This article, by the late Joanna Timms, examines the relation between popular ‘ghost-hunting’ – typically the pursuit of eccentric aristocrats and opportunistic journalists – and scientific psychical research in interwar England. Scholars of the history of English hauntings have demonstrated that belief in ghosts often mirrors social values and reflects the cultural trends of the age in which it arises. Scholars of the history of psychical research, in contrast, have focused upon the intellectual nature of the discipline, overlooking the important dynamic between psychical research and popular ghost-hunting. The present account builds upon the work of scholars from both fields to elucidate the practice of popular ghost-hunting in interwar England and to highlight its largely unexplored intersection with psychical research.
It focuses on the way in which psychical researcher Harry Price persevered in trying to establish ghost-hunting as a legitimate science while at the same time playing to its popular appeal. Price’s efforts allow historians to trace some preliminary connections between the ideas and practices of the ‘occult’ in the period and broader themes such as the relation between heritage and modernization and the public perception of science and the supernatural.