THE GHOST CLUB/THE EVERLASTING CLUB
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.
Early members of the Ghost Club including Sir William Barrett (second from right front row) and Sir William Crookes( third from left, front row)
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.
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.
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.
Harry Price presiding over a dinner at the Ghost Club - November 1st, 1938. Price had revived the organisation earlier the same year & had taken on the role of Chairman.
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.
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.
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, 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.
The Everlasting Club (1919)
by "Ingulphus" (pseud. for SIR ARTHUR GRAY)
There is a chamber in Jesus College the existence of which is probably known to few who are now resident, and fewer still have penetrated into it or even seen its interior. It is on the right hand of the landing on the top floor of the precipitous staircase which for some forgotten story connected with it is traditionally called "Cow Lane." The padlock which secures its massive oaken door is very rarely unfastened, for the room is bare and unfurnished. Once it served as a place of deposit for superfluous kitchen ware, but even that ignominious use has passed from it, and it is now left to undisturbed solitude and darkness. For I should say that it is entirely cut off from the light of the outer day by the walling up, some time in the eighteenth century, of its single window, and such light as ever reaches it comes from the door, when rare occasion causes it to be opened.
Yet at no extraordinarily remote day this chamber has evidently ben tenanted, and, before it was given up to the darkness, was comfortably fitted, according to the standard of comfort which was known in college in the days of George II.
There is still a roomy fireplace before which legs have been stretched and wine and gossip have circulated in the days of wigs and brocade. For the room is spacious and, when it was lighted by the window looking eastward over the fields and common, it must have been a cheerful place for the sociable don.
Let me state in brief, prosaic outline the circumstances which account for the gloom and solitude in which this room has remained now for nearly a century and a half.
In the second quarter of the eighteenth century the University possessed a great variety of clubs of a social kind. There were clubs in college parlours and clubs in private rooms, or in inns and coffee-houses: clubs flavoured with politics, clubs clerical, clubs purporting to be learned and literary. Whatever their professed particularity, the aim of each was convivial. Some of them, which included undergraduates as well as seniors, were dissipated enough, and in their limited provincial way aped the profligacy of such clubs as the Hell Fire Club of London notoriety.
Among these last was one which was at once more select and of more evil fame than any of its fellows. By a singular accident, presently to be explained, the Minute Book of this Club, including the years from 1738 to 1766, came into the hands of the Master of Jesus College, and though, so far as I am aware, it is no longer extant, I have before me a transcript of it which, though it is in a recent handwriting, presents in a bald shape such a singular array of facts that I must ask you to accept them as veracious. The original book is described as a stout duodecimo volume bound in red leather and fastened with red silken strings. The writing in it occupied some 40 pages, and ended with the date November 2, 1766.
The Club in question was called the Everlasting Club -- a name sufficiently explained by its rules, set forth in the pocket- book. Its number was limited to seven, and it would seem that its members were all young men, between 22 and 30.
One of them was a Fellow-Commoner of Trinity: three of them were Fellows of Colleges, among whom I should especially mention a Fellow of Jesus, named Charles Bellasis: another was a landed proprietor in the county, and the sixth was a young Cambridge physician. The Founder and President of the Club was the Honorable Alan Dermot, who, as the son of an Irish peer, had obtained a nobleman's degree in the University, and lived in idleness in the town. Very little is known of his life and character, but that little is highly in his disfavor. He was killed in a duel in Paris in the year 1743, under circumstances which I need not particularise, but which point to an exceptional degree of cruelty and wickedness in the slain man.
I will quote from the first page of the Minute Book some of the laws of the Club, which will explain its constitution: -
1. "This Society consisteth of seven Everlastings, who may be Corporeal or Incorporeal, as Destiny may determined.
