Borley Rectory in 1892
|Owner||Queen Anne's Bounty (Former)|
|Status||Destroyed by fire in 1939,
demolished in 1943
Borley Rectory was a Victorian mansion that gained fame as "the most haunted house in England". It was badly damaged by fire in 1939 and demolished in 1944.
Located in the village of Borley, Essex, the large Gothic-style rectory had been the scene of occasional stories of hauntings ever since it was built. But these reports multiplied suddenly in 1929, after the Daily Mirror published an account of the visit to the rectory of paranormal researcher Harry Price. Price went on to write the two most famous books that supported the most dramatic claims of paranormal activity.
The continuing uncritical acceptance of the truth of these reports over the following twenty-five years prompted a formal study by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), which rejected most of the sightings as either imagined or fabricated, and cast doubt on Price's credibility. Harry Price's contributions are now generally discredited by ghost historians. Neither the SPR's report, nor the more recent biography of Harry Price has quelled public interest in the stories of haunting, and new books and television documentaries continue to satisfy the fascination in the Borley Rectory story.
A short programme commissioned by the BBC about the alleged haunting, scheduled to be broadcast in September 1956, was cancelled owing to concerns about a possible legal action by Marianne Foyster, wife of the rector.
Borley Rectory was constructed near Borley Church by the Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull in 1862; he moved in a year after being named rector of the parish. The house replaced an earlier rectory on the site that had been destroyed by fire in 1841. It was eventually enlarged by the addition of a wing to house Bull's family of fourteen children.
The nearby church dates from the 12th century and serves a rather scattered rural community of the three hamlets that make up the parish. There are several substantial farmhouses, and the fragmentary remains of Borley Hall, once the seat of the Waldegrave family. Ghost-hunters like to quote the legend of a Benedictine monastery supposedly built in this area in about 1362, according to which a monk from the monastery carried on a relationship with a nun from a nearby convent. After their affair was discovered, the monk was executed and the nun bricked up alive in the convent walls. It was confirmed in 1938 that this legend had no historical basis and seemed to have been fabricated by the rector's children to romanticise their Gothic-style red-brick rectory. The story of the walling-up of the nun may have come from Rider Haggard's novel Montezuma's Daughter (1893) or Walter Scott's epic poem Marmion (1808). Until the newspaper stories about the ghosts, there had been no mention in the local papers, or any other written source, of anything unusual happening at the rectory.
The first alleged paranormal events for which there are accounts apparently occurred in around 1863, since a few locals later remembered hearing unexplained footsteps within the house at about this date. On 28 July 1900, four of the daughters of the rector reported seeing what they thought was the ghost of a nun from 40 yards' distance near the house in twilight: they tried to talk to it, but it disappeared as they got closer. The local organist recalled that, at about that date, the family at the rectory were "very convinced that they had seen an apparition on several occasions". Various people were to claim to witness a variety of puzzling incidents, such as a phantom coach driven by two headless horsemen, through the next four decades. Henry Dawson Ellis Bull died in 1892 and his son, the Reverend Harry Bull, took over the living.
On 9 June 1928, the rector, Harry Bull, died and the rectory again became vacant. In the following year, on 2 October, the Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife moved into the home. One day, soon after moving in, Mrs Smith was cleaning out a cupboard when she came across a brown paper package, inside which was the skull of a young woman. Shortly after, the family would report a variety of incidents including the sounds of servant bells ringing (on which the strings had been cut), lights appearing in windows and unexplained footsteps. In addition, Mrs Smith believed she saw a horse-drawn carriage at night. The Smiths contacted the Daily Mirror to ask them to put them in touch with the Society for Psychical Research. On 10 June 1929, the newspaper sent a reporter who promptly wrote the first of a series of articles detailing the mysteries of Borley. The paper also arranged for Harry Price, a paranormal researcher, to make his first visit to the place that would ultimately make his name famous. He arrived on 12 June, an immediately objective "phenomena" of a new kind appeared, such as the throwing of stones, a vase and other objects. "Spirit messages" were tapped out from the frame of a mirror. As soon as Harry Price left, these ceased. Mrs Smith later maintained that she then suspected Harry Price, an expert conjurer, of causing the phenomena.
