Society Spy: Ghost Busters
The spies join the Ghost Club to investigate Cambridge’s supernatural scene
The haunting of Ebenezer Scrooge remains one of the most exciting reads that literature has to offer. At first glance one can only marvel at the extent of the author’s imagination, but perhaps to Charles Dickens this was not mere fiction. Dickens was one of the original members of the Ghost Club, a society founded by Trinity Fellows in the mid-19th century, dedicated to investigation and discussion of the supernatural. Starting off in secret and membership ‘by invite only’, the society counts Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Siegfried Sassoon and Donald Campbell amongst its past members (names of whom are read out once per year, apparently often prompting their presences to be felt). The club is the oldest organisation of its kind in the world; today a nationwide organisation meets regularly in London and leads investigations in all haunted (scepticism reserved) corners of Britain. The Cambridge branch of the Club continues to be a stronghold, the city being a site of great investigative interest, or put more simply, a bloody scary place.
This week, Society Spy joined the club on one of the ghost walks that it runs, in an attempt to delve deep into Cambridge’s supernatural secrets and to hear about current chilling research projects. Did we feel that an unidentified presence was lurking in the shadows as we wound our way through Cambridge’s most silent back alleys? We did, but our logic has attributed it to a freshers’ week malady: we foundn ourselves paler than a poltergeist and struggling to navigate back to college under an alcohol induced haze. However, the stories we were told defy all logic and it wasn’t long before we were calling out for Rick Moranis and the Ghost Buster Team.
Corpus Christi appears to be Cambridge’s most haunted, the Ghost Club being the keeper of the stories of its tormented souls. Elizabeth, daughter of Master John Spencer (1667-1693) hid her lover in a cupboard when they were interrupted by the unexpected return of her disapproving father. Rushed away on a long vacation, she was unaware that the cupboard door had locked, leaving the unfortunate undergraduate to asphyxiate as his dying cries went unheard. Upon the discovery of his body, Elizabeth committed suicide and the tragic pair are now said to roam the Corpus grounds every Christmas Eve in their lament. This stuff could give Billy Shakespeare a run for his money and is not where the Corpus mystery ends: the Eagle – owned by the college – also has a tale to tell. The more perceptive amongst you may have noticed that a window above the beer garden remains forever open come rain or shine. Believe it or not, it is written into the lease that this must be so, as three children died in a fire because they were unable to open that fatal window. When the building was reconstructed, the unhappy spirits plagued the adjoining room until the window was opened to free them from their turmoil.
Perhaps the most chilling Cambridge ghost story is that of John Barrett, an eccentric Fellow of King’s College at the turn of the 16th century. Reclusive and paranoid about being followed, Barrett was obsessed with locking his A staircase room, prompting many rumours: one of which was that he kept a coffin inside. In the middle of a cold night, other Fellows were awoken by an eruption of piercing screams and violent smashing sounds coming from Barrett’s room. Unable to obtain a spare key the door was forced open, at which point there was immediate ceasefire and eerie silence. Among the wreckage of the room was an open casket wherein lay the dead body of Mr. Barrett. When one considers that there was no possible escape route from the room other than the eternally locked door, it seems that even Sherlock Holmes would struggle to unravel this mystery. The conclusion hastily scrawled into college records was ‘unexplained death’ but this cannot mask the fact that to this day A staircase remains uninhabited, only remembered on the anniversary of Barrett’s death when strange noises can be heard in the area.
The Ghost Club is continually discovering new Cambridge ghost stories, with rooms in the University Press building currently being monitored for temperature and other atmospheric indications of supernatural existence, following reports of paranormal activity. You might want to keep track of what this society is doing, especially approaching 31st October… your college accommodation could be the next place to reveal secrets of the ghosts of Cambridge past…