The Ghost Club is a paranormal investigation and research organization that was founded in London in 1862. It is widely believed to be the oldest such organization in the world. Its prime interest focuses on paranormal phenomena such as ghosts and hauntings.
The club has its roots in Cambridge when in 1855 fellows at Trinity College began to discuss ghosts and psychic phenomena. Formally launched in London in 1862 (attracting some lighthearted ridicule in The Times), it counted amongst its early members Charles Dickens and Cambridge academics and clergymen. One of the club’s earliest investigations, in 1862, was of the Davenport Brothers’ “spirit cabinet”. The Ghost Club was challenging the brothers’ claim to be contacting the dead—a claim that was later proved to be a hoax. The results of that investigation, though, were never made public.
This group undertook practical investigations of spiritualist phenomena, which was then much in vogue and would meet and discuss ghostly subjects. The Ghost Club seems to have dissolved in the 1870s following the death of Dickens.
The Ghost Club was revived on All Saints Day 1882 by Alfred Alaric Watts, the son of journalist and poet Alaric Alexander Watts, and a famous contemporary medium, the Reverend Stainton Moses. At one point they claimed to be the original founders of the club, without acknowledging its 1862 origins. Simultaneously, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) – with whom there was an initial overlap of members – was founded.
Whilst the SPR was a body devoted to scientific study, the Ghost Club remained a selective and secretive organization of convinced believers for whom psychic phenomena were an established fact. Stainton Moses resigned from the vice presidency of the SPR in 1886 and thereafter devoted himself to the Ghost Club which met monthly, with attendance being considered obligatory except for the most pressing reasons. Membership was small – 82 members over 54 years – and women were not allowed in the club, but during this period it attracted some of the most original and controversial minds in psychical research, serving almost as a place of refuge for those who were unable to pursue activities elsewhere. These included Sir William Crookes who attracted scandal after investigation into the medium Florence Cook; Sir Oliver Lodge, the physicist; Nandor Fodor, psychologist and a former associate of Sigmund Freud; and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
The archives of the Club reveal that the names of members – both living and dead – were solemnly recited each November 2. Each individual, living or dead, was recognized as still being a member of the Club. On more than one occasion deceased members were believed to have made their presence felt.
On the earthly plane, meetings discussed topics as diverse as Egyptian magic and second sight.
Involved were also the poet W. B. Yeats (joined 1911) and later Frederick Bligh Bond (joined 1925), who became infamous with his obsessive investigations into spiritualism at Glastonbury. Bligh Bond later left the country and later became active in the American Society for Psychical Research. He was ordained into the Old Catholic Church and rejoined the Ghost Club on his return to Britain in 1935.
At this stage of its existence, the Ghost Club might possibly be viewed as a Victorian occult or spiritualist society celebrating November 2, the Feast of All Souls.
The Principal of Jesus College, Cambridge, Arthur Grey was later to fictionalize the Ghost Club in 1919 as “The Everlasting Club” – a famous Cambridge ghost story that many still believe to be true.
Early 20th Century
However, attendance dwindled and the change in the 20th century from séance room investigation to laboratory-based research meant that the Ghost Club was becoming out of touch with contemporary psychic research or parapsychology as it became known in the 1930s. Harry Price, world-famous in the 1930s as a psychic researcher and for his investigation into Borley Rectory, joined as a member in 1927 as did psychologist Dr. Nandor Fodor who represented the changing approach to psychical research taking place. Other prominent members included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. With attendance falling, Price, Bligh Bond and a handful of surviving members agreed to wind up the Club in 1936 after 485 meetings, and this took place on November 2, 1936. The Ghost Club records narrowly escaped being destroyed because of their confidential nature but were deposited in the British Museum under the proviso that they would be closed until 1962.
Harry Price’s restructuring
However these events proved only a temporary suspension for within 18 months Price had relaunched the Ghost Club as a society dining event where psychic researchers and mediums delivered after dinner talks. Price decided to admit women to the club, also specifying that it was not a spiritualist church or association but a group of skeptics that gathered to discuss paranormal topics. Among members in this period were Dr. C.E.M.Joad, Sir Julian Huxley, Algernon Blackwood, Sir Osbert Sitwell and Lord Amwell.
Mid- to late-20th Century (Peter Underwood, Tom Perrott)
Following Price’s death in 1948 activities lapsed but the Club was again relaunched by members of the committee, Philip Paul and Peter Underwood. From 1962 author Peter Underwood served as President and many account of Club activities are found in his books.
Tom Perrott joined the club in 1967 and served as Chairman from 1971 to 1993.
Late 20th Century turmoils
In 1993, however, the club underwent a period of internal disruption, during which Peter Underwood left to become Life President of another society he revived called “The Ghost Club Society”, that was originally founded in 1851, taking some of the club members with him. During this period, Tom Perrott resigned due to the turmoil, but was invited to return to the Ghost Club as chairman, which he accepted.
With this turmoil behind the club, it was decided to implement a more democratic feel to proceedings, to abolish the “invite only” clause in its membership policy, to absorb the role of Chairman and President into one post, and to allow all members to have their say in council meetings, also encouraging them to become more involved in club affairs.
During this period the Ghost Club also expanded its remit to take in the study of UFOs, dowsing, cryptozoology and similar topics.
Into the 21st Century
In 1998, Perrott resigned as Chairman (although he remained active in club affairs), and barrister Alan Murdie was elected as his successor. Alan Murdie has written a number of ghost books including Haunted Brighton and regularly writes for the Fortean Times magazine. In 2005 he was succeeded by Kathy Gearing. Ms. Gearing – the first female chairperson of the Ghost Club – announced in the Summer 2009 newsletter of the club her resignation from her position. In the first days of October 2009 it was announced that Alan Murdie had been re-appointed the Ghost Club’s chairman four years after having left the same position.
The club continues to meet monthly on a Saturday afternoon at the Victory Services Club, near Marble Arch, in London. Several investigations are performed in England every year; in recent times, many have also been organised in Scotland by the Scottish Area Investigation Coordinator Mr. Derek Green (recently appointed to the position of Investigations Organiser for the whole Ghost Club).
Since its founding in 1862, the Ghost Club has welcomed many luminaries to its membership. The list includes Charles Dickens, Charles Babbage, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir William Crookes, Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, Arthur Koestler, Dr. C.E.M.Joad, Donald Campbell, Sir Julian Huxley, Sir Osbert Sitwell, W. B. Yeats, Siegfried Sassoon, Dennis Wheatley, Peter Cushing, Peter Underwood and noted paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse, famous for his investigation of the Enfield Poltergeist. Present members include the explorer and founder of Operation Drake (which later became Operation Raleigh and then Raleigh International) Colonel John Blashford-Snell, OBE, paranormal investigator Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe, author Lynn Picknett, writers Colin Wilson and Geoff Holder, and parapsychologist and TV personality Dr. Ciaran O’Keeffe, who is an advisor of the club.
The club has investigated many famous locations during its lifetime, such as Borley Church, Chingle Hall, The Queen’s House, RAF Cosford Aerospace Museum, Glamis Castle, Winchester Theatre, The Ancient Ram Inn in Wotton-under-Edge, Woodchester Mansion, Balgonie Castle, Ham House, the village of New Lanark, Coalhouse Fort, the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Alloa Tower, Scotland Street School Museum, Michelham Priory, Culross Palace and the Clerkenwell House of Detention. Reports about most of the investigations performed in the recent years can be found at the Ghost Club website at the tab “Investigations”.
The club has been mentioned in numerous books, the most notable being No Common Task (1983), This Haunted Isle (1984), The Ghosthunters Almanac (1993) and Nights in Haunted Houses (1994), all by Peter Underwood, Some Unseen Power (1985) by Philip Paul, The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits (1992) by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Will Storr Versus the Supernatural (2006) by Will Storr, The Guide to Mysterious Glasgow (2009) by Geoff Holder, Ghost Hunting: a Survivor’s Guide (2010) by John Fraser and A Brief Guide to Ghost Hunting (2013) by Dr Leo Ruickbie.