The Ghost Club – A History by Peter Underwood
When I first heard that Peter Underwood had written a book on the history of the Ghost Club and I was told I would be sent a review copy I was really excited. I have a lot of respect for Peter Underwood and have been reading his books since I was old enough to hold a library card. Therefore he has been a huge inspiration for me from an early age. It may even be Peter’s fault I’ve spent the last twenty years hunting these elusive ghosts and as Peter Underwood was President of the Ghost Club between 1960 and 1993 it makes him the perfect person to write an account of their history.
When I first started investigating I hoped that one day I might be accepted as a Ghost Club member and then I heard that some dispute had occurred and in 1993 Peter Underwood resigned as the Ghost Club President and members left the Club in droves, a split which changed the society and I was unsure then whether I actually wanted to join anymore.
So, I must admit that I was hoping to see a book full of anecdotes from and about Ghost Club members, their meetings, lectures, and maybe the odd fight or perhaps expose a few skeletons from their closets, including of course details of what happened to split it apart. When I received the book I realised it was far from what I expected and I was actually surprised to be somewhat relieved.
The book, though short, is an historic record of the various incarnations of the Ghost Club which is the oldest society in the world dedicated to the exploration of the unknown. It covers The Ghost Society (1851) which was a small and exclusive club that was founded by a future Bishop of Durham (Rev B F Westcott) and whose members included an upcoming Prime Minister of England (Arthur Balfour) and a future Archbishop of Canterbury (Edward W Benson). The London Ghost Club (1862), a very select society whose members included the likes of Rev B F Westcott and Hon A.H. Gordon, Lt General of New Brunswick. Then come three distinct Ghost Club revivals, The Ghost Club 1882-1936 which was originally an exclusive male only (until 1926) society set up like a brotherhood where they referred to each other as Brother Ghost and new members had to be first proposed and then could be black balled during a ballot of the membership. Members included Sir William Crookes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Price. The Ghost Club 1938-1947 was chaired by Harry Price and included Algernon Blackwood and Lord Amwell amongst the membership. The Ghost Club 1954-1993 was predominantly presided over by Peter Underwood with Colin Wilson as Vice President. Members included a varied mix of individuals such as Peter Sellers, Michael Bentine, Dulcie Gray and Dennis Wheatley.
Without speculation, Peter Underwood details what is known of the various societies’ formation, names some of the members and looks at what happened at their meetings including a large portion of the book listing the diverse lecturers they held.
As someone interested in the history of paranormal research I found the book to be a gem of interesting facts and photographs. I found Peter’s final words intriguing and they sum up why the idea of the Ghost Club appealed to me even though I was never a member….”the world of psychical research is in need of a serious, conscientious, scientific and properly run and friendly organisation whose members can be enlightened, educated, enthralled and entertained, as they were in the Ghost Club between 1882 and 1993.” I certainly think that such a club could find a place within today’s paranormal investigating community. Unfortunately the book does not cover details about the club post 1993, but I certainly enjoyed reading it and would heartily recommend it.
Paperback; 50 pages with 30 B&W illustrations
Published 31 October 2010