2. The rules of the Society, as herein written, are immutable and Everlasting.
3. None shall hereafter be chosen into the Society and none shall cease to be members.
4. The Honorable Alan Dermot is the Everlasting President of the Society.
5. The Senior Corporeal Everlasting, not being President, shall be the Secretary of the Society, and in the Book of Minutes shall record its transactions, the date at which any Everlasting shall cease to be Corporeal, and all fines due to the Society. And when such Senior Everlasting shall cease to be Corporeal he shall, either in person or by some sure hand, deliver this Book of Minutes to him who shall be next Senior and at the time Corporeal, and he shall in like manner record the transactions therein and transmit it to the next Senior. The neglect of these provisions shall be visited by the President with fine or punishment according to his discretion.
6. On the Second day of November in every year, being the Feast of All Souls, at ten o'clock post meridiem, the Everlastings shall meet at supper in theplace of residence of that Corporeal member of the Society to whom it shall fall in order of rotation to entertain them, and they shall all subscribe in this Book of Minutes their names and present place of abode.
7. It shall be the obligation of every Everlasting to be present at the yearly entertainment of the Society, and none shall allege for excuse that he has not been invited thereto. If any Everlasting shall fail to attend the yearly meeting, or in his turn shall fail to provide entertainment for the Society, he shall be mulcted at the discretion of the President.
8. Nevertheless, if in any year, in the month of October and not less than seven days before the Feast of All Souls, the major part of the Society, that is to say, four at least, shall meet and record in writing in these Minutes that it is their desire that no entertainment be given in that year, then, notwithstanding the two rules rehearsed, there shall be no entertainment in that year, and no Everlasting shall be mulcted on the ground of his absence."
The rest of the rules are either too profane or too puerile to be quoted here. They indicate the extraordinary levity with which the members entered on their preposterous obligations. In particular, to the omission of any regulation as to the transmission of the Minute Book after the last Everlasting ceased to be "Corporeal," we owe the accident that it fell into the hands of one who was not a member of the society, and the consequent preservation of its contents to the present day.
Low as was the standard of morals in all classes of the University in the first half of the eighteenth century, the flagrant defiance of public decorum by the members of the Everlasting Society brought upon it the stern censure of the authorities, and after a few years it was practically dissolved and its members banished from the University. Charles Bellasis, for instance, was obliged to leave the college, and, though he retained his fellowship, he remained absent from it for nearly twenty years. But the minutes of the society reveal a more terrible reason for its virtual extinction.
Between the years of 7138 and 1743 the minutes record many meetings of the Club, for it met on other occasions besides that of All Souls Day. Apart from a great deal of impious jocularity on the part of the writers, they are limited to the formal record of the attendance of the members, fines inflicted, and so forth, The meeting on November 2nd in the latter year is the first about which there is any departure from the stereotyped forms. The supper was given in the house of the physician. One member, Henry Davenport, the former Fellow-Commoner of Trinity, was absent from the entertainment, as he was then serving in Germany, in the Dettingen campaign. The minutes contain an entry, "Mulctatus propter absentiam per Presidentem, Hen. Davenport." An entry on the next page of the book runs, "Henry Davenport by a cannon-shot became an Incorporeal Member,
November 3, 1743."
The minute give in their handwriting, under date November 2, the names and addresses of the six other members. First in the list, in a large bold hand, is the autograph of "Alan Dermot, President, at the Court of His Royal Highness."
Now in October Dermot had certainly been in attendance on the Young Pretender at Paris, and doubtless the address which he gave was understood at the time by the other Everlastings to refer to the fact. But on October 28, five days before the meeting of the Club, he was killed, as I have already mentioned, in a duel. The news of his death cannot have reached Cambridge on November 2, for the Secretary's record of it is placed below that of Davenport, and with the date of November 10: "this day was reported that the president was become an Incorporeal by the hands of a french chevalier." And in a sudden ebullition, which is in glaring contrast with his previous profanities, he has dashed down, "The Good God shield us from ill."
