Gazetteer of British Ghosts – Peter Underwood (Extract)

Editor’s Introduction to the Revised Edition by Adam Underwood

What does the word ‘gazetteer’ mean?

This is the question I asked my grandfather in 2010, as we walked along Northumberland Avenue – along with my brother, father and mother. The sky was grey. The streets were quiet. It had become something of a custom of ours to meet Peter in London each year around Christmas time.

And before I asked him that question, we had just met him at The Savage Club in Whitehall Place. It was still a regular haunt of his. Peter had been a member for decades. It had served as an official address via which readers could correspond with him. We would stand in the main entrance hall of a large building, waiting to see him descend the grand staircase at the end. Waiting and absorbing the atmosphere of a past time that still permeated the stately space we were temporarily immersed in.

From there, we would proceed around the corner into Northumberland Avenue and continue on before arriving at The Sherlock Holmes pub for an early lunch. It was at the site of this establishment that there once existed the hotel where Sherlock Holmes tracks down Francis Hay Moulton in The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor.

Arthur Conan Doyle had once been a member of the Ghost Club (Peter was President for decades), before falling out with the then Chairman Harry Price. Doyle’s daughter Dame Jean Conan Doyle would subsequently become a member – and Peter’s friend. And she would invariably introduce him to others as ‘the Sherlock Holmes of psychical research’.

What is clear now is how my question to Peter betrayed a deeper lack of awareness of his life’s work as a whole (the word ‘gazetteer’ had piqued my interest upon my seeing it on the cover of the Japanese translation that year of the Gazetteer. The word adorned a flag that a skeleton carried).

I don’t recall him giving me answer.

But things change. Not long after Peter’s passing in 2014, my interest in ensuring that his work somehow live on conjured some interesting developments. If ‘gazetteer’ means ‘geographical dictionary’, then what better way might there be to further complete Peter’s original project than via the construction of a unique Google Map to cover all 236 haunted sites from the original book, together with a WordPress Blog dedicated to hunting down images to illustrate them?

Such is the lively afterlife that cultural objects can continue to enjoy. I am reminded of a line from the excellent book by Roger Clarke on ghosts, which evokes the significance of them as a cultural phenomenon beyond proving or disproving their existence: “ghosts exist because people constantly report that they see them”; A Natural History of Ghosts (2012); p.17.

After creating the map, the next logical step was to create a new fully revised edition to accompany it. And in the process of typing it up, I found myself slipping into an editorial mode. For no expense has been spared in the task of carrying on Peter’s original labours. As a result, there is hardly a single entry that has not been updated or revised or reformatted in some way. Which is simply a result of the editorial pursuit (or compulsion or burden) to render his work as lively and legible as possible for today’s readers.

The Folklore Society (FLS) exhibited a somewhat snobby attitude toward the broad appeal of the Gazetteer, characterising it as having been ‘written in frank journalese [a hackneyed style of writing supposedly characteristic of that in newspapers and magazines – AU]’ (Folklore, Volume 82, Autumn 1971; ‘Reviews’, pp.249-260; p.256).

But perhaps this is to misunderstand the practical nature of Peter’s project, which he offers to the reader in his original introduction as ‘a reference book and as a guide to ghost-hunting’. And it would thereby be all too easy not to be able to see the wood for the trees should one only understand all things ‘paranormal’ from the standpoint of an individual, self-contained academic discipline.

Against the grain of such a narrow disciplinary standpoint, Peter’s work might be said to be modestly emblematic of a whole host of interconnections – between experience, belief, testimony, memory, imagination, narrative, tradition, the past, violence, religion, death, the psyche, and mourning.

So ultimately this ‘revised’ edition could be said to exist in the service of the accounts themselves, which Peter was himself doing service to, whether reflecting upon the existing literature, acting as an unofficial ‘folklore historian’, reporting upon his own inquiries and investigation, upon the testimony of others, or functioning to continue a tradition of folklore itself – by regaling the reader with a tantalising legend or tale associated with a place or site.

Although the ‘illustrations’ (the photographs that my father took the majority of) that originally accompanied the Gazetteer are not contained within this ‘pure digital’ edition, they do form part of a forthcoming, fully-illustrated paperback version of this revised edition.

