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Peter Underwood (parapsychologist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Peter Underwood, parapsychologist, paranormal historian, ghost hunter.jpg

Peter Underwood, FRSA (16 May 1923 – 26 November 2014) was an English author, broadcaster and parapsychologist.[1] Underwood was born in Letchworth, Hertfordshire. Described as "an indefatigable ghost hunter", he wrote many books which surveyed alleged hauntings within the United Kingdom - beginning the trend of comprehensive regional 'guides' to (purportedly) haunted places. One of his well-known investigations concerned Borley Rectory, which he also wrote about.[2]

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  • ✪ Haunting Tales from Inside Prison Walls


Prisons, by their very nature, are oppressive places, and many inmates are sent there to live out the rest of their lives. Historically we know that some prisoners have been placed within their confinements unjustly. This, along with the fact that in many countries executions took place within prison walls, with the dead being interred within prison grounds, in most cases in unmarked graves, leaves little surprise that reported prison hauntings the world over are abundant. For this video, rather than give general overviews of prisons and their haunted reputations, I've picked up specific, mostly dated incidents, reported by the people who experience them. As usual i've chosen lesser-known stories and have also avoided obvious locations such as California's Alcatraz and Pennsylvania's Eastern State Penitentiary - because I feel the reputations of these prisons are well-established and have already been covered at length. That said, I bring you the stories behind five haunting incidents which allegedly took place behind prison walls. In August of 1882, in the Western Irish town of Maumstrasna, a family were attacked while they lay in their beds by a gang of men in the dead of night. There were six people home that night, all members of the Joyce family, and this six, five were brutally murdered. John Joyce, his wife Bridget, mother Margaret, daughter Peggy and stepson Michael were killed in their small cabin like home. The youngest member of the family, John and Bridget son Patsy, somehow survived. The men were shot while the women were beaten to death, leaving a horrifying scene which was not properly investigated until police finally arrived in the small town some days later. It had been reported that members of the Joyce family may have witnessed other murders relating to the so called Land War, which had spanned three decades, and their murders were carried out to stop them from passing on information to the authorities. Eight men were convicted and three were sentenced to hang for the Joyce family murders. One of the men sentenced to death was Myles Joyce - no known relation to the slain family - who protested his innocence throughout his trial and right up until the moment he was hanged at Galway Gaol, forty miles south with Maumstrasna, on December 15th 1882. The fact that Joyce only spoke Irish and did not understand a word of English meant he faced an unfair trial in an English-speaking court. His defending solicitor didn't speak Irish either, so he was not defended effectively, if at all. The case became the subject of controversy when it was discovered that Myles Joyce was not in the area at the time of the murders, and therefore, must have been innocent. In January of 1883, it was written in Irish newspapers that guards at Galway Gaol had witnessed what they described as a "mystic figure" within the walls of the prison. The spectre had been witnessed previously according to sources, but the sighting was kept a secret between officials for fear of ridicule. On January 12th 1883, a guard at the jail was actually imprisoned for two months when he said he'd met the ghost, claiming that it was a spirit of Myles Joyce. He said the sight of the phantom frightened him so much that he was forced to leave his post. When the tall spectre appeared again, it reportedly followed two guards for some distance, approached them, and quote, "touched their rifles". According to newspapers at the time, members of staff at the jail even applied for transfers. Research carried out in 2016 found that three so-called witnesses received a considerable payment for their testimonies against Myles Joyce from John Spencer, who is then the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. This led Michael D Higgins, the current president of Ireland, to believe that a miscarriage of justice had taken place, and Moore's Joyce received a posthumous pardon in 2018. At the time of its closure in 2013, Her Majesty's Prison in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England was the oldest operating prison in the United Kingdom. Also known as the Cornhill, the prison had received a lot of criticism in the early years for its poor conditions, and underwent various modifications after opening in the early 17th century. The building was severely damaged by fire in 1904, and by 1930 inmate numbers had fallen considerably and it was closed. Only to be opened again in 1939 following the outbreak of World War II for the use as a military prison. Like many prisons, executions took place within its walls. The total number of executions prior to the 20th century is unknown. But it is known that between 1889 and 1926 only seven took place. The bodies of the dead were buried in the grounds of the prison in unmarked graves, and in 1967 the former execution gallows were removed and a library was built in their place. Interestingly, 1967 