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the Occult => Ghosts & Apparitions => Topic started by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:03:30 am

Title: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:03:30 am
The Haunting of Borley Rectory - A Critical Survey of the Evidence by Eric J. Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney & Trevor H. Hall  (Also known as the 'Borley Report')



Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:04:24 am
The Haunting of Borley Rectory - A Critical Survey of the Evidence by Eric J. Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney & Trevor H. Hall  (Also known as the 'Borley Report')














Fig. I. Ground-floor plan of Rectory

Fig. II. First-floor plan of Rectory

Fig. III. Plan of Rectory and adjacent buildings



Plate I. The Rectory during the tenancy of Harry Price

Plate II. The St. Ignatious Medal, the 'Confirmation Medal', and the 'French Revolution Medal'

Plate III. Borley, Long Melford, and Sudbury (Ordnance Survey)

Plate IV. Aerial view of Rectory site

Plate V. The 'Marianne' Wall-writings


The Haunting of Borley Rectory was first published in January 1956 in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research and simultaneously as a book by Gerald Duckworth & Co.  The three authors, all S.P.R. members, had worked on their appraisal of the Borley hauntings and Harry Price's role in it since 1951.  The results of their investigation dealt a tremendous blow to Price's reputation as a critical psychical researcher as the authors accuse him of fraudulent practices, faking and manufacturing evidence and misrepresentation in practically all aspects of his involvement with Borley.  When Professor Anthony G.N. Flew reviewed the report in the Spectator on 27th January 1956, he described Borley Rectory and its ghostly associations as nothing but a "house of cards which Harry Price built out of little more than a pack of lies", a quotation which Trevor Hall, the third author and then newest S.P.R. member, enjoyed using so much that he included it in practically everything else he wrote, about Borley as well as his other literary forays into psychical research.

The entire 'Borley Report' is reproduced here, including the original plates and figures, and as with all the other online books and articles, the original page numbering is retained.  The intention over a period of time is to hyperlink the various sections and quotations in the book with the relevant sections of the quoted works which are or will be available online on the website.  The intention of including this book on the site is not only to provide as comprehensive a resource of Borley material concerning Harry Price online, but also to allow the text to be annotated with commentaries on the material and cross-referenced with other documents which appeared after it was published in 1956.  Where this occurs, there will be a lettered hyperlink in the body of the text which will link with the modern comments in a grey panel at the bottom of the relevant page.

Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:05:10 am

This report is the result of an enquiry conducted by Dr E. J. Dingwall, Mrs K. M. Goldney and Mr Trevor H. Hall at the invitation of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research.  In making it available for study, the Council wish it to be clearly understood that the Society does not hold or express corporate views, and that the responsibility both for the facts and the reasoning in the report, as in all papers published or sponsored by the Society, rests entirely with the authors.  The Council also feel it desirable to point out that the late Mr Harry Price, who at no time held any office in the Society, should not be confused with Professor H. H. Price of Oxford University, a former President of the Society, who has been a member of its Council for many years.

The Council wish to take this opportunity of expressing their thanks to the Midland Bank Executor and Trustee Company Ltd and to Mr Paul Tabori for making available Mr Price's files on Borley Rectory.  The reader will appreciate the important part which these files played in this appraisal of Mr Price's investigation.

On behalf of the Council:


          President, Society for Psychical Research

17 June 1955       

Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:05:29 am

The purpose of this report is to contribute a critical survey of the evidence for a case of alleged haunting which may be considered, if not one of the best authenticated, certainly the most widely publicised story which has hitherto appeared.

The printed literature of the history of Borley Rectory is very extensive and the imprinted material proved to be far more voluminous than we had expected when we began our examina­tion.  Although much of the critical discussion of the evidence demands a fairly close acquaintance with the relevant documents, we have tried to make the story as clear as possible by quotations from the printed sources and extensive reference to the unpub­lished papers.  In dealing with this mass of material we have done our best to omit nothing relevant, and in many cases our sum­maries of the reports and correspondence by the persons quoted have been approved by the authors themselves before being printed in the following pages.

The forthright but unavoidable criticism of the methods of the late Mr Harry Price contained in this report has been prepared with reluctance in view of his death and his consequent inability to defend himself.  Our survey has been based on a close study of Price's own files which would not, during his lifetime, have been available for scrutiny.  Our criticisms have given us no satisfaction for we realise that distress will be caused to his widow and his friends and harm occasioned to psychical research as a whole.  Whilst expressing our regret, we consider that the follow­ing pages will make it clear beyond doubt that the results of our investigation have afforded us no choice in the matter.

