Monday, 15 March 2010

ESPRI Newsletter Contributions

Before the Anglia Paranormal Research Group there was ESPRI – The East Anglian Society for Paranormal Research and Investigation – which I suppose was intended to be a pun on ‘Spirit’ and ‘Esprit’. The group was set up as an offshoot of the better-known Cheltenham Paranormal Research Group. I was a member from 1993 until 1995, when Andy Waters and I left to start up APRG. I held the posts of Case Officer, along with Andy, and SPR Liaison Officer.

ESPRI produced a single Newsletter, dated Winter 94 (there was clearly a delay as I have a draft dated Autumn 94, with Autumn crossed out). ESPRI was a mass-membership organisation and the officers wrote brief and very general articles to explain their roles. I contributed three items and have reprinted them below, along with a list of the magazine’s contents. Pages were unnumbered.

The Society for Psychical Research's’s Regional Study Day at Cambridge University Library was covered in much more depth in the SPR’s magazine The Psi Researcher No. 15, Winter 1994, pp.24-26 (available in the SPR’s online library).

‘A Night to Remember’ was an account by Andy of a visit to The Bell Hotel, Thetford, with veteran researcher Tony Cornell and a film crew from Inca Productions, to record a segment of a television series called Ghosthunters. I explained how Tony’s SPIDER (Spontaneous Psychophysical Incident Data Electronic Recorder) worked and the group tried to pretend we were conducting an investigation while boiling from the heat of all the gear packed into the hotel’s honeymoon suite. Unfortunately ESPRI’s contributions were not used in the programme (first aired in June 1996). Despite keeping us there until 6.00am, Inca failed even to send us the promised copy of the video, which didn’t surprise me as I had already spent an entire afternoon at their London office having my brains picked by the production team and never got a credit, nor anything other than my train fare. Tony Cornell devotes a chapter of his excellent book Investigating the Paranormal to The Bell, though he understandably doesn’t bother to mention this particular visit.

E.S.P.R.I. Newsletter, Issue 01, Winter 1994


Editorial, by Andy Waters
A Word from the Chair, by Simon Driscoll
The Role of the Medium, by Simone Key
The Role of the Case Officer, by Tom Ruffles
Local Ghosts, by Tom Ruffles
The Job of a Research Officer, by Tim Driscoll
SPR Regional Study Day No 2, by Tom Ruffles
Book Reviews, by Andy Waters
A Night to Remember, by Andy Waters

The Role of the Case Officer

You may have noticed on the committee list that Andy Waters and I are listed as “Case Officers”. So exactly what does a Case Officer do?

ESPRI’s role is to research all areas of the paranormal, but in practice this largely means the investigation of spontaneous cases. By spontaneous I mean those phenomena which take place in the ‘real world’ as opposed to the laboratory, such as hauntings and poltergeists.

Once a case is brought to the attention of the group, the Case Officers arrange for witnesses to be interviewed and for data to be gathered. The potential value of the case can then be estimated, and a recommendation be made as to whether further research is warranted. The Case Officers do not make any decisions on their own – the entire committee agrees a particular course of action.

Should a case be intriguing enough to warrant further action, more interviews might be conducted, and the research team will follow up any leads which could help to build a picture of what is going on.

The most high-profile activity that the Case Officers undertake is arranging vigils. This is an effort to experience (and hopefully record) claimed phenomena. How the vigil works will be the subject of a future article.

After the vigil has been conducted, the Case Officers examine the records, and again make recommendations. These might be that a further vigil is worth undertaking, or that no further information is likely to be gained from further research, perhaps because a normal explanation for the events has been found, or even because of strong suspicions of fraud.

Once all the data have been gathered, the Case Officers arrange for the report to be written up. Feedback is given to the witnesses, within ethical limits. Summaries, with identifying details removed, might be published, for example in our own newsletter or in the publications of The Society for Psychical Research.

It should be emphasised that the Case Officers do not work in isolation, nor do they do all the work themselves. Their task is to coordinate the efforts of the group so that investigations can be conducted in the most efficient manner.

Tom Ruffles
E.S.P.R.I. Case Officer

Local Ghosts

Many ghosts are associated with pubs, perhaps because large numbers of people pass through, perhaps because the publicans hope that a good ghost story will increase custom!

One such pub ghost is the one reportedly seen in The Wenns Hotel, by the Saturday Market Place in King’s Lynn. Originally four shops, the Wenn family converted them into a pub in the early nineteenth century. One of these, now the Grapes Bar, had been owned by a Mr. Cooper, a butcher, and he must have been annoyed at the change of use because he came back to haunt it.

Another pub with a ghost in King’s Lynn is the Globe Hotel, in the Tuesday Market Place. Known as ‘The Boxer’, he is supposed to be the ghost of a young man killed during a fight in the stables more than a century ago.

ESPRI is always interested to hear about ghosts and haunting in the area it covers, and members who hear of any should send details to the Chairman. Alas, it is one of the rules of research that investigations and alcohol should never mix – we are interested in one type of spirit only...

SPR Regional Study Day No. 2

On Saturday 15th October 1994, The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) held a study day on “The Archives and Early Literature of Psychical Research: The Cambridge Connection”. Hosted by the Cambridge University Library, where the SPR’s rare books are housed, the day covered a wide range of historical material.

Professor Donald West kicked the proceedings off with a talk on the value of archives. He emphasised the necessity of maintaining high standards, particularly when dealing with first hand accounts. He gave a warning to be wary of fraud and self deception, and the problems which arise with uncorroborated material. As well as collecting witness statements, censuses can be undertaken in order to determine the extent of particular beliefs in the population as a whole, and of course the early SPR was active in both these areas.

Carlos Alvarado discussed parapsychological periodicals in historical perspectives. He pointed out that Journals are not passive resting places for research reports, but play a dynamic role in shaping the field. He gave numerous examples, showing some rather obscure foreign language titles, which indicated how insular psychical research can be (a problem the Parapsychological Association is attempting to redress). He also stressed how influential the early SPR proceedings were, judging by how frequently they were cited in other periodicals.

In the last talk before lunch, Dr Alan Gauld outlined some of the areas covered by the SPR’s library, and how it developed. He concentrated on mesmerism and hypnosis (on which subject he has published a standard work), but also mentioned the SPR’s holdings on apparitions and poltergeists, Spiritualism, witchcraft, dowsing and techniques of fraud. As well as English language, there is an extensive quantity of rare German and French material.

After lunch, the librarians conducted participants on a tour of the Library, and we also saw an exhibition of some of the SPR’s books. Hilary Evans then gave a slide show of paranormal pictures, and discussed the problems of using visual documentation as evidence.

The last talk was given by Nancy Zingrone who looked more closely at the role of Cambridge scholars in founding the SPR. She provided statistics on just how productive they were, but also how the history books have been biased in favour of men, tending to neglect the work done by women except when acting as mediums. Finally, a discussion period touched on virtually everything which had been covered during the day.

This is a highly compressed account of a wide ranging and enjoyable event. The SPR library is a major resource for psychical researchers, and should be more widely used. The study day was a valuable step in publicising it and its riches.