As a coda to this new edition you are reading there is an ‘Afterword’ by writer Alan Williams, followed by the text of an article based on an interview he conducted with Peter in 1997, which appeared in a publication he was editor of at the time – Writers’ Monthly.

Williams is the author of The Blackheath Seance Parlour (2013), a highly enjoyable mixture of gothic horror and historical fiction – with an additional injection of humour. In his ‘Afterword’, he reflects back upon the first time he encountered Peter’s work, and forward to the opportunity he later had to interview Peter about his paranormal life.

Adam Underwood

May 2017, London

Original 1971 Introduction by Peter Underwood

There are more ghosts seen, reported and accepted in the British Isles than anywhere else on earth. I am often asked why this is so and can only suggest that a unique ancestry with Mediterranean, Scandinavian, Celtic and other strains, an intrinsic island detachment, an enquiring nature, and perhaps our readiness to accept a supernormal explanation for curious happenings may all have played their part in bringing about this state of affairs.

Another question I am repeatedly asked is whether I believe in ghosts and my answer is that belief does not come into it as far as my work in this field is concerned. I try to investigate and study reportes of these phenomena dispassionately but I am impressed by the wealth of evidence for ghosts and hauntings: strikingly similar reports from all over the world since the beginning of recorded history. I am quite certain that I have spoken to many people who are genuinely convinced that they have seen apparitions, phantoms, spectres, ghosts – call them what you will.

My interest in ghosts and haunted houses probably stems from the fact that my maternal grandparents lived in a reputedly haunted house and as a child I heard all about ghosts and soon found that other people believed that they too, lived with them. As a boy I was intrigued that adults should take the subject seriously and I began to collect notes of hauntings and then press-cuttings and reports.

A collection that has today grown into an enormous collection of data on the subject, and from this material, the result of over thirty years study of the subject, I have selected most of the famous cases of haunting and many hitherto unpublished accounts of ghostly phenomena to offer a representative account of apparently paranormal activity throughout the British Isles.

The entries marked with an asterisk [ * ] are those about which I have personal knowledge, either having interviewed the witnesses, carried out an investigation of the case, or visited the place in question myself.

And I hope that in reading between the lines, it would be possible to glimpse my opinion on some of these fascinating mysteries. It is interesting to note, for example, that there are often children up to and around the age of adolescence in the affected houses who may be conscious or unconscious participants in the disturbances and I have also often noticed in such houses a dominating mother or a woman who is unhappy or frustrated.

The entries are arranged in alphabetical order of the place where the ghost has been sighted or where the curious happenings have occurred, something that has never been attempted before on this scale.

I hope the work will be of value as a reference book and as a guide to ghost-hunting, although I must emphasize that the inclusion of a haunted house in this volume does not necessarily mean that the house is open to the public. At the end of each entry I have indicated a nearby hotel which may be of assistance to those who plan a visit or itinerary to some of these haunted places.

I did consider referring readers to various volumes containing fuller details of some of the cases included, but decided against this, because many well-known hauntings are dealt with – with varying reliability – in many books. The select bibliography at the end of this work includes most of the best books of true ghostly experiences published to date.

I would like to acknowledge the help I have received from many correspondents and people I have talked to, for their cooperation extending over many years. To my wife for inexhaustible patience and understanding. To my daughter for reading the first draft and for many helpful suggestions. And particularly to my son Chris who has provided most of the excellent photographs.

I am always interested to receive first-hand or reliable accounts of ghosts and haunted houses: a subject that has interested me for almost as long as I can remember and will probably continue to interest me until, perhaps, I become a ghost myself!

Peter Underwood

The Savage Club,

London S.W.1

 

Extracted from The Gazetteer of British Ghosts by Peter Underwood

The Gazetteer of British Ghosts is available free on Kindle in today’s promotion: https://amzn.to/2JpLEEg

You can find our other Peter Underwood title – Where the Ghosts Walk here: https://bit.ly/2HWOBMW

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Author Guest Blog – Rosemary Hawthorne

Rosemary Hawthorne’s histories of Bras, Knickers and Stockings & Suspenders are key books for anyone interested in the fascinating history behind things we take for granted.