It now remains our more pleasant duty to thank those of our correspondents and others who have so willingly assisted us and without whose help and advice we could not have completed our task.  Among those closely connected with Borley to whom we are especially indebted for their help in recalling incidents of the past we must mention Mr Alfred Bull and Miss Ethel Bull, whose recollections of the Bull incumbencies were of especial interest, and also Mrs G. Eric Smith, without whose kind assistance and constant criticism any adequate survey of the Smith incumbency would have been impossible.

Of the help given by observers who were associated with Mr Price during his tenancy, that of the late Mr Sidney H. Glanville


was outstanding.  Mr Glanville not only made available to us all of his original documents but was always willing to discuss the many controversial points which arose when dealing with the period of his own activity.

Among many others to whom we are much indebted for infor­mation and advice we must mention Canon H. Lawton, whose account of his own residence at Borley is of exceptional interest; Mr Herbert E. Pratt, who undertook an immense amount of patient research into certain aspects of the Foyster case and who has prepared the index ; Lord Charles Hope and Major the Hon. Henry Douglas-Home, who made available to us some of their original notes and observations ; Mr Charles Sutton, Mrs Cynthia Thompson, Mr Roger Glanville and his sister Mrs Helen Carter, the late Lady Whitehouse, Dr H. Park Shackleton and Dr John Park Shackleton, Mr Roland Winder, Mr Douglas Craggs, Miss E. R. Gordon, and Mrs F. Tatum and Mrs E. M. Wildgoose, both of whom were at one time resident in Borley Rectory.

We must also record our especial thanks to Dr Paul Tabori who, as literary executor for Mr Price, was able to allow us to quote both from printed sources and from the mass of papers bequeathed to the University of London, and to the Goldsmiths' Librarian, Mr J. H. P. Pafford, for giving us facilities to remove temporarily some of these documents for extended examination.

Cambridge - London – Leeds






Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:06:18 am
Legendary Borley
 According to a legend, discredited in 1938, Borley Rectory was built on the site of a 13th-century monastery, with a nunnery nearby at Bures.  The legend told how an eloping monk and nun were caught and put to death.  Apparitions of the nun, the coach in which they fled, and a headless coachman figure in stories in the late 19th century.
The Bull

 The Rev. Henry D.E. Bull is rector of Borley.
 He builds Borley Rectory and lives there with his family of 14 children.
 Death of the Rev. H.D.E. Bull.  His son, the Rev. Harry F. Bull, succeeds him as rector and continues living at the rectory with brothers and sisters.
 Four sisters, the Misses Bull, are said to have seen a phantom of a nun on the rectory lawn on 28 July 1900.  Other phenomena of various kinds reported.
 The Rev. Harry Bull marries, and moves across the road to Borley Place, his sisters remaining at the rectory.  In 1920 the Rev. Harry Bull once more occupies Borley Rectory.
 The Rev. Harry Bull dies on 9 June 1927.  Borley Rectory empty until October 1928
The Smith

2 October 1928
 The Rev. G. Eric Smith inducted to living of Borley.
 He and his wife are disturbed by the rumours that the rectory is haunted and consult the Editor of their paper, the Daily Mirror, about contacting a psychical research society.
10 June 1929
 The Daily Mirror sends down reporter V.C. Wall and contacts Harry Price
MR HARRY PRICE (1881-1948), who was one of the best known and most prolific psychic journalists of his generation, was both the Founder and the Honorary Director of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research which finally became the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, an organisation which had actually no official connexion with the University.  He was at one time the Foreign Research Officer for the American Society for Psychical Research, and during his life conducted experiments with mediums both in England and on the continent of Europe.  He published a number of books on his investigations and activities, and towards the end of his life undertook an enquiry into the alleged haunting of Borley Rectory, issuing his results in two volumes, The Most Haunted House in England (1940) and The End of Borley Rectory (1946).  At the time of his death he was preparing, with Mr. Upton Sinclair, a scenario of the supposed hauntings.  In 1950 a biography appeared under the title of Harry Price: the Biography of a Ghost-hunter from the pen of his literary executor, Dr Paul Tabori.
12 June 1929
 Price visits Borley for the first time.  Immediately objective phenomena of a new kind appear: the throwing of stones and other objects, 'spirit messages' tapped out on a mirror, appearance of 'apports', etc.  The Smiths' maid, Mary Pearson, tells Price she has seen apparitions.
14 July 1929
 The Smiths leave the rectory owing to its lack of amenities and the nuisance created by the publicity, move to nearby Long Melford, and run the parish from there.  Price receives letters from the Smiths reporting various happenings.
April 1930-2
 The Rev. G. Eric Smith leaves Borley and moves to Norfolk.  No further reports of manifestations reach Price for 17 months.  Borley remains without a rector for 6 months.

Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:06:40 am
The Foyster

16 October 1930
 The Rev. Lionel A. Foyster (cousin to the Rev. Harry Bull), his young wife Marianne, and a child Adelaide (aged 2½) take up residence at the rectory.
 The Rev. L. Foyster reports a variety of phenomena commencing soon after their arrival.  These increase in violence, reaching their height in June 1931.  Neighbours, Sir George and Lady Whitehouse, with their nephew Edwin Whitehouse (later Dom Richard, O.S.B.), constantly visit the Foysters and testify to witnessing the phenomena.
September 1931
 The Misses Bull call on Harry Price in London and ask him to visit the rectory once more.  He visits the Foysters on 13 and 14 October, and accuses Mrs Foyster.
January 1932
 Following a visit of exorcism by the Marks Tey Spiritualist Group, accompanied by the medium Guy L'Estrange, the phenomena, with a couple of slight exceptions, abruptly cease.

Price reported that up to this date at least 2,000 alleged paranormal phenomena occurred during the Foyster incumbency.
October 1935
 The Foysters leave Borley.

Borley Rectory is not again occupied.  The new rector (March 1936), the Rev. A.C. Henning, asked the Bishop's permission to reside elsewhere in view of the rectory's size and lack of amenities.  Later the livings of Borley and Liston were combined and Mr Henning moved into Liston Rectory.
The Price Tenancy

and after
May 1937
 Harry Price visits Borley (an interval of 5½ years having elapsed since his last visit)
 and decides to rent the empty rectory for a year.  His tenancy began on 19 May 1937.
25 May 1937
 Price inserts advertisement in The Times inviting people to join a rota of investigators.  The keys of the rectory are entrusted to Mr and Mrs Arbon who occupy the cottage adjoining.  Visits are paid to the rectory at weekends by the 48 investigators, chief among whom are Mr S.H. Glanville and his son Roger Glanville, and Mr Mark Kerr-Pearse.
October-November 1937
 Mr S.H. Glanville's daughter, Helen Glanville, using a planchette for the first time, obtains scripts of considerable detail regarding the murdered nun.  Her name is now given as Mary or Marie Lairre, and the information that she came from France.
27 March 1938
 At a planchette sitting in Streatham with Helen and Roger Glanville a communicator, 'Sunex Amures', threatens to burn down the rectory that night.
19 May 1938
 Price's tenancy ends and he moves out from Borley Rectory.
1 November 1938
 Price broadcasts the story of Borley Rectory, and as a result becomes acquainted with the rectory's new owner, Captain Gregson. (1)
December 1938
 Captain Gregson takes possession of the rectory, which he renames Borley Priory.  He reports experiencing various phenomena; various visitors also report curious happenings.
27 February 1939
 Borley Rectory destroyed by fire at midnight.

'Phenomena' reported, strange figures seen walking in the flames.  Further happenings reported by various visitors in ensuing months.
1 Price broadcast on Borley in 1935, 1937, 1938, and 1941, and again in 1946 and 1947 with several others taking part.  Mr Guy L'Estrange broadcast on Borley in December 1936; and Captain Gregson in April 1939.

Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:07:09 am
Later Borley
 Price's first book on Borley, The Most Haunted House in England, is published.  He receives voluminous correspondence and many theories regarding the nun.  Chief among these is that put forward in a lengthy analysis of the case by Dr W.J. Pythian-Adams, Canon of Carlisle.
 Many people write to Price claiming further unexplained experiences on the ruined site of the rectory.

Groups are formed to visit and investigate the ruins.
 Price excavates the wells in the cellars of the ruined rectory and discovers human bones buried there.  The bones were assumed to be the remains of the Borley nun and were ultimately buried in Liston churchyard in May 1945.
 The ruins of the rectory are finally demolished.  Price suggests that a brick is levitated paranormally during a visit by him with a photographer and a researcher (Miss Cynthia Ledsham) on the staff of the American magazine Life.
19 October 1945
 Mrs G. Eric Smith writes to the Church Times stating that neither she nor her husband believed Borley Rectory to be haunted.
 The End of Borley Rectory is published.
 'Phenomena' continue.  Scores of people still visit the site annually, hold séances in the grounds, etc.  Lectures are given; many newspaper articles written.
29 March 1948
 Death of Harry Price.

