Sir Arthur Gray , the author of Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye, one of the most obscure (and oddly titled) of all collections of ghost stories, was a friend and contemporary of M R James as well as a key member of the Chitchat Society (see my previous post on M R James). A Cambridge don like James, Gray was the Master of Jesus College and contributed to a number of respected literary periodicals such as The Cambridge Review during the early years of the 20th century. Also like James, Gray was an antiquarian and writer of ghost stories under the curious pseudonym of Ingulphus, possibly to hide his supernatural tastes from potentially disapproving academic colleagues. Gray’s interest in both antiquarianism and the paranormal tended to be confined to quite a narrow field – that of his own college, with its long, lurid and occasionally bloody history.
Unusually among the older colleges of the university, most of which are crammed into Cambridge’s tiny town centre fighting for space with the many shops, houses and municipal buildings, Jesus College is situated in spacious grounds slightly east of the busy hub, surrounded by groves, gardens and fine meadows of its own, with views across the stream to Jesus Green and across the road to Midsummer Common. This green tranquillity reflects the original function of the site, to provide a suitably reflective home for the nuns of the Benedictine convent that once stood there until it was closed down by the Bishop of nearby Ely and re-founded as a college over five hundred years ago. Gray wrote the official history of Jesus College but it was also the setting of perhaps his most famous ghost story, The Everlasting Club (click to read!). This tale was written about a staircase in the college which was rumoured to be haunted and, like his other stories, was read out at a meeting of the Chitchat Society before it appeared in print. At the first reading of the story Gray said that The Everlasting Club was written to explain why there was an empty study on the staircase that was always locked – an account that became so popular among students that it passed into college legend even before it was published!
The Everlasting Club may also have been inspired by another Cambridge society: The Ghost Club. This was founded at Trinity College in 1851, then revived as the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1882. Originally described as “A society for the investigation of ghosts and all supernatural appearances and apparitions”, The Ghost Club was perhaps the first organisation in the world formed with the avowed aim of making a scientific study of the paranormal. It had a number of distinguished members, including William Gladstone, the Prime Minister, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the poet laureate, but its most active and influential member was the academic Henry Sidgwick, famed for his flamboyant psychic investigations during the Victorian era. The SPR still functions to this day and is now one of the world’s most respected institutions of its kind.
Having discussed Arthur Gray, however, it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to a curious fact which emerged when the records of the SPR were made available for inspection for the first time, having been deposited in the British Museum archives in 1936 on the understanding that they would not be opened for 25 years. The revised SPR rules as framed in 1882 stated that anyone joining the club became a ‘Ghost’ and, as with The Everlasting Club, they remained a member in this life and the afterlife! Meetings were held to honour all ‘Ghosts’ and all members, living and dead, were cordially invited to attend. Whether or not all attended on these occasions is something that you would have to ask a member of the Ghost Club…