coincided with a number of reports at the prison, which ranged from loud unexplained noises to feelings of a deep oppressive nature, physical attacks on warders, and even full spectral manifestations. That year the majority of incidents happened in the prison's Night Duty Room. After the reports escalated, the prison's own governor spent an entire night in the room and made an official report to the Home Office. He stated there was no doubt that strange things were taking place there. He wrote in his report: "I was unable to find any satisfactory explanation for the happenings". An exorcism was planned to be carried out by one Father Ryan, but it never did take place, and the clergyman simply told the inmates and warders to try to forget what they had witnessed. This sudden spike in activity at the Somerset prison attracted the attention of author and famed parapsychologist, Peter Underwood, who visited the prison and spoke to a number of the witnesses. One man told Underwood that he had been physically attacked one night. Held tightly by the throat, which led to a feeling of paralysis in his neck that lasted for the rest of the night. Another man reluctantly told Underwood that he had witnessed the white apparition of what he thought to be a woman, who vanished when he approached. Reports similar to this one have been common over the years at HMP Shepton Mallet, and is probably the haunting the building is best known for. The spectre in question is believed by some to be the remnants of one of the earliest executed people at the prison. Dubbed 'The White Lady', some say she was beheaded in the prison grounds in 1680, but another different and more detailed account says that she had been sentenced to hang after killing her fiance. The night before her execution she was asked if she had any final requests. She asked that her wedding dress be brought to her cell. This was granted, and on the morning of her intended execution, she was found dead in her cell wearing the white dress. The only explanation I could find was that she had died from a broken heart. As it was customary at the time, she was probably buried in, or just outside, of the prison grounds. Her name is unknown. this is barlini prison in Glasgow Scotland this modern section of the building is unrecognizable to the ones that preceded it but the prison has been in operation since 1882 although not really known for being a haunted place a curious event happened here in 1969 on Friday August 15th 1969 three inmates in the prison's a hall which is the oldest wing of the prison experienced considerable poltergeist activity these men claimed that their personal belongings had been slung across a cell by an unseen force a mirror had been thrown from a wall and mugs had been seen dropping from a shelf a series of incidents allegedly witnessed by both inmates and guards were reported in one of the world's longest standing newspapers the prescient journal on Tuesday August 19th 1969 according to the report the events had begun to occur the previous Friday and continued for the next three days it's unknown if the activity continued after this but one prisoner was so shaken up by his experience he demanded to be moved to another cell another former inmate released during the time of the strange occurrences said it's a talk of the place among men and prison officers I have spoken to all three men in that cell and they insist it's no joke between 1945 and 1969 was the site of ten executions by hanging murderers Peter Manuel John Lyon Patrick Carragher John Coldwell christopher Harris James Robertson James Smith Patrick Gallagher George Francis Shaw and Anthony Miller were all met with the hangman's noose this information may be no more than compelling trivia because no link has been made between the spirits of these men and the aforementioned story but all 10 men were buried within the grounds of the prison in unmarked graves and were not Exuma angry interred elsewhere until 1997 the following story was told to author JJ king for his book haunted prison which looks exclusively at North Carolina's Federal Medical Center in Butner County a prison that houses inmates with severe medical conditions on the evening of November the 11th 2010 two officers were about to take the nightly 9 p.m. count of the inmates in their wing one of them was named as officer Carmen banks a man of considerable experience in the prison system and the other was a young unnamed new recruit who had only held his position for two months both men entered the wing cellblock from their office and ordered the inmates to stand for counting as was usual officer banks walked in front and counted while the younger man followed three cells behind making his own count when banks came to the end of the first row of cells he turned the corner and continued to the next row when he reached cell four three two there was a gray-haired man sat on the edge of his bed he stared at the floor seemingly oblivious to the officer out of frustration banks kicked the bars and reminded the man to stand with this the old man slowly stood but all the while he held his gaze with the concrete floor when the two officers had finished their counts they returned to their station and compared numbers Carmen banks have counted 64 and the second officer had 63 both men were confused to how a simple count could have gone wrong officer banks explained to the new recruit that there was an inmate who ignored his first order to stand for the count and remained on his bed suggesting that maybe he sat back down again and went unnoticed by the second officer the younger man said that banks his outburst had caught