Peter Underwood (parapsychologist)

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This article is about the English paranormalist. For the Chief Justice of Tasmania, see Peter Underwood (judge).

Peter Underwood FRSA (16 May 1923 – 26 November 2014) was an English author, broadcaster and parapsychologist. Underwood was born in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire. He was a prolific author on books covering ghosts by region of the United Kingdom. He was a leading expert on Borley Rectory.

Early life[edit]

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. 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.[1]

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. However, after collapsing at a rifle range at Bury St Edmunds a serious chest ailment was diagnosed which rendered him unfit for active service. Underwood 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.[1] She died in 2003 after having suffered with Parkinson's Disease for 14 years.

Investigating the Paranormal[edit]

One of his early investigations was the Borley Rectory haunting, where, 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, he became literary executor of the Harry Price Estate.[1] Underwood is a long-standing member of the Society for Psychical Research.[2]

Underwood and Paul Tabori in their book Ghosts of Borley (1973) wrote they believed "some of the phenomena were genuine" at the Borley Rectory.[3] 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 various creaks heard from the movement of rats or the flying of bats in the house. Pranks such a local village boys throwing stones at the house, or tramps trying to keep warm by lighting small fires in the rectory.[3]

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.[4]

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.


Having been invited to join the Ghost Club by Harry Price, Underwood was its President from 1962 to 1993, when he left the group to revive the Ghost Club Society of which he was the Life President.[5] In recognition of his more than seventy years of paranormal investigations, 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, and shortly before his death he accepted an invitation to be the Patron of Paranormal Site Investigators (UK).[6]


  • Gazetteer of British Ghosts
  • Gazetteer of Scottish & Irish Ghosts
  • Into the Occult
  • A Host of Hauntings
  • Haunted London
  • Ghosts of Borley
  • Deeper into the Occult
  • The Vampire's Bedside Companion: The Amazing World of Vampires in Fact and Fiction (1975)
  • Lives to Remember
  • Dictionary of the Supernatural
  • Dictionary of Occult and the Supernatural
  • Ghosts of North West England
  • Ghosts of Wales
  • Hauntings: New Light on Famous Cases
  • A Ghost Hunters Handbook
  • Complete Book of Dowsing & Divining
  • Ghosts of Devon
  • Ghosts of Cornwall
  • Ghosts of Somerset
  • Ghosts of Hampshire
  • Ghosts of Kent
  • This Haunted Isle
  • The Ghost Hunters
  • Queen Victoria's Other World
  • The Ghost Hunter's Guide
  • Westcountry Hauntings
  • Mysterious Places
  • Ghosts of Dorset
  • Jack the Ripper - 100 years of mystery
  • Horror Man - Boris Karloff
  • Life's a Drag: Danny La Rue
  • No Common Task: Autobiography of a Ghost Hunter
  • Thirteen Famous Ghost Stories
  • Ghosts of Wiltshire
  • Ghostly Encounters
  • Ghosts & Phantoms of the West
  • Exorcism!
  • A-Z of British Ghosts
  • Death in Hollywood
  • Ghosts & How to See Them
  • Nights in Haunted Houses
  • The Ghost Hunter's Almanac
  • Guide to Ghosts and Haunted Places
  • Ghosts of North Devon
  • Ghost Club Society - A Short History
  • Favourite Tales of the Fantastical
  • Borley Postscript
  • The Murder Club
  • The Borley Rectory Companion
  • Haunted Gardens


  1. ^ a b c [1] Underwood on Harry Price website
  2. ^ [2] Underwood on the Gothic Press website
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Underwood. Peter. (1983). No Common Task: The Autobiography of a Ghost-Hunter. George G. Harrap & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-0245539596
  5. ^ The Ghost Club Society
  6. ^ "Peter Underwood R.I.P 1923 – 2014". 29 November 2014. 

External links[edit]