The Smiths left Borley on 14 July 1929 and, after some difficulty in finding a replacement, the Reverend Lionel Foyster, a first cousin of the Bulls, and his wife Marianne moved into the rectory with their adopted daughter Adelaide, on 16 October 1930. Lionel Foyster wrote an account of the various strange incidents that happened, which he sent to Harry Price. Price estimated that, between when the Foysters moved in and October 1935, many incidents took place there, including bell-ringing, windows shattering, stones, bottle-throwing and wall-writing, and their daughter was locked in a room with no key. Marianne Foyster reported to her husband a whole range of poltergeist phenomena that included her being thrown from her bed. On one occasion, Adelaide was attacked by "something horrible". Twice, Foyster tried to conduct an exorcism, but his efforts were fruitless. In the middle of the first, Foyster was struck in the shoulder by a fist-size stone. Because of the publicity in the Daily Mirror, these incidents attracted much attention at the time from several psychic researchers who investigated, and were unanimous in suspecting that they were caused, consciously or unconsciously, by Marianne Foyster. Mrs Foyster later stated that she felt that some of the incidents were caused by her husband in collaboration with one of the psychic researchers, but other events appeared to her to be genuine paranormal phenomena. Marianne later admitted that she was having a sexual relationship with the lodger, Frank Peerless, and that she used "paranormal" explanations to cover up her liaisons. The Foysters left Borley in October 1935 as a result of Lionel's ill health.
Price investigation 
Through an advertisement in The Times on 25 May 1937, and subsequent personal interviews, he recruited a corp of 48 "official observers", mostly students, who spent periods, mainly at weekends, at the rectory with instructions to report any phenomena which occurred. In March 1938, Helen Glanville (the daughter of S. J. Glanville, one of Price's helpers) conducted a planchette séance in Streatham in south London. Price reported that she made contact with two spirits. The first was that of a young nun, who identified herself as Marie Lairre. According to the planchette story Marie was a French nun who left her religious order and travelled to England to marry a member of the Waldegrave family, owners of Borley's 17th-century manor house, Borley Hall. She was said to have been murdered in an earlier building on the site of the rectory and her body either buried in the cellar or thrown into a disused well. The wall writings were alleged to be her pleas for help; one read "Marianne, please help me get out".
The second spirit to be contacted identified himself as "Sunex Amures", and claimed that he would set fire to the rectory at nine o'clock that night, 27 March 1938. He also said that, at that time, the bones of a murdered person would be revealed.
Destroyed by fire 
The predictions of Sunex Amures came to pass eleven months later, when on 27 February 1939 the new owner of the rectory, Captain W. H. Gregson, reported that he was unpacking boxes and accidentally knocked over an oil lamp in the hallway.[a] The fire quickly spread and the house was severely damaged. After investigating the cause of the blaze the insurance company concluded that the fire had been started deliberately.
Miss Williams of Borley Lodge said she saw the figure of the ghostly nun in the upstairs window and, according to Harry Price, demanded a fee of one guinea for her story. In August 1943 Harry Price conducted a brief dig in the cellars of the ruined house and discovered two bones thought to be of a young woman. The bones were given a Christian burial in Liston churchyard, after the parish of Borley refused to allow the ceremony to take place on account of the local opinion that the bones found were those of a pig.
Society for Psychical Research investigation 
After Harry Price's death in 1948, three members of the English Society for Psychical Research, two of whom had been Price's most loyal associates, investigated his claims about Borley and published their findings in a book, The Haunting of Borley Rectory by Eric J. Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney, and Trevor H. Hall in 1956, which concluded that any evidence for a haunting was hopelessly confused by Harry Price's duplicity. The "Borley Report", as the SPR study has become known, stated that much of the phenomena were either faked or were due to natural causes such as rats and the strange acoustics attributed to the odd shape of the house. Robert Hastings, an SPR member, subsequently discussed several of the charges of duplicity and falsification of evidence made against Price in a paper to the SPR called "An Examination of the "Borley Report", without being able to rebut them convincingly.
