwithstanding its sensationalism, is declared to be a relation of facts, of which a contemporary account was published, but was bought up by the family of the chief actor in the drama. As usual in such cases, a few copies escaped destruction, and the narrative was reprinted and widely diffused. Mrs. Crowe’s version of this “undoubted and well attested fact,” is as follows: “Some ninety years ago, there flourished in Glasgow a club of young men, which, from the extreme profligacy of its members and the licentiousness of their orgies, were as commonly called the ‘Hell Club.’ Besides these nightly or weekly meetings, they held one grand annual saturnalia, in which each tried to excel the other in drunkenness and blasphemy; and on these occasions there was no star amongst them whose lurid light was more conspicuous than that of young Mr. Archibald B., who, endowed with brilliant talents and a handsome person, had held out great promise in his boyhood, and raised hopes, which had been completely frustrated by his subsequent reckless dissipations.
“One morning, after returning from this annual festival, Mr Archibald B., having retired to bed, dreamt the following dream:
“He fancied that he himself was mounted on a favourite black horse that he alwavs rode, and that he was proceeding towards his own house, then a country seat embowered by trees, and situated upon a hill, now entirely built over and forming part of the city, when a stranger, whom the darkness of night prevented his distinctly discerning, suddenly seized his horse’s reins, saying, ‘You must go with me!’
“‘And who are you?’ exclaimed the young man, with a volley of oaths, whilst he struggled to free himself.
“‘That you will see by and by,’ returned the other, in a tone that excited unaccountable terror in the youth, who, plunging his spurs into his horse, attempted to fly. But in vain: however fast the animal flew, the stranger was still beside him, till at length, in his desperate efforts to escape, the rider was thrown, but instead of being dashed to the earth, as he expected, he found himself falling falling foiling still, as if sinking into the bowels of the earth.
“At length, a period being put to this mysterious descent, he found breath to inquire of his companion, who was still beside him, whither they were going: ‘Where am I? Where are you taking me?’ he exclaimed.
“‘To hell!’ replied the stranger, and immediately interminable echoes repeated the fearful sound, ‘To hell! to hell! to hell!’
“At length a light appeared, which soon increased to a blaze; but instead of the cries and groans, and lamentiugs the terrified traveller expected, nothing met his ear but sounds of music, mirth and jollity; and he found himself at the entrance of a superb building, far exceeding any he had seen constructed by human hands. Within, too, what a scene! No amusement, employment, or pursuit of man on earth, but was here being carried on with a vehemence that excited his unutterable amazement. ‘There the young and lovely still swam through the mazes of the giddy dance! There the panting steed still bore his brutal rider through the excitement of the goaded race! There, over the midnight bowl, the intemperate still drawled out the wanton song or maudlin blasphemy! The gambler plied for ever his endless game, and the slaves of Mammon toiled through eternity their bitter task ; whilst all the magnificence of earth paled before that which now met his view!’
“He soon perceived that he was amongst old acquaintances whom he knew to be dead, and each, he observed, was pursuing the object, whatever it was, that had formerly engrossed him; when, finding himself relieved of the presence of his unwelcome conductor, he ventured to address his former friend, Mrs. D., whom he saw sitting as had been her wont on earth, absorbed at loo, requesting her to rest from the game, and intro duce him to the pleasures of the place, which appeared to him to be very unlike what he had expected and, indeed, an extremely agreeable one. But with a cry of agony, she answered, that there was no rest in hell; that they must ever toil on at those very pleasures; and innumerable voices echoed through the interminable vaults, ‘ There is no rest in hell! ‘Whilst, throwing open their vest, each disclosed in his bosom an everburning flame ! These, they said, were the pleasures of hell; their choice on earth was now their inevitable doom ! In the midst of the horror this scene inspired, his conductor returned, and, at his earnest entreaty, restored him again to earth; but as he quitted him, he said, ‘Remember; in a year and a day we meet again!’
“At this crisis of his dream the sleeper awoke feverish and ill; and whether from the effects of the dream, or of his preceding orgies, he was so unwell as to be obliged to keep his bed for several days, during which period he had time for many serious reflections, which terminated in a resolution to abandon the club and his licentious companions altogether.
“He was no sooner well, however, than they flocked around him, bent on recovering so valuable a member of their society; and having wrung from him a confession of the cause of his defection, which, as may be supposed, appeared to them eminently ridiculous, they soon contrived to make him ashamed of his good resolutions. He joined them again, resumed his former course of life, and when the annual saturnalia came round, he found himself with his glass in his hand, at the table, when the president, rising to make the accustomed speech, began by saying, ‘Gentlemen : this being leap-year it is a year and a day since our last anniversary,’ &c. &c. The words struck upon the young man’s ear like a knell ; but ashamed to expose his weakness to the jeers of his companions, he sat out the feast, plying himself with wine even more liberally than usually, in order to drown his intrusive thoughts ; till, in the gloom of a winter’s morning he mounted his horse to ride home. Some hours afterwards, the horse was found with his saddle and bridle on, quietly grazing by the road-side, about half-way between the city and Mr. B’s house; whilst a few yards off lay the corpse of his master.”
Comment on this weird tale is needless on our part, unless it be to remark that it would “point a moral” in a far more emphatic manner were the real names given of the young man whose fate is supposed to be described.
[The map below just shows a random location in Glasgow. I will amend this to a more suitable location in due course].