The tidings of the President's death scattered the Everlastings like a thunderbolt. They left Cambridge and buried themselves in widely parted regions. But the Club did not cease to exist. The Secretary was still bound to his hateful records: the five survivors did not dare to neglect their fatal obligations. Horror of the presence of the President made the November gathering
once and for ever impossible: but the horror, too, forbade them to neglect the meeting in October of every year to put in writing their objection to the celebration. For five years five names are appended to that entry in the minutes, and that is all the business of the Club. Then another member died, who was not the Secretary.
For eighteen more years four miserable men met once each year to deliver the same formal protest. During those years we gather from the signatures that Charles Bellasis returned to Cambridge, now, to appearance, chastened and decorous. He occupied the rooms which I have described on the staircase on the corner of the cloister.
Then in 1766 comes a new handwriting and an altered minute: "Jan. 27, on this day Francis Witherington, Secretary, became an incorporeal member. The same day this Book was delivered to me, James Harvey." Harvey lived only a month, and a similar entry on March 7 states that the book has descended, with the same mysterious celerity, to William Catherton. Then, on May 18, Charles Bellasis writes that on that day, being the day of Catherton's decease, the Minute Book has come to him as the last surviving Corporeal of the Club.
As it is my purpose to record fact only I shall not attempt to describe the feelings of the unhappy Secretary when he penned that fatal record. When Witherington died it must have come home to the three survivors that after twenty-three years' intermission the ghastly entertainment must be annually renewed, with the addition of fresh incorporeal guests, or that they must undergo the pitiless censure of the President. I think it likely that the terror of the alternative, coupled with the mysterious delivery of the Minute Book, was answerable for the speedy decease of the first two successors to the Secretaryship. Now that the alternative was offered to Bellasis alone, he wasfirmly resolved to bear the consequences, whatever they might be, of an infringement of the Club rules.
The graceless days of George II. had passed away from the University. They were succeeded by times of outward respectability, when religion and morals were no longer publicly challenged. With Bellasis, too, the petulance of youth had passed: he was discreet, perhaps exemplary. The scandal of his early conduct was unknown to most of the new generation, condoned by the few survivors who had witnessed it.
On the night of November 2nd, 1766, a terrible event revived in the older inhabitants of the College the memory of those evil days. From ten o'clock to midnight a hideous uproar went on in the chamber of Bellasis. Who were his companions none knew. Blasphemous outcries and ribald songs, such as had not been heard for twenty years past, aroused from sleep or study the occupants of the court; but among the voices was not that of Bellasis. At twelve a sudden silence fell upon the cloisters. But the Master lay awake all night, troubled at the relapse of a respected colleague and the horrible example of libertinism set to his pupils.
In the morning all remained quiet about Bellasis' chamber. When his door was opened, soon after daybreak, the early light creeping through the drawn curtains revealed a strange scene. About the table were drawn seven chairs, but some of them had been overthrown, and the furniture was in chaotic disorder, as after some wild orgy. In the chair at the foot of the table sat the lifeless figure of the Secretary, his head bent over his folded arms, as though he would shield his eyes from some horrible sight. Before him on the table lay pen, ink and the red Minute Book. On the last inscribed page, under the date of November 2nd, were written, for the first time since 1742, the autographs of the seven members of the Everlasting Club, but without address. In the same strong hand in which the President's name was written there was appended below the signatures the note "Mulctus per Presidentem propter neglectum obsonii, Car. Bellasis."
The Minute Book was secured by the Master of the College and I believe that he alone was acquainted with the nature of its contents. The scandal reflected on the College by the circumstances revealed in it caused him to keep the knowledge rigidly to himself. But some suspicion of the nature of the occurrences must have percolated to students and servants, for there was a long-abiding belief in the College that annually on the night of November 2 sounds of unholy revelry were heard to issue from the chamber of Charles Bellasis. I cannot learn that the occupants of the adjoining rooms have ever been disturbed by them. Indeed, it is plain from the minutes that owing to their improvident drafting no provision was made for the perpetuation of the All Souls entertainment after the last Everlasting ceased to Corporeal. Such superstitious belief must be treated with contemptuous incredulity. But whether for that cause of another the rooms were shut up, and have remained tenantless from that day to this.