See also 
- The Amityville Horror, another haunted house with similar alleged paranormal activity.
- The house was never connected to a gas or electricity supply, and water was obtained from a well in the courtyard.
- Floyd (2002), p. 36.
- Foxearth and District Local History Society, "The Haunted Rectory" (2 February 2008)
- Bury and Norwich Post, August 1862
- Suffolk Free Press, February 20 1862
- Downes (2012), Background to Borley Rectory.
- Glanville, Sidney H. (October 1951). "The Strange Happenings at Borley Rectory – Full Account of England's Most Famous Modern Ghost". Fate 4 (7): 89–107.
- Clarke, Andrew. "Bullsheet. The Bulls at Borley Rectory". The Bones of Borley.
- "Local newspaper transcriptions for Borley dating to 1760". Foxearth.org.uk. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Price (2006), pp. 28–30.
- Ambrose, Ernest (1972). "Organs and Organists". Melford Memories.
- Price (2006), p. 16.
- Price (2006), pp. 16–17.
- Price (2006), p. 17.
- Price (2006), p. 20.
- Price (2006), p. 19.
- Dingwall, Goldney & Hall (1956), p. 44.
- Dingwall, Goldney & Hall (1956), p. 75.
- Price (2006), p. 36.
- Clarke, Andrew. The Bones of Borley.
- Wood (1992).
- Price (2006).
- Nicholas, Margaret (1986). World's Greatest Psychics & Mystics. Octopus. ISBN 978-0-600-58612-8.
- Price (2006), p. 38.
- Price (2006), pp. 276–80.
- Fanthorpe & Fanthorpe (1997), p. 52.
- Floyd (2002), p. 37.
- Price (2006), pp. 279–80.
- Karl (2007), p. 33.
- Wood (1992), p. 50.
- Price (2006), p. 13.
- Wood (1992), pp. 3–4.
- Dingwall, Goldney & Hall (1956), p. 147.
- Dingwall, Goldney & Hall (1956), p. 154.
- Fielding & O'Keeffe (2011), chapter 4.
- Coleman, M. H. (1996–7). The Flying Bricks of Borley (Journal 61). pp. 388–91.
- Dingwall, E. J.; Goldney, K. M.; Hall, T. H. (1956). The Haunting of Borley Rectory. Duckworth.
- Downes, Wesley (2012). "Background to Borley Rectory". The Ghosts of Borley. David & Charles. ISBN 978-1-4463-5788-0.
- Fanthorpe, Lionel; Fanthorpe, Patricia (1997). World's Greatest Unsolved Mysteries. Dundum. ISBN 978-0-88882-194-2.
- Fielding, Yvette; O'Keeffe, Ciaran (2011). Ghost Hunters: A Guide to Investigating the Paranormal. Hachette UK. ISBN 978-1-4447-4029-5.
- Floyd, E. Randall (2002). In the Realm of Ghosts and Hauntings. Harbor House. ISBN 978-1-891799-06-8.
- Karl, Jason (2007). Illustrated History of the Haunted World. New Holland Publishers. ISBN 978-1-845376-87-1.
- Price, Harry (2006) . The End of Borley Rectory. G. G. Harrap & Co. ISBN 1-4067-2212-X.
- Wood, R. (1992). The Widow of Borley. Duckworth. ISBN 978-0-7156-2419-7.
- Harry Price Website – Contains a comprehensive section on Borley Rectory
- Ghostbuster of Fraud by Simon Edge, reprinted in HarryPrice website
- Local History site for Borley – Has a comprehensive historical analysis of the Borley Rectory affair
- Large collection of photographs of Borley Rectory and the various participants of the affair
- Harry Price papers including archives on Borley Rectory