the inmates attention and assured him that everybody was standing in any case they have to try again the officers reentered the wing and announced the recount again they both walk the block counting as they went as officer banks peered into cell for three - he recalled the gray old man standing there eyes still fixated on the floor when they returned to the office they again compared numbers and again they were one-out officer banks had 64 and his second still had 63 the new officer suggested that they just call in the number is 64 rather than recount for a third time the experienced banks refused he didn't want to be made to look foolish over a bad count so a third count was made again the numbers were the same embarrassed banks ordered the new recruit to call the main office to get an official number of inmates in the wing it came back as 63 it can't be thought banks how could he have managed three bad counts he thought it impossible but his partner told him not to dwell on it simply saying that mistakes happen banks wouldn't accept that he had made such a rookie error and recounted alone he reached the end of the first row of cells and turned the corner to look into cell for 3 - as he did he froze the cell was empty officer banks opened the cell and walked in he described the air as heavy and cold his first thought was that they were dealing with an escapee banks ran back to the station and exclaimed that they needed to call the lieutenant immediately they were missing an inmate and that's why the count was off the young officer told banks to relax he had already checked the official number when banks insisted the younger man asked which inmate had escaped the old man in four three two banks said the new recruit pulled out the roster after studying the document for a few moments he looked up and said that cell for three - had been occupied by a man named Wilkins banks then asked for the inmates number it doesn't matter said the young officer he died last week the young man went on to explain he was the one who found him hanging in his cell and he was surprised that banks had not heard about it banks explained that he had heard of the suicide he just didn't know which it made it was Jay Jay Kings book gave the deceased man's name is Charles Wilkins he hanged himself on November 2nd 2010 shortly after the night's 9 p.m. count he was serving a life sentence for his involvement in a murder-for-hire operation and have recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor he was 65 years old our our next case comes from the Masvingo province in Zimbabwe although the time of the alleged event is unclear the Mushaf police station lies to the west of the province and it's here that a number of suspects held overnight have reported various strange events all occurring within one particular cell there have been at least two reports from former detainees of the appearance of a glowing specter of the woman standing in the cell in the dead of night one man named Tara mu komando described what he saw as an effigy of a shiny woman there was another report from a group of men who shared the same cell they all claim to have been terrorized during the night by what they described as strange creatures and evil spirits a man by the name of Tina Sheik washer I once described what he had witnessed I was once detained there with other suspects when we woke up the following morning we were all sleeping on the floor the blankets were neatly folded and tucked into one corner of the cell a book entitled haunted Africa I married a vey covers a story and gives details of extremely violent attacks on detainees this is not mentioned in the news reports I've seen but according to the book these men claimed to have been kicked and punched repeatedly during the night by an unseen assailant the cells haunted reputation spread beyond the police station and future suspects began to refuse to spend the night in that cell acting officer in charge assistant inspector Washington mushiya confirmed that he had received complaints from a number of detainees the authorities responded to these complaints and have since installed lights inside all cells at the station now this particular cell has a particularly grim history sometime back in the 1990s a female suspect was held here her crime is unknown at least to me I was unable to find this information but the story goes that she was pregnant and during her time at the prison she hanged herself with the cell's bedsheets the detainees and many of the station staff are sure that the string of events that have occurred there were caused by this woman's restless spirit if this story is to be believed I draw your attention again to the stories of the female Spectre seen in the cell on at least two occasions this story's first appearance on the Internet as far as I can see is a blog which appeared on December 31st 2011 written by journalist edwin massey this was followed by a news article a few hours later on January the 1st 2012 posted on the Bulawayo 24 News website in 2013 a more detailed description of the events appeared in the previously mentioned book on married Ave oddly the same story appeared again five years later on another South African news site southern written as if it were a current event I know what some of you are thinking ghost stories are hard to swallow at the best of times but especially when they are regurgitated and passed off as news years after they were initially reported but regardless of the accuracy of this particular event many ghost stories often turn out to be just that and we should enjoy them as such regardless of what we personally believe


