The Ghost Club Society is the world's oldest and most prestigious society devoted to the serious and impartial investigation, study and discussion of subjects not yet fully understood or accepted by science. The current president is Peter Underwood, pictured above, who is also a Life-Member of the VRS.
1851 ~ The Ghost Club Society founded in Cambridge. Members include E W Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury and Arthur Balfour, later Prime Minister.
1862 ~ The London Ghost Club. Members include the Hon A Gordon, Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick: a Canon of Westminster and the Registrar of Cambridge University.
1882-1936 ~ First revival. Members include Sir William Crookes, Sir William Barratt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Oliver Lodge, W B Yeats and Harry Price.
1938-1947 ~ Second revival with Harry Price as Chairman. Members include Lord Amwell, Algernon Blackwood, Mrs K M (Mollie Goldney, Sir Ernest Jelf, K E Shelley QC, Sir Osbert Sitwell, Dr Paul Tabori and Peter Underwood FRSA.
1954-1993 ~ Third revival with Peter Underwood as President. Members include K E Shelley QC, Dr Christabel Nicholson, Dr Paul Tabori, Donald Campbell MBE, Peter Sellers, Dennis Wheatley, Dr George Owen, Lord Dowding, Ena Twigg and Sir Julian Huxley. Honorary Life Members include Dennis Bardens, Mrs Michael Bentine, Colonel John Blashord-Snell, Miss Sarah Miles, Miss Jilly Cooper, Dr A R G Owen, Miss Dulcie Gray, Sir Patrick Moore, Mr Uri Geller, and the Right Reverend Seán Manchester OSG. Peter Underwood is Life President and Colin Wilson is vice-President of the Ghost Club Society.
At times there was membership cross-fertilisation between the British Occult Society and the Ghost Club Society. In 1988 the British Occult Society was formally dissolved under the leadership of its final president, Bishop Seán Manchester, who had been elected on 21 June 1967.
The British Occult Society was originally formed as an umbrella organisation circa 1860. Much of its activity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is shrouded in mystery. The BOS came out of the closet, however, in the mid-twentieth century before finally disappearing in 1988. During that period it was presided over by Bishop Seán Manchester who placed emphasis on investigating the claims of the occult and the study and research of paranormal phenomena. Out of this history sprang the Vampire Research Society, founded by the president of the British Occult Society who first appeared on British television on 13 March 1970, as seen in the above photograph from the original transmission.
On this the forty-first anniversary of its founding, the Vampire Research Society is functioning as effectively today as ever it did in years past. In 1990 it was decided by the Executive Committee that membership of the Vampire Research Society should only be available via invitation, usually upon the recommendation of an existing member who has a proven track record. It had never been a subscription club of any sort prior to this, and the majority of those "joining" at the close of the 1980s were patently unsuitable. Moreover, the "invitation only" rule was introduced due to a clear compromise to the Society's security by the media and certain others with, to quote Bishop Manchester, "motives hidden in the darkness of the absurd."
The Vampire Research Society actually originated in 1967 as a specialist unit within the British Occult Society (an organisation for paranormal and occult investigation). Bishop Seán Manchester was responsible for the vampire research unit becoming a self-governing body on 2 February 1970 by which time he had already initiated, as president of the British Occult Society, a full-time investigation into the Highgate Vampire case. It would last thirteen years. The first published account of the case (including the initial discovery of the suspect tomb and a spoken exorcism) was given in The Vampire’s Bedside Companion* (Leslie Frewin, 1975; Coronet Books, 1976). The first complete account was published in the best-selling The Highgate Vampire (British Occult Society, 1985; Gothic Press, 1991). The current Gothic Press edition is completely revised, enlarged and updated with new illustrations. Final comment on the Highgate case in print appeared in The Vampire Hunter’s Handbook (Gothic Press, 1997) while Carmel ~ A Vampire Tale (Gothic Press, 2000) draws on real experience based on the mysterious happenings in and around Highgate Cemetery. These works contain photographs and graphics from the Vampire Research Society's case files.
The purpose of the Vampire Research Society is implicit in its name. Sadly, it is found necessary today to distinguish the dictionary and folkloric definition of the word "vampire" from curious individuals who seek to emulate what they construe vampires to be, but who are clearly human beings merely pretending to be vampires. The vampire, in truth, is a supernatural entity, which traditional understanding of the accepted meaning of the word "vampire" the Society studies, researches and occasionally investigates. People who consider themselves part of a "vampire subculture" are generally referred to as vampiroids.
Many lessons have been learned by the VRS over the decades, most particularly the importance of avoiding all involvement with the media and kindred forms of publicity in advance of any given case's resolution. An example of this is the case of the Kirklees mystery where matters were taken out of the Vampire Research Society's hands by others in 1989 when reports of the ensuing investigation started to appear in local and national newspapers and even on some television and radio programmes. The Society could hardly deny that an investigation was in progress, but this certainly put it at odds with the owner of the suspect area which is on private land. Relations have healed during the intervening period and these mysterious investigations remains on the Society's casefile. But they will not be discussed beyond what was published in the previous decade unless the case is satisfactorily resolved and the file permanently closed.
The supernatural vampire of folklore as defined in dictionaries, encyclopedias and non-fiction works is the matter of the Society's research and pursuit. To the Christian, Jew, Muslim and those of some other faiths (possibly the Hindu), the vampire is defined as a predatory demonic entity or wraith. To others it might be seen as a parasitic negative force.
* The Vampire’s Bedside Companion is out of print. Remaining titles are available and can be ordered directly from Gothic Press.