Did you know…

  • that the first patented bra was designed from two handkerchiefs?
  • that the inflatable bras of the ’50s were rumoured to explode at high altitudes?
  • that the very first garment resembling a bra was worn by Greek and Roman women in need of special support?
  • that the eighteenth-century corset elevated and pushed out the breasts like two dumplings on a shelf?
  • that a bust-improver of 1905 consisted of two cup-shaped, perforated metal discs like twin tea-strainers?
  • that sixteenth-century women wore a ‘body’ of steel and wire very like the high-fashion bodies of today?

All this and more can be found in Rosemary’s wonderful books. Below, Rosemary explains how the books came about:

 

KNICKERS An Intimate Appraisal

 

For years I’d collected women’s antique and vintage clothes, 18th century to the present day and showed them at various talks. I found old underwear, particularly knickers, always grabbed audience attention. A former professional actress, I realized old knickers’ were comic material. People said ‘You ought to write a book!”. So I did. Once published, I was dubbed the ‘Knicker Lady’. Being married to a C. of E. clergyman, inadvertently helped…… ‘Vicars’ and Knickers’ trip well together. I’m glad he wasn’t a bishop.

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BRAS A Private View

 

This book was joy to write. It had structure. Knickers’ were flip-flop by comparison! Body shape is vitally important to women in any century. Breasts have been exposed, covered, shoved up, flattened, extended, enlarged and generally ‘managed’ to gain desirable effect. Products’ that help – or hinder – were and are numerous. The corset was not the progenitor of the bra. It’s parenting came from a demure, distant relative high-jacked into ‘helping out’ in the early 1900s.

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STOCKINGS & SUSPENDERS   A Quick Flash

 

Stockings are historically unique in that, for centuries, they were unisex but worn outwardly – to show a fine leg – only by men.   For women, stockings developed slowly from under to outerwear.  Fine stockings were/are prized – often more than jewels.  Romantic silk hose to sexy, black-seamed nylons, a super pair of stockings could always rock a thrill-machine from Jane Austen to James Bond…and, still does, for many mortals’ who treasure a faded, lavender sprinkled, bridal garter…. or recall the jolly ‘ping’ of a snappy suspender.  Yep, my research was….er……very thorough.

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Check out Rosemary Hawthorne’s books below:

Bras: http://souvenirpress.co.uk/product/bras-rosemary-hawthorne/

Knickers: http://souvenirpress.co.uk/product/knickers-rosemary-hawthorne/

Stockings and Suspenders: http://souvenirpress.co.uk/product/stockings-suspenders-rosemary-hawthorne/

Guest Blog – Arthur Plotnik

Today’s guest blog comes from Arthur Plotnik, author of Better Than Great. Better Than Great is a unique thesaurus of praise and acclaim, containing humankind’s largest gathering of fresh, potent and larky superlatives for anyone struggling to describe extraordinary things or experiences in ways that will do them justice. The English language has thousands of words to praise but ‘cool’, ‘good’ and ‘great’ have become our default choices. In Better Than Great Arthur Plotkin adds fresh and engaging new words to our vocabulary of praise, sorted into appropriate categories for easy use.

As an antidote to dull and, ultimately, devaluing language, Better Than Great restores distinction, persuasiveness and delight to our praise. The book is an entertainment in itself, drawing on all levels of expression and offering bonus lists, quotes, sidebar features and the author’s spirited advice and observations on each type of acclaim.

Below, Arthur speaks about the writing of the book and one particular orange-faced blond-coiffed person we all love to hate.

 

Since the publication of BETTER THAN GREAT, thousands of readers have cavorted in its entertaining bounty of alternatives to “great,” “awesome,” “unbelievable,” “amazing,” and other terms of praise gone dull and bloodless from overuse.

Absent from those amused and empowered readers is a man who most needs a freshened stock of superlatives, a man seemingly limited to “great,” “very great,” and “very, very great.” Some time back, he was among the many public figures whose feeble vocabulary helped inspire my book, and now, as President of the United States and a compulsive Tweeter, he threatens to lower the bar of expressiveness by example, even we yearn to celebrate, with fresh and heart-juddering praise, those things we value most.

“Fight back!” I say. “Refuse to dishonor what we love and cherish with terms more suited to an “amazing” pizza or “brilliant” pair of shoes. Be exalting, resplendent, coruscating, mind-marmalizing, and magisterial in your praise, drawing from the more than 5,500 terms in the juggernaut for expressive justice that is:  BETTER THAN GREAT.

 

And here’s Arthur’s thoughts on the word ‘great’ from Better Than Great:

Toward the end of the 20th century, the venerable word great reigned as the default term for describing specialty. Used at all levels of speech, the term never seemed to exhaust itself, even within a sentence. Major events called for pile-ups, something like, “This great float honors one of the great gentlemen of the great State of California, and tomorrow two great teams will play what’s expected to be a great game before the greatest fans in this great nation.”

Today, if the word doesn’t quite put listeners to sleep, neither does it wake them to the wonders of anything. Approaching some two billion appearances in a Web search, it certainly has lost whatever specialty it had. If two billion things are special, what’s left to be ordinary? In conventional uses, great generates about one nanowatt of energy. Lately the word amazing has become slightly more energetic than great, but it, too, is accumulating usage numbers that suggest serious loss of clout.

Find out more here: http://souvenirpress.co.uk/product/better-than-great/

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Forthcoming Titles

We’ve got three really exciting titles coming up this Spring.

First up, Out of Your Mind by Alan Watts. In Out of Your Mind Alan Watts presents six of his most engaging teachings for breaking out of the limits of the rational mind, escaping conventional awareness and coming to understand the great game that is unfolding around us:

Discover the ‘controlled accident’ – stop taking life so seriously and begin to enjoy it with complete sincerity.

Learn to transcend the illusion of ‘the myth of myself’, we are not just skin-encapsulated egos separate from the world around us.

Drawing on ancient and modern sources Alan Watts provides an understanding of the individual’s real place in the universe and a healing alternative for living a more spiritual life.

Alan Watts was instrumental in introducing Eastern religious and philosophical thought to Western readers. Yet he was also a former Anglican priest, and described himself as “a spiritual entertainer.” It is Watts’ openness to all religions and spiritual traditions that continues to inspire his readers today.

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Pre-order Out of Your Mind by Alan Watts here: http://souvenirpress.co.uk/product/out-of-your-mind/

 

Next we have The Sentient Machine by Amir Hussain. In The Sentient Machine Amir Husain, one of the world’s leading technologists, looks at our future as humanity stands on the edge of a second Big Bang, the moment when machines can think independently. Will machines solve all human problems or will they lead us down a dystopian path to human irrelevance?

Husain asks what will be the consequences — from job losses, is Wall-E our future, to the existential questions: how are we intelligent, what constitutes progress, how can AI bring us to “the good life”?

Amir Husain explores the dawn of a new form of intellectual diversity, one that could advance the state of the art in many critical fields, including security, resource management, finance, and energy. The Sentient Machine provides a history of artificial intelligence (boiling down complex computer science and AI concepts into clear, plainspoken language) and draws from a wide variety of cultural and historical references to illustrate its possible future.

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Pre-order The Sentient Machine here: http://souvenirpress.co.uk/product/the-sentient-machine/

 

Finally we have Adventures of a Ballad Hunter by John Lomax. John A. Lomax set out on horseback in 1908 to record and preserve America’s folk music. Over the next four decades he recorded over 5,000 songs, among them were Rock Island Line (which he first heard at the Arkansas Penitentiary), he heard Casey Jones sung in a saloon in Deming, New Mexico, and discovered The Midnight Special when it was performed by a prisoner in Parchman Convict Farm. Lomax also discovered the Blues legend Lead Belly in the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Adventures of a Ballad Hunter is Lomax’s own memoir of an eventful life containing vibrant, often haunting, stories of the people he met and recorded, as well as the lyrics for dozens of songs. Lomax describes singers and musicians from cowboys such as Silver Jack and Big Bill Swanson to railway workers like Henry Truvillion to prison inmates such as Lead Belly. From Texan cattle camps to Mississippi prison farms he recorded some of the twentieth-century’s most important songs: ‘Home on the Range’ and ‘Goodnight Irene,’ ‘In the Pines’ and the spiritual classic ‘Honey in the Rock’. The stories behind these songs are related here.

John Lomax was the bridge between the oral tradition of passing songs from singer to singer and the modern era where music is preserved by technology. Adventures of a Ballad Hunter is an endlessly interesting account of a fascinating life, from his early years on the road (and always surrounded by music) to the vibrant, troubled, history that lay behind this folk culture.

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Pre-order Adventures of a Ballad Hunter here: http://souvenirpress.co.uk/product/adventures-of-a-ballad-hunter/

Martin Luther King Jr.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. We are proud to publish Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King’s account of a pivotal moment in American history.

Martin Luther King, Jr. described Stride Toward Freedom as “the chronicle of 50,000 Negroes who took to heart the principles of non-violence, who learned to fight for their rights with the weapon of love, and who, in the process, acquired a new estimate of their own human worth.”

On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Rallied by the young preacher and activist Martin Luther King, Jr., the black community of Montgomery organised a historic boycott of the bus service, rising up together to protest racial segregation. This was the first large-scale, non-violent resistance of its kind in America and marked the beginning of a national Civil Rights movement based on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s principles.

Stride Toward Freedom is the account of that pivotal turning point in American history, told through Martin Luther King, Jr.’s own experiences and stories, chronicling his community’s refusal to accept the injustices of racial discrimination.

From U.S President Barack Obama’s tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“From the mountain top, he pointed the way for us – a land no longer torn asunder with racial hatred and ethnic strife, a land that measured itself by how it treats the least of these…a land in which all of God’s children might come together in a spirit of brotherhood.”

At the time Martin Luther King, Jr. was only 26 years old and the pastor of a Baptist church in Montgomery. Within a year, he was a national figure and a leader of the Civil Rights movement. One of the greatest orators in American history, remembered for his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated on April 4th 1968.

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Find Stride Toward Freedom: https://bit.ly/2iGmmop

Jena Pincott’s Blog

Today we have a treat for you. Jena Pincott, author of Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies? , has written a guest blog about the book. Fun, entertaining and informative, Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies? is a different type of pregnancy book. Instead of looking at the how-to it looks at the why, the QI of maternity books. See Jena’s thoughts below.

 

I wrote Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies? when I was heavily pregnant. There was a problem:  the due date. My manuscript, Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies? was to be delivered only a couple months after the baby’s birth, and my writing was behind schedule.

I often thought of the book as a second baby, literally. I was very calm about it. Uncharacteristically calm, because I am usually scrupulous about timeliness. There’s a biological reason for this Zen attitude, which I describe in the book.  I usually rely on stress as a motivator, and it’s increasingly difficult to get a pregnant woman stressed about anything that doesn’t concern the baby. By third trimester we’re saturated with cortisol —it’s not just a stress hormone; it also helps the fetus’s brain and organs to mature. Cortisol floods our veins, and as a result, its receptors are less sensitive, which in turn can dampen the stress response system. A peaceful haze sets in. The baby will come when it’s ready, I thought. And so would the book.

As I progressed through the months, growing heavier and more ponderous, I wondered about my behavior.  It wasn’t just the tranquility about deadlines. Words would get stuck at the tip of my fingers. I made weird and poetic malapropisms: I “circumvented” when I should’ve circumnavigated, my abdominals became my “abominables.” Was I writing so strangely only because I wrote about how this is to be expected in pregnancy? This is the sort of loop one could get stuck in. It’s hard to be your own guinea pig.

Time passes, of course.  There comes a moment when the deadline-bound writer must focus and produce.

For me, this happened soon after the baby was born. That’s when I wrote the final one-third of the book.  Friends pitied me for having a newborn while still heavily pregnant with a manuscript.  I was exhausted, harried, overwhelmed.  The baby had colic. And despite all of this — or because of it — I wrote.  The book was a license to take refuge in a quiet office between nursing sessions. My writing time was as refreshing as a nap.  Writing gave me an opportunity to reclaim the part of myself that I had lost in the last few months of dreamy, poetic gestation. Not every day was productive, but I could be more than a rocking, burping, feeding machine. I was still thinking.

I delivered the book five months after my daughter was born, thanks to a short extension. Being overdue gave me an opportunity to include essays about the evolutionary psychology of postpartum depression, the virtues of baby talk, mood-manipulating hormones in milk, telltale genetic odors in baby poop, personality clues in cradling, and other fascinating science that pertains to the initial months after birth.

Now both book and baby have been delivered and are out in the world. They’re so slow in the making, but how fast they grow!

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Find Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies? here: http://souvenirpress.co.uk/product/do-chocolate-lovers-have-sweeter-babies/