Later in the same year the Inky Way Annual (Book 2) contains an article by Mr Charles Sutton, on the staff of the Daily Mail, in which he accuses Harry Price of fraudently producing 'phenomena' himself on the occasion of a joint visit there in 1929.
 Mrs G. Eric Smith writes to the Daily Mail (26 May) again asserting her disbelief in the Borley haunting.

Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:07:51 am

Of all the phenomena investigated by psychical researchers, those connected with alleged hauntings and poltergeists may perhaps be considered the most puzzling.  For not only do they combine the physical and the non-physical but this interaction appears, if records are to be credited, to be associated with intelligent direction.  Moreover, some at least of the phenomena are facts which cannot be denied by anybody who is capable of understanding the nature of evidence.  Thus the fact that, through the centuries, persons have had experiences which they term 'seeing ghosts' is as certain as that other persons have had hallucinations when under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or morbid mental states.  The interpretation may be erroneous: the experience is certain.

If we look back through the past it seems that these hallucinatory experiences were often recorded as occurring in certain localities or in so-called 'haunted houses'.  Sometimes those experiencing them noted and preserved accounts of events of this sort which they could not explain, describing them as heavy knockings, thuds and taps, the sound of bulky objects being dragged about, resounding crashes, sighs, shrieks, and groans.  Indeed, the similarity of these experiences suggests that some common factors are to be sought which may be either external to the observers or a product of their own psychological structure or, perhaps, as seems more likely, a combination of the two.  The multiplicity and complexity of the material to be studied, coupled with the sporadic nature of the manifestations, make these events peculiarly difficult to investigate, and it is not surprising that in the whole of the literature there is hardly a single case which has been adequately examined in a scientific manner.  Indeed, at the time of writing, we do not know of any case where proper instrumental registration has been competently employed in order to determine whether the sounds heard were objective or subjective, although it would seem that in many instances those that are objective may be normal in origin and have no relation to other sounds which appear to be subjective in character.

For the purpose of convenient differentiation it has been found useful to distinguish between the alleged phenomena of haunting and those of the so-called poltergeist.  In the case of the latter, material objects are thrown about, furniture is upset and crockery smashed.  Whatever may be the cause of these destructive mani-


festations, they are not often associated with the phenomena of haunting proper, which partake rather of the nature of hallucination than of clean-cut interference with the material world.  Thus in the famous Ballechin case - 'the most haunted house in Scotland' (1) although Mr Harry Price maintained that poltergeist phenomena were observed this was not, we think, actually the case, unless it be urged that the reported pulling of the bedclothes was objective.  Indeed the combination of alleged haunting and poltergeist phenomena at Borley Rectory tended early in the case to create in the minds of informed critics a suspicion that the story of the Borley haunt was not precisely that which Price was trying to build up.  How abundantly justified these suspicions were will, we think, be clearly seen in this report.

As we have said above, there has been no carefully conducted survey either of the phenomena of haunting or of poltergeists.  Although an attempt was made in the case of Ballechin House, it did not prove possible to employ instrumental aids, and thus the question as to whether the tremendous thumps, clangings, and explosions were or were not objective could not be fully resolved.


In June 1929 the Daily Mirror (London) carried a series of articles on the alleged haunting of Borley Rectory in Essex and not far from Long Melford in Suffolk.  Through a series of circumstances to be discussed later, Price was asked to assist the newspaper's reporter who was at the rectory which was then occupied by the Rev. G. Eric Smith and his wife.  As the reporter said in the issue of the Daily Mirror for 10 June 1929, all the ingredients of a 'first-class ghost story' were awaiting the investigation of psychic experts.  Commenting on the newspaper's invitation Price in The Most Haunted House in England (2) (hence-forward called MHH) truly stated that he little dreamt that this first-class ghost story was to 'become the best authenticated case of haunting in the annals of psychical research'.  It is clear that at that time he had no idea in his mind that the events at Borley might become a framework around which could be, built a dramatic and complex ghost story arrayed in scientific garb.  The legend was already there.  It had only to be clothed, embellished, and supported by the testimony of others to become alive again.  We shall see later how subsequent events gradually persuaded Price to seize the opportunity with both hands, but it was not before 1940 that his first book on the subject (i.e. MHH) was published and created something of a sensation, converting

1 The Alleged Haunting of B- House (London, 1900), p. 70.

2 London, 1940, p. 1.


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:08:11 am
numbers of persons, including, oddly enough, jurists of reputation, to a belief in the paranormal character of the Borley phenomena.

It is on this volume and that subsequently published in London in 1946, (1) together with other printed material on Borley, that the present report is based.  In addition, however, we have had access to an immense mass of unpublished documents, correspondence, and notes, to which have been added the results of our own enquiries and personal interviews with persons who were involved in the case.  As enquiry after enquiry was pursued, it gradually became clear that in the alleged haunting of Borley Rectory we had a case of surpassing interest, not only for the psychical researcher, but also for the student of psychology generally and above all the psychology of testimony and its value under certain unusual conditions.  The tale of the Borley haunting developed into a really good ghost story because the legendary skeleton became clothed with a body of material which passed for reality and anything that weakened the flimsy structure was glossed over or treated as of no importance.  Normal causes were discounted, critics silenced or their objections overruled, and commonplace happenings were magnified into mysterious and incredible phenomena.  'Everything is incredible connected with Borley Rectory', wrote Price (MHH, p. 152), and even a queer insect seen in the grounds was 'Impossible ... just one of the many "impossible" things that have happened in this "enchanted" Rectory.' (2)

Price had, it seemed, found at last the repeatable experiment, 'laid on' as it were. 'As a scientist', he wrote, 'I can guarantee you a ghost'. (3)


Few reviewers, as far as we can ascertain, were bold enough to look behind the facçade of suggestion and direct statement put out by Price in MHH.  But Mr V. S. Pritchett, in the Bystander for 23 October 1940, ventured to mention how a Mrs Mansbridge, according to her husband's report of 5 September 1937, 'felt the end of the belt of her coat lifted and dropped again' (MHH, p. 233).  In Price's version of the incident (p. 128) the belt was 'lifted and dropped again by an unseen hand'.  How did Price know that it was a hand, asked Mr Pritchett, adding that no hand had been mentioned by the lady concerned. He forgot that when ghosts are guaranteed, unseen hands must surely be about.

1 The End of Borley Rectory (henceforward called EBR).

2 MHH, p. 136.  The only other case known to us of insects said to playa part in a haunt are the queer moths in the very curious Cape Cod case (see Harpers Magazine, November 1934, clxix, 733-41).

3 Listener, 10 November 1937, p. 1014.


Before passing to a detailed account of the various stages of the investigation of Borley Rectory, we propose giving the reader a few examples of the materials and methods used in building up the legend.

In cases of this kind it is, of course, useful to maintain that dwellers in the house have had nothing to do with Spiritualism or things psychic.  Had they been thus interested it might have been plausibly suggested that their observations and conclusions had possibly been influenced or biased by their beliefs.  Thus, in dealing with the life of the Bulls since the rectory was built in 1863, Price states (MHH, p. 74) that 'not one of the Bull family, including the Foysters, is concerned with psychical research or spiritualism or knows anything about the subject'.  The use of the present tense in this passage is to be especially noted.  But even as it stands, the alleged ignorance of those of the Bull family not at that time living in Borley Rectory is somewhat doubtful, considering the interest that their close relations and former rectors of Borley had in the spirits.  For example, Price reports that the small summer-house in the garden was often used by the Rev. Henry Bull to commune with the spirits (although this has been denied by a son and daughter in conversation and in writing); and that his son, the Rev. Harry Bull, assured a Mr J. Harley that on many occasions he had himself had personal communications from spirits and that when he died he would, if discontented, adopt devices causing violent physical reactions, such as breaking glass, in order to try to communicate with the inhabitants of the rectory (MHH, pp. 25, 50).

A further brief instance may suffice to show how, by omissions from the original reports provided by his observers, Price did not allow readers of his books the opportunity of considering normal causes as an explanation for many of the phenomena.  One of Price's principal observers, Mr Mark Kerr-Pearse, in his report dated 26 June 1937 mentioned a rose tree which was repeatedly blown backwards and forwards against the wall causing knocks which 'might provide an excellent "ghost" for the imaginative'.  This observation may also have been made by another observer, Mr M. Knox, of University College, Oxford, who, writing to Price on 19 February 1938, stated that he noticed 'several bushes near the house which might produce a rapping noise against the walls or windows if the wind blew', and further remarked that during the night he and his friends heard 'repeated and distinct thuds or raps, one every ten or twenty seconds', which they attributed, not to the ghosts, but to the bushes outside the house.  Price did not print the observations of either Mr Kerr-Pearse or


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:08:57 am
Mr Knox, although he mentions bushes as possible causes of sounds in the 'Blue Book' of instructions issued to his corps of observers.

From the above examples, which have been selected from a much more damaging mass of material to be discussed later, it will be seen how Price built up the case for the Borley haunting.  But before closing this brief introduction to our report on Borley, a word must be said on Price's scheme, formulated in 1937, by which independent observers should visit Borley and report their findings. (1)


In any scientific investigation of an alleged haunted house, it might be thought that the assistance of persons who had already had at least some experience in psychical research would have been sought.  After all, the ordinary person, however intelligent, careful, and acute he may be, cannot be expected to know of or appreciate fully the very many pitfalls into which even the most experienced psychical researcher occasionally falls.  In the majority of cases the layman knows little of the scope and range of hallucinatory phenomena, and is often unable to recognise that kind of abnormal occurrence which the expert knows at once should receive special attention.  If, on the other hand, what was wanted was bricks to build a good story, at least two points were to be favoured, (a) that the observers should know little about psychical research or the investigation of the alleged phenomena and (b) that they should receive every kind of suggestion as to what they might see, hear, or feel.  This was, then, the plan which Price in May 1937 began to put into operation.  He inserted an advertisement in The Times of 25 May 1937 in which he asked for the assistance of 'responsible persons of leisure and intelligence, intrepid, critical and unbiassed'.  'Scientific training' was, the advertisement stated, 'an advantage', and a private car was essential.

In discussing this plan Price stated that if these observers 'knew nothing about psychical research, so much the better' (MHH, p. 106).  To each of the observers who was chosen, certain conditions were indicated.  Each had to be interviewed by Price; each had to sign a Declaration Form and receive a copy of the Blue Book of instructions, (2) in which was printed an account of the phenomena which, it was asserted, had been seen or heard in Borley Rectory for over forty years.  Thus it was suggested to the visitors that the bells mysteriously rang; objects moved from previously determined positions; footsteps, heavy or soft, pattering

1 See MHH, pp. 116 ff.

2 See MHH, pp. 193 ff.


or shuffling, were heard; knockings, lights, perfumes, apports, apparitions, and other phenomena might be experienced.  On the other hand, the observers were told to make 'the greatest effort' to ascertain whether the phenomena were due to normal causes, among which were included rats and farm animals nosing at doors, a factor which must have been inserted by Price for some good reason, although we have neither found any such occurrence reported by any observer nor any reference to its possibility.

The influence of suggestion on the investigation of haunted houses cannot be exaggerated.  In every ordinary house sounds are heard and trivial incidents occur which are unexplained or treated as of no importance.  But once the suggestion of the abnormal is put forward - and tentatively accepted - then these incidents become imbued with sinister significance: in fact, they become part of the 'haunt'.

Borley Rectory was absolutely ideal for such psychological mechanisms to operate, and we shall see in the following pages what effect they had on numerous observers.  Here was a great rabbit-warren of a house, cold, draughty, and littered with rubbish, the walls covered with scrawls and squiggles.  The very construction of the property, with its peculiar acoustics (see p. 68), favoured the manifestations.  And Price took few steps to clear up the muddle and the mess.  Indeed, his instructions added to the confusion instead of modifying it.  No systematic record or log-book was kept, so that each batch of observers virtually started afresh in total ignorance of what their predecessors had done or what arrangements they had made.  Again, it might be thought, in view of the prominence given to the supposed paranormal wall-markings, that Price would have taken the precaution of having at least a couple of walls re-whitewashed.  No such thing was done.  It was considered sufficient to ring round observed pencil markings and to presume that others found later without a ring were, ipso facto, freshly (and paranormally) produced.  How faulty any such presumption was is well exemplified by notes written by Major the Hon. Henry Douglas-Home, who visited Borley and recorded as follows after reading MHH: 'To show how easy it is, in torchlight - or even daylight - to miss pencil marks on a distemper wall - which has been covered with scribbles, circles and dates - one night - a most observant parson friend of mine, my brother & myself, spent the night there.  It was amazing [twice underlined] the number of small squiggles which the first person omitted to see - (we took it in turn each room & the other two followed shoulder to shoulder) ... No. I missed things that Nos. 2 & 3 could see the whole time!!' The more objects


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:09:18 am
left about the greater the confusion, and the greater the confusion the more chance of 'phenomena' being reported.

Without these suggestions in favour of the paranormal little sensational might have been reported, and as it was, some observers experienced nothing out of the ordinary: a fact which, when reported to Price and occasionally coupled with some mild criticism, was received with but little appreciation.  The stock reply to all such objections was that one had to wait for phenomena to occur and stay in the house day by day in perfect quietness, watching and waiting.  Moreover, Price added, the phenomena at Borley were 'stronger and more frequent' when the place was occupied by a family.  But even these conditions were sometimes met and yet nothing happened.  The Rev. Somerset E. Pennefather rented the house towards 1895 for six weeks in the summer.  So far as was known by his son, Mr W. S. Pennefather, nothing strange or abnormal occurred.  This statement is brushed aside by Price, since, he said, it would be difficult to remember trivial but unusual happenings after forty-five years.  Had anything been remembered which would have supported the legend, we may be sure that it would have found a place in MHH.

Similarly, Canon H. Lawton (1) wrote to the Spectator in 1940 (p. 396) saying that in 1933 he and his family lived in the rectory for a month during the summer and never saw or heard anything out of the ordinary.  Canon Lawton, whom we have interviewed and whose testimony will be discussed later (see pp. 108-10), actually found and read the MS. written by the Rev. L. A. Foyster (see p. 82) in which he described the amazing phenomena said to occur during his incumbency.  Canon Lawton, however, who struck us as an extremely reliable and level-headed person and not at all suggestible, said nothing to his wife and during their stay they heard none of the bangs, thuds, or footsteps, or if they did, ascribed them to the normal accompaniments of life in a big country house with the doors and windows open.  The Canon's experiences were treated by Price just as he had treated those of Mr Pennefather.  To him these gentlemen were merely unlucky, inasmuch as either they proved immune to the psychic influences which permeated the very air of the most haunted house in England or those same influences remained in abeyance during their sojourn there.


From the few examples given above, the reader may get some idea of how the ground was laid for what was to follow and how

1 Hon. Canon of Manchester Cathedral (1950-53) and now (1954) Hon. Canon and Sub-Dean of the Pro-Cathedral at Buenos Aires.


the minds of the observers were prepared for the reception of just those ideas which Price wanted to plant therein.  In the succeeding chapters we shall trace the story of the rectory in detail and show how, owing to the flimsy nature of the early evidence, it was some time before Price himself realised what could be made of what in 1929 was already a first-class ghost story.

When it was over and the connected story printed and published, its reception must have surprised even Price himself.  Sir Albion Richardson, K.C., C.B.E., the eminent jurist, declared that the manifestations were proved by the evidence to the point of moral certainty (see EBR, p. 325) and Sir Ernest Jelf, then Senior Master of the Supreme Court, in discussing the case in the Law Times of 9 August 1941, stated that he was at a 'loss to understand what cross-examination could possibly shake it' (EBR, p. 323).  Sir Ernest's article reveals a strange inability to understand what constitutes valid evidence in cases of this kind.  It will be part of our task in this report to try to indicate how material of this sort is to be appraised, to show how one fact is to be weighed against another, and how the whole of the evidence must be considered against a background of wilful deception, incompetent investigation, and a barrage of suggestion directed against the observers, many of whom seem to have been chosen with at least one qualification: that is to say, a lack of acquaintance with the technical methods to be used in the enquiry with which they were expected to deal.


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:09:48 am

Borley Church and the other buildings adjoining the site of 'the most haunted house in England' stand on a hill in Essex, less than a mile from and overlooking the valley of the River Stour (which forms the county boundary with Suffolk) and the single-track railway line between Long Melford and Sudbury.  These two small townships are both in Suffolk and, although respectively 2 and 2½ miles distant, are distinctly visible from the elevated site of Borley Rectory.  The grounds of the house (which was destroyed by fire in 1939) are situated on the road from Borley Green to Rodbridge Corner, the junction with the main highway from Bury St Edmunds to Sudbury.  Borley parish itself has a scattered and mainly agricultural population of approximately 120 inhabitants.

The position of the rectory and the buildings in its immediate vicinity is shown on Plate III which is a reduced photograph of part of the appropriate Ordnance Survey Sheet (edition of 1925) to a scale of 6" to one mile, and on Fig. III which is a reproduction of the 1/2,500 Ordnance map (1933 ed.) with added lettering showing principal buildings, etc.  It may be noted that the considerable agricultural buildings grouped around the rectory farmyard in 1925 are also visible in an aerial photograph taken after the complete demolition of the rectory in 1944 (see Plate IV), and were therefore obviously standing during the whole period of the alleged hauntings.  These farm buildings, which are not shown on the Key Plan on p. 21 of EBR, may be considered of some significance in connection with the presence of rats and mice in the rectory and its outbuildings and with sundry unpleasant odours noticed at various times.  Another point of interest demonstrated by the Ordnance Survey plan is the extreme proximity of the cottage to the rectory and therefore to the very narrow entrance to the enclosed courtyard with its obvious acoustic properties, the evidence for which is discussed in detail in this report.  The latter feature of the rectory is not shown on the small-scale Ordnance plan (Plate III) which was selected in order additionally to illustrate the position of the house in relation to Long Melford and Sudbury and to the railway joining them.  The courtyard and its entrance are, however, clearly shown on the plan of the rectory ground floor (Fig. I).


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:10:07 am

Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:10:27 am

The rectory grounds, buildings, and farmyard contained 3.732 acres, of which approximately half consisted of the rectory garden with its long frontage to the road.  What was in fact the side of the house (despite the fact that it contained the porch and main door) faced the road and was separated from it by a carriage drive with a gate at either end.  A lawn extended from the eastern and principal elevation of the house with its bay windows and glass verandah to the stream shown in Fig. III, crossed by a miniature bridge which led to the extreme end of the garden and the copse containing the smaller of the two summer houses built by the Rev. Henry D. E. Bull.  It was to this so-called 'Gothic' structure that the rector was said by Price (erroneously, we think) to retire in the small hours to commune with the spirits.  The larger circular summer house adjoining the road, where both Henry Bull and his son Harry spent much time, is actually marked on the Ordnance Survey.  The late Mr S. H. Glanville, who knew the house well and to whom we are indebted for much useful information, told us that the ring of tall trees surrounding the rectory and shown on the frontispiece of MHH had a very darkening and depressing effect inside the rooms.

The rectory itself was built by the Rev. H. D. E. Bull in 1863 and was a large detached two-storey red brick building.  A wing was added in 1875-6 almost entirely enclosing the small courtyard.  With the kind permission of Mr S. H. Glanville (1) we are able to reproduce his original plans of the rectory showing the ground and first floors (Figs. I and II).  The accommodation also included considerable cellaring and some storage accommodation in the roof.  There were in all some 23 rooms, large and small, on the two main floors which were connected, be it noted, by three staircases.  The house had no central heating, gas, or electricity and no main water supply.  Immediately adjoining the house, as shown on the plan (Fig. III), was the rectory cottage, forming part of the original stable block which had the usual coach house, loose boxes, harness rooms, and living quarters above for the groom and his wife, and, as we have said, there were the agricultural buildings grouped around the former rectory farmyard.  These latter were presumably included in that part of the 'nine acres' which 'formed the area of the original gardens, etc.,' and of which Price said that 'most of this has now been let off for farming purposes' (MHH, p. 24).  The reader of the two Borley

1 Mr S. H. Glanville was the leading 'official observer' during Price's 1937-8 tenancy of Borley Rectory.  He compiled a complete record of the rectory and its phenomena, a record known as the Locked Book from the fact that when bound it was fitted with a lock and key.  Mr Glanville lent this Locked Book to Price, who used it in compiling MHH.


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:11:09 am

Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:13:13 am

books will find little mention of the farmyard in Price's writings but traces are discernible here and there.  Price reported, for example, that the phantom coach seen by Mr Edward Cooper 'swept into the farmyard and disappeared' (MHH, p. 55).  Mr H. F. Russell told Price that the spot where he was unaccountably thrown to the ground was 'to the right of the plan you sent me and more in the entrance to the farm' (EBR, p. 67).


There are two principal legends connected with Borley Rectory which play their part in the story of the alleged hauntings.  The first of these was the one published, apparently for the first time, in the Daily Mirror and other papers in June 1929, and was based on the assumption that the rectory was built on the site of a 13th-century monastery.  This story was presumably current in the district for some time before its publication, and it has been suggested that it was established prior to the building of the rectory in 1863 and that the dining room fireplace with its monk's head effigies was installed by the Rev. Henry Bull to perpetuate a legend in which he may have believed.  There are several variants of this first story, which we may loosely describe as the 'Monastery, Monk and Nun Legend', but in general terms the story is that some 700 years ago a monk from Borley Monastery eloped by coach with a novice from Bures Nunnery, some eight miles away.  The legend says that the result of this ill-fated expedition was that the elopers were caught, the would-be bridegroom hanged or beheaded, and the novice bricked up alive in her own convent, which presumably accounts for the story of the phantom coach, the headless man, and the ghostly nun.  Price points out on p. 22 of EBR that there is no evidence that a monastery ever existed at Borley and little evidence that there was ever a nunnery at Bures, but this view expressed by Price in 1946 was not always held by him, as we shall show in this report.  There seems little doubt, in fact, from Price's early accounts of the Borley hauntings in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research in August 1929 and in his Confessions of a Ghost Hunter (London, 1936), that he accepted the legend of the previous existence of a large monastery at Borley until 3 November 1938 when this theory was exploded by Mr S. H. Glanville's patient correspondence with the Essex Archaeