The Ghost Club is a London-based organization devoted to Psychical Research and investigations of paranormal phenomena, including, but not limited to, Ghosts, Apparitions, Mediumship, Hauntings, and Poltergeists.
The Ghost Club is one of the oldest existing organizations associated with psychic matters and has had several incarnations since its origins in 1862. It was predated by another club known as the Cambridge Ghost Club, which is no longer in existence.
The Ghost Club was formed by a select group of London gentlemen with the idea of unmasking fraudulent mediums and investigating psychic phenomena. They investigated the Davenport Brothers, conjurers who came to London in the fall of 1862 and claimed to contact the spirits of the dead.
Little is known about the club’s earliest activities. Members included Rev. Llewellyn Davies, a canon of Westminster; Mr. Luard, the registrar of Cambridge University; a headmaster; and the Honorable A.H. Gordon, lieutenant-general of New Brunswick. In 1863, Charles Dickens’s illustrator George Cruikshank dedicated a pamphlet to the Ghost Club entitled “A discovery concerning ghosts: with a rap at the spirit rappers.”
The Ghost Club eventually became inactive. It was revived on All Souls’ Day in 1882 by Alaric Alfred Watts and Rev. William Stainton Moses, a leading medium, Spiritualist, and firm believer in spirit communication. The revival lasted until 1936. During that time, the club was a private circle of 82 men (women were not barred, but it was then not customary for women to join such organizations), whose members included many eminent psychical researchers, including Sir William Barrett, Sir William Crookes, Frederic Bligh Bond, Harry Price, Nandor Fodor and the poet William Butler Yeats.
The club was secretive in nature. Attendance at meetings was considered obligatory unless one had very good reasons to be absent. The club adopted the motto Nasci; laborare; mori; nasci (be born, work, die, be born). Membership was considered to be eternal, extending after death, and with no distinction being made between incarnate and discarnate members.
In 1888 the Ghost Club adopted the suggestion of a French member, Professor Cassell, to celebrate every November 2 (All Souls’ Day). On this date the names of the members of the Ghost Club both living and dead were solemnly recited, a tradition that continued until 1936.
Although many eminent psychical researchers were members, others in the field were not enthusiastic about the club. Sir Oliver Lodge, invited to a club dinner by Crookes, wrote in a letter that he thought the club to be a “superstitious body of exceedingly little importance.” The first woman to join was Mrs. Mallows, who was a member for about five months in 1936 prior to the club’s end. Other women joined.
On November 2, 1936, the Ghost Club ended itself. Bond, who joined in 1925, gave a lecture on his work at Glastonbury at the final meeting. The club made arrangements to deposit its records and papers in the British Museum, where they were to remain sealed for 25 years.
The papers were not deposited until July 1938. But four months earlier in 1938, Price had revived the club in a third incarnation, with himself as chairman. Price limited membership to 500 persons; women were admitted.
Price emphasized that the club was not and never had been a Spiritualist organization; he described it as “a body of extremely skeptical men and women who get together every few weeks to hear the latest news of the psychic world and to discuss every facet of the paranormal. . . .”
Members included people such as philosopher and professor C.E.M. Joad; biologist Sir Julian Huxley; novelist Algernon Blackwood; Sir Ernest Jelf, master of the Supreme Court; poet, playwright and novelist Sir Osbert Sitwell; Lord Amwell; and statesman Earl Mountbatten (who was a secret member).
The club continued until World War II curtailed its activities; meetings ceased after Price’s sudden death in 1948. In 1947 Price had invited Peter Underwood to join (number 496); in 1949 Underwood tried unsuccessfully to convince the club’s secretary, Mill Wilkinson, to carry on.
In 1953 ghost investigator Philip Paul set about to revive the club and in February 1954 petitioned former members for their opinions. He received enthusiastic support from Underwood, but others were concerned about being tarnished by the scandal of alleged fakery surrounding Price, especially his investigation of Borley Rectory.
Of the 452 former members polled, 167 replied and 126 supported revival. Plans proceeded. An interim committee elected K. E. Shelley, the former vice chairman, as vice president; Paul as vice chairman and public relations officer; Percival Seward as chairman; Leonard Kingston as treasurer; and Christabel Nicholson as secretary. Underwood and Cyril Wilkinson were elected to the committee.
The presidency was left open, and candidates under consideration were novelist and critic Aldous Huxley and Sir Osbert Sitwell. Nicholson was adamantly opposed to allowing Spiritualists into the club, which created such friction that Seward threatened to resign. Another inaugural dinner was held in 1954 in London and was attended by more than 100 persons. Paul thanked all who had made the revival possible and then told a joke that proved to be his undoing.
He related this in his autobiographical Some Unseen Power: Diary of a Ghost-Hunter: Trying to inject a little light-heartedness into the atmosphere arising from the behind-the-scenes situation, I ended with a joke about a woman who had said she considered men more useful after death than during their lives.
When asked why she had this view, she had replied,
“Well, my husband didn’t do a thing when he was alive, but he works all right now—I’ve got his ashes in an egg-timer!”
Apparently, his audience was not amused: the office of vice chairman was abolished, and Paul, unhappy, left the club. Underwood became president in 1960, serving until 1993.
In 1963, the sealed papers at the British Museum were opened, and the full history of the club became public. Ghost investigator Tom Perrott joined the club in 1967 and became chairman in 1971.
In 1993, the club weathered a period of internal dissension. Perrott resigned as chairman. Underwood left and formed another organization, the Ghost Club SOCIETY, taking some members with him. Perrott accepted an invitation to return as chairman. The club underwent organizational changes with an intent to make it more democratic.
The office of president was absorbed into the chairmanship. The club’s council of executive officers was strengthened, and members were encouraged to participate more in club business. Annual general membership meetings were instituted. By 1999, the club had about 100 members.
Perrott retired as chairman in 1998 but remained active in the club. He was succeeded by barrister Sir Alan Murdie. In 2005, Murdie stepped down and was succeeded by Kathleen Gearing.
Prior to 1993, membership in the club was largely by invitation only. After the reorganization, the club accepted applications for membership, subject to screening and votes by members. Applicants must have a serious interest in the paranormal, ghosts and hauntings.
Members include scientists, lay investigators, authors, Spiritualists, philosophers, skeptics and others; most live in Britain, and especially in the greater London area. Other members are in the United States and elsewhere around the world.
Among members and guests are numerous prominent persons, such as authors Colin Wilson and Dennis Wheatley, Sheila Scott, naturalist/novelist Henry Williamson, Beverly Nichols, Air Chief Marshall Lord Dowding, and explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell.
Philosophy and Activities
The Ghost Club does not subscribe to any particular creed or belief about the paranormal or Survival After Death, nor does it follow any single approach to a given subject.
The club undertakes numerous investigations of hauntings and paranormal phenomena and fields inquiries from the public and media. A quarterly newsletter is published. Murdie has worked to establish liaisons with other investigative organizations around the world. Regular meetings feature presentations and discussions by leading experts on a wide variety of subjects in all branches of psychic investigation.
The New York Times has described the club as “the place where skeptics and spiritualists, mediums and materialists, meet on neutral ground.”
- The Ghost Club. Available online. URL: https://dspace.dial. pipex. com/ town/lane/xmo85/gc_fr.htm. Downloaded on July 20, 1999.
- Paul, Philip. Some Unseen Power: Diary of a Ghost-Hunter. London: Robert Hale, 1985.
- Underwood, Peter. No Uncommon Task: The Autobiography of a Ghost-Hunter. London: Harrup Ltd., 1983.
The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007