Early life

Born into a family who were Plymouth Brethren, Underwood had his first paranormal experience at the age of nine, when he claimed to have seen an apparition of his father, who had died earlier the same day, standing at the bottom of his bed.[3] During his childhood, his maternal grandparents lived for a time at Rosehall, a seventeenth century Hertfordshire house which it was claimed was haunted, supposedly having a bedroom in which guests claimed to have seen the figure of a headless man. Underwood's interest in hauntings and psychic matters began to take root at that time.[4]

At the beginning of the Second World War, Underwood joined the publishing firm of J.M. Dent & Sons in Letchworth Garden City. In January 1942 he was called up for active service with the Suffolk Regiment. After collapsing at a rifle range at Bury St Edmunds, Underwood was diagnosed with a serious chest ailment which rendered him unfit for active service. He was discharged from the army and returned to Dents. On 15 July 1944 Underwood married his wife Joyce at St. Mary's Church in nearby Baldock (she died in 2003 after having suffered with Parkinson's disease for 14 years).[5]

Underwood was much influenced by the work of Harry Price - the grandfather of ghost-hunting - and was particularly struck by Price's ‘The End of Borley Rectory’, which he read immediately when it was first published in 1946.[6] Investigating Borley himself, he corresponded with Price about it. Price then invited Underwood to join the Ghost Club , of which he would later become President.[7]

Investigating the Paranormal

During his investigations into the Borley Rectory case, over a period of years, Underwood traced and personally interviewed almost every living person who had been connected with what the press had dubbed the 'most haunted house in England'. He built up a volume of correspondence with paranormal investigator Harry Price and after Price's death, Paul Tabori would become literary executor of the Harry Price Estate, with whom Underwood worked with to publish all his research into Borley. (Price had written published two books about Borley- The Most Haunted House in England (1940), and The End of Borley Rectory (1946), from which Underwood 'compile[d] a really comprehensive index of the combined volumes'.)[8]

Underwood's published work changed the field of literature on the paranormal. For example, his much imitated Gazetteer of British Ghosts (1971)[9][10][11] and Haunted London (1973) - previously unheard of comprehensive and well-researched surveys (or geographical dictionaries - gazetteers) - which, through their encyclopaedic thoroughness, imparted authority to Underwood as an author on the subject he devoted his life to - ghost hunting. They also encouraged others to use them as resources to use to visit the sites he investigated for themselves. Underwood came to be known as a 'veteran psychical researcher ... representing the middle-ground between scepticism and uncritical belief'; the 'Sherlock Holmes of psychical research' - as Dame Jean Conan Doyle would say (when introducing him).[12][13]

In their book Ghosts of Borley (1973), Underwood and Paul Tabori wrote that they believed "some of the phenomena were genuine" at the Borley Rectory.[14] The researcher Trevor H. Hall criticized Tabori and Underwood for selective reporting. According to Hall, the alleged paranormal phenomena from the rectory were the result of natural causes, such as noises produced by rats or flying bats, pranks by local village boys throwing stones at the house, or tramps trying to keep warm by lighting small fires in the rectory.[14] In his book No Common Task: The Autobiography of a Ghost-Hunter (1983), Underwood came to the conclusion after years of investigation that 98% of the reports of ghosts and hauntings are likely to have naturalistic explanations such as misidentification, hallucination or pranks and he was most interested in the 2% of the phenomena that he believed may be genuine.[15]

Underwood was a long-standing member of the Society for Psychical Research.[16] For some years Underwood was the Honorary Librarian of the Constitutional Club and the Savage Club, where he was a former Member of the Qualifications Committee. In 1976 a bust of Underwood was sculpted by Patricia Finch, winner of the Gold Medal for Sculpture in Venice (it currently resides with the Savage Club).