One of the most intriguing member's was Thomas Douglas Murray, the society gentleman who was known to have been cursed by a mummy when he purchased a coffin lid of a malignant priestess of Amen-Ra in his youth. He had purchased the lid in Luxor, then promptly shot his own arm off in a hunting accident. The mummy case in London scared the bejeesus out of Madame Blavatsky, the Theosophist, who begged it be given away. Once installed in the British Museum as catalogue number 22542 it allegedly began a career of malicious revenge on spectators who gawped too hard. Murray told his story to the Ghost Club several times in the 1890s.
When Murray died, his place in the Ghost Club was taken by none other than William Butler Yeats. Some say that Yeats’ poem ‘All Souls’ Night’, in which he calls up the ghosts of dead friends one by one, is a secret homage to the Ghost Club and to Douglas Murray. It ends, after all, ‘Wound in mind’s wandering/As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.’
All Souls' Night - W. B. Yeats
Epilogue to 'A Vision'
MIDNIGHT has come, and the great Christ Church Bell
And may a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls' Night,
And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel
Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;
For it is a ghost's right,
His element is so fine
Being sharpened by his death,
To drink from the wine-breath
While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.
I need some mind that, if the cannon sound
From every quarter of the world, can stay
Wound in mind's pondering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound;
Because I have a marvellous thing to say,
A certain marvellous thing
None but the living mock,
Though not for sober ear;
It may be all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.
Horton's the first I call. He loved strange thought
And knew that sweet extremity of pride
That's called platonic love,
And that to such a pitch of passion wrought
Nothing could bring him, when his lady died,
Anodyne for his love.
Words were but wasted breath;
One dear hope had he:
Of that or the next winter would be death.
Two thoughts were so mixed up I could not tell
Whether of her or God he thought the most,
But think that his mind's eye,
When upward turned, on one sole image fell;
And that a slight companionable ghost,
Wild with divinity,
Had so lit up the whole
Immense miraculous house
The Bible promised us,
It seemed a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.
On Florence Emery I call the next,
Who finding the first wrinkles on a face
Admired and beautiful,
And knowing that the future would be vexed
With 'minished beauty, multiplied commonplace,
preferred to teach a school
Away from neighbour or friend,
Among dark skins, and there
permit foul years to wear
Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.
Before that end much had she ravelled out
From a discourse in figurative speech
By some learned Indian
On the soul's journey. How it is whirled about,
Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach,
Until it plunge into the sun;
And there, free and yet fast,
Being both Chance and Choice,
Forget its broken toys
And sink into its own delight at last.
And I call up MacGregor from the grave,
For in my first hard springtime we were friends.
Although of late estranged.
I thought him half a lunatic, half knave,
And told him so, but friendship never ends;
And what if mind seem changed,
And it seem changed with the mind,
When thoughts rise up unbid
On generous things that he did
And I grow half contented to be blind!
He had much industry at setting out,
Much boisterous courage, before loneliness
Had driven him crazed;
For meditations upon unknown thought
Make human intercourse grow less and less;
They are neither paid nor praised.
but he d object to the host,
The glass because my glass;
A ghost-lover he was
And may have grown more arrogant being a ghost.
But names are nothing. What matter who it be,
So that his elements have grown so fine
The fume of muscatel
Can give his sharpened palate ecstasy
No living man can drink from the whole wine.
I have mummy truths to tell
Whereat the living mock,
Though not for sober ear,
For maybe all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.
Such thought -- such thought have I that hold it tight
Till meditation master all its parts,
Nothing can stay my glance
Until that glance run in the world's despite
To where the damned have howled away their hearts,
And where the blessed dance;
Such thought, that in it bound
I need no other thing,
Wound in mind's wandering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.