Peter Underwood, FRSA
Life-Member and Fellow Associate of the Society
Peter Underwood was born in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, lived for much of his life in a small Hampshire village, and now resides in Surrey. President of The Ghost Club since 1960, and a long-standing member of the Society of Psychical Research, Underwood first entered the Vampire Research Society in 1973, having established a lively correspondence with its founding president Seán Manchester. Tom Perrott had already invited the VRS president to address members of The Ghost Club in London. On March 16th 1973, Peter Underwood added: “We have a number of members who are deeply interested in the subject of vampires and I feel sure you would find our members kindly, sympathetic and friendly. I knew Montague Summers and members of The Ghost Club include Eric Maple and Robert Aickman who has written some excellent vampire stories. I hope that we may meet one day.” In 1974, he took part in Daniel Farson’s television documentary on vampires.
Seán Manchester was made a Life-Member of The Ghost Club, and Peter Underwood, along with life-membership, was to become a Fellow Associate of the Vampire Research Society. The following year witnessed their collaboration on an anthology that would include the first published account of events in Highgate. On October 14th 1974, Underwood wrote: “I am pleased to be able to advise you that I have now passed the proofs and I am very pleased with the way the book has turned out. It will be entitled The Vampire’s Bedside Companion and is due for publication early in 1975 [by Leslie Frewin Books].”
The Reverend Montague Summers
On July 25th 1975, Underwood wrote: “As you know, I possess a medallion, given to me by Montague Summers, that is reputed to have power over vampires. … I am just wondering whether you happen to know of a current vampire infestation where [the medallion] might be tried [and tested]?” The Highgate Vampire, of course, had been exorcised a year and a half earlier, but there were other vampires indeed yet to be found. Thus began a comradeship in the field of vampirology that would endure to the present-day. On December 15th 1985, Seán Manchester was invited to give a piano recital of his own compositions on the occasion of Peter Underwood’s quarter of a century service, as president of the The Ghost Club, at Berkeley Square, London. Other well-wishers included Dennis Wheatley, Vincent Price, Patrick Moore, Michael Bentine, Sir Alec Guiness and Dame Barbara Cartland ~ all of whom, with the exception of Patrick Moore, have now sadly passed on.
In 1990, Underwood retold the events of the Highgate Vampire case (up to the first discovery of the undead tomb in Highgate Cemetery) in his book Exorcism! He commented in chapter six: “The Hon Ralph Shirley told me in the 1940s that he had studied the subject in some depth, sifted through the evidence and concluded that vampirism was by no means as dead as many people supposed; more likely, he thought, the facts were concealed. … My old friend Montague Summers has, to his own satisfaction, at least, traced back ‘the dark tradition of the vampire’ until it is ‘lost amid the ages of a dateless antiquity’.”
In his earlier book, containing the chapter with photographic evidence from the VRS, written and contributed by Seán Manchester, Underwood wrote: “Alleged sightings of a vampire-like creature ~ a grey spectre ~ lurking among the graves and tombstones have resulted in many vampire hunts. … In 1968, I heard first-hand evidence of such a sighting and my informant maintained that he and his companion had secreted themselves in one of the vaults and watched a dark figure flit among the catacombs and disappear into a huge vault from which the vampire … did not reappear. Subsequent search revealed no trace inside the vault but I was told that a trail of drops of blood stopped at an area of massive coffins which could have hidden a dozen vampires.” And probably did! In the previous year, two schoolgirls had reported seeing the spectre rise from its tomb …