In 2018, a website was published dedicated to chronicling his life and work.[17]

Ghost Club Society

Having been invited to join the Ghost Club by Harry Price, Underwood was its President from 1960 to 1993.[18] In 1994, Underwood formed the Ghost Club Society after his departure from the Ghost Club.[19] Membership to the Ghost Club Society was by invitation only. It was reported that the group had several hundred members.[19][20] Quarterly newsletters were published to members and regular meetings held around the United Kingdom.[19]


In recognition of his more than seventy years of paranormal investigations - Dame Jean Conan Doyle described him as 'The Sherlock Holmes of Psychical Research' [21] - Underwood accepted the invitation to be the Patron of The Ghost Research Foundation (founded in Oxford in 1992), which termed him the King of Ghost Hunters. In 2000 Underwood was contacted by Clark R. Schmidt, Doctor of Esoteric Sciences from Celestial Visions School of Metaphysical Arts in Fort Lauderdale (founded in 1994) Florida, to become a lifelong member of the Universal Parapsychological and Metaphysical Association (founded in 1996), which he accepted. Shortly before his death he accepted an invitation to be the Patron of Paranormal Site Investigators (UK).[22]


  • Gazetteer of British Ghosts (1971)
  • Gazetteer of Scottish & Irish Ghosts (1973)
  • Into the Occult (1972)
  • A Host of Hauntings (1973)
  • Haunted London (1973)
  • Ghosts of Borley (1973)
  • Deeper into the Occult (1975)
  • The Vampire's Bedside Companion: The Amazing World of Vampires in Fact and Fiction (1975)
  • Lives to Remember (1975)
  • Dictionary of the Supernatural (1978)
  • Dictionary of Occult and the Supernatural (1979)
  • Ghosts of North-West England (1978)
  • Ghosts of Wales (1978)
  • Hauntings: New Light on Famous Cases (1977)
  • A Ghost Hunters Handbook (1980)
  • Complete Book of Dowsing & Divining (1980)
  • Ghosts of Devon (1982)
  • Ghosts of Cornwall (1983)
  • Ghosts of Somerset (1999)
  • Ghosts of Hampshire & The Isle of Wight (1982)
  • Ghosts of Kent (1984)
  • This Haunted Isle (1984)
  • The Ghost Hunters: Who they are and what they do (1985)
  • Queen Victoria's Other World (1986)
  • The Ghost Hunter's Guide (1986)
  • West Country Hauntings (1988)
  • Mysterious Places (1988)
  • Ghosts of Dorset (1988)
  • Jack the Ripper - 100 years of mystery (1987)
  • Horror Man - Boris Karloff (1972)
  • Life's a Drag: Danny La Rue (1974)
  • No Common Task: Autobiography of a Ghost Hunter (1983)
  • Thirteen Famous Ghost Stories (1977)
  • Ghosts of Wiltshire (1989)
  • Ghostly Encounters (1992)
  • Ghosts & Phantoms of the West (1993)
  • Exorcism! (1990)
  • A-Z of British Ghosts (1992)
  • Death in Hollywood (1992)
  • Ghosts & How to See Them (1993)
  • Nights in Haunted Houses (1994)
  • The Ghost Hunter's Almanac (1993)
  • Guide to Ghosts and Haunted Places (1996)
  • Ghosts of North Devon (1999)
  • Favourite Tales of the Fantastical (2000)
  • Borley Postscript (2001)
  • The Murder Club (2004)
  • The Borley Rectory Companion (2008)
  • Haunted Gardens (2009)
  • The Ghost Club - A History (2010)
  • Shadows in the Nave (2011)
  • Irish Ghosts (2012)
  • Where the Ghosts Walk (2013)
  • Haunted Farnham (2013)
  • Ghost Hunting with Peter Underwood (2014)


