While the Roman scholar Pliny the Younger was one of the first to write about ghost hunting the oldest organisation in the world associated with psychical research is The Ghost Club. Officially founded in London in 1862 it can be traced back to Cambridge University where, in 1855, fellows at Trinity College began to discuss Egyptian magic, second sight, ghosts and psychic phenomena. The Club’s goal was to expose fraudulent spirit mediums and investigate authentic psychic phenomena including ghosts and hauntings.
An early investigation centred on the Davenport Brothers, two mediums / magicians who invented the spirit cabinet that was later used in many séances. The Brothers came to England to perform in 1862 claiming to be able to contact the dead; this was challenged by the Ghost Club but, while the outcome of the investigation, like most of the early activities of the society, remains unknown, it is known that the Davenport Brothers’ claim to be in contact with the dead was later proved to be a hoax.
Charles Dickens was one of its early members; Dickens, claimed many paranormal experiences in his life, including encounters with ghosts, yet was opposed to the trappings of the Spiritualist movement, so applauded and supported the efforts of the Club in their exposure of phony mediums. The Ghost Club seems to have dissolved in the 1870s following Dickens’ death only to be revived on All Saints Day 1882 by A. A. Watts and the Reverend Stainton Moses, a famous contemporary medium. Its relaunch coincided with the launch of the Society for Psychical Research, a body devoted to scientific study, and for a while some members belonged to both.
For over 54 years membership was restricted to 82 members but during this period the Ghost Club attracted some of the most original and controversial minds in psychical research while serving as a place for those who were unable to pursue their activities elsewhere, included Sir William Crookes who attracted scandal after an investigation into medium Florence Cook. Other members have included the poet W.B.Yeats who joined in 1911 and Frederick Bligh Bond who joined in 1925 and became infamous with his obsessive investigations into spiritualism at Glastonbury.
Harry Price became a member in 1927; in the 1930s he was world famous for his psychic research and for his investigation into Borley Rectory. Psychologist Dr. Nandor Fodor joined in the same year. Between 1882 and 1926 the Ghost Club was exclusively male only and was set up like a brotherhood where members referred to each other as Brother Ghost.
With attendance dwindling in the 20th century and the change from seance room investigation to laboratory based research the Ghost Club was becoming out of touch with psychic research or parapsychology as it became known in the 1930s. On November 2nd 1936 after 485 meetings Price, Bligh Bond and a few of the remaining members wound the Club up. The Ghost Club records were almost destroyed because of their confidential nature but managed to find a home in the British Museum under the proviso that they would be closed until 1962. Yet within 18 months Price had relaunched the Ghost Club, this time as a society dining event where psychic researchers and mediums delivered after dinner talks.
Activities lapsed following Price's death in 1948 but the Club was again relaunched. In 1993 the Club underwent a period of internal disruption resulting in the abolition of the "invite only" clause in its membership policy, and 'ordinary' members having an active part in council meetings. At this time the Ghost Club also expanded its remit to include the study of UFOs, dowsing, cryptozoology, and similar subjects.
It has been reputed that the Club's archives contain the names of all members, both alive and dead, which are solemnly each November 2nd, the feast of All Souls, as all are still considered to be a member and that on more than one occasion deceased members were believed to have made their presence felt!
Over its history The Ghost Club has attracted many famous members including Charles Dickens, Siegfried Sassoon, Peter Cushing, Dennis Wheatley, Donald Campbell, Sir William Crookes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, poet William Butler Yeats, Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine. Present members include the explorer and founder of Operations "Drake" and "Raleigh" Colonel John Blashford-Snell, OBE, and paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse, famous for his investigation of the Enfield Poltergeist.
Today the Ghost Club is a non-profit, social club and remains true to its roots by offering open-minded, curious individuals the opportunity to debate, explore and investigate unexplained phenomena with like-minded people and record the results for posterity. Regular meetings, usually once a month on a Saturday at 2pm, are held at The Victory Services Club, near Marble Arch, in central London and are free to all members; guests are welcome.