  1. ^ Williams, Michael. "Peter Underwood obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 December 2015..
  2. ^ "Peter Underwood - obituary". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 December 2015..
  3. ^ Underwood, Peter (1983). No Common Task. London: Harrap. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0245539596.
  4. ^ Profile of Peter Underwood: Adams, Paul. "Harry Price Website". Retrieved 2 December 2015.; see also the first chapter of Underwood, Peter (1983). No Common Task. London: Harrap. pp. 13–39. ISBN 978-0245539596.
  5. ^ Underwood, Peter (1983). No Common Task. London: Harrap. p. 39. ISBN 978-0245539596.
  6. ^ Underwood, Peter (1983). No Common Task: Autobiography of a Ghost Hunter (1st ed.). London: George G.Harrap & Co Ltd. p. 45. ISBN 9780245539596.
  7. ^ Adams, Paul; Underwood, Peter; Brazil, Eddie (2009). The Borley Rectory Companion (1st ed.). Stroud: The History Press. p. 300. ISBN 9780750950671.
  8. ^ Underwood, Peter (1983). No Common Task. London: Harrap. pp. 187, 70–71. ISBN 978-0245539596.; Price, Harry (1940). The Most Haunted House in England: Ten Years Investigation of Borley Rectory. Longman's Green.; Price, Harry (1946). The End of Borley Rectory - The Most Haunted House in England. Harrap.
  9. ^ "Modern Living: The Great Ghost Haunts". Time. 1971-08-30. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2016-11-10.
  10. ^ Karpeles, Maud; Smith, A. W.; Gunda, Béla; Hudspeth, W. H.; Briggs, K. M.; Ettlinger, Ellen; Briggs, Katharine M.; Brown, Theo; Burland, C. A. (1971-09-01). "Book Reviews". Folklore. 82 (3): 249–260. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1971.9716735. ISSN 0015-587X.
  11. ^ "The A-Z of British Ghosts". Retrieved 2016-11-10.
  12. ^ Drury, Nevill (2003). The Dictionary of the Esoteric. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 315. ISBN 978-8120819894.; Williams, Michael (2014). Haunted North Cornwall. The History Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0750954396.
  13. ^ Peter Underwood; "My Friend Dame Jean Conan Doyle"; pp.128-131; The Shoso-in Bulletin of Japan, Volume 12, 2002, Edited by Hirayama Yuichi & Mel Hughes (Sherlock Holmes Journal)
  14. ^ a b Hall, Trevor H. (1985). A Note on Borley Rectory: The Most Haunted House in England. In Paul Kurtz. A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. Prometheus Books. pp. 327-338. ISBN 0-87975-300-5
  15. ^ Underwood, Peter (1983). No Common Task. London: Harrap. p. 11. ISBN 978-0245539596.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-10-19. Retrieved 2006-08-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Underwood on the Gothic Press website
  17. ^ "The Life & Work of the Renowned British Ghost-hunter". Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  18. ^ Adams, Paul; Underwood, Peter; Brazil, Eddie (2009-04-09). The Borley Rectory Companion: The Complete Guide to the Most Haunted House in England (1st ed.). Stroud: The History Press. p. 301. ISBN 9780750950671.
  19. ^ a b c Cheung, Theresa (2006). The Element Encyclopedia of the Psychic World. Harper Element. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-00-721148-7.
  20. ^ Darnton, John (April 30, 1994). "Was it a ghost of a chance - or vice versa?". The Houston Chronicle.
  21. ^ Williams, Michael (2014). Haunted North Cornwall. The History Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0750954396.; Williams, Michael. "Peter Underwood obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  22. ^ "Peter Underwood R.I.P 1923 – 2014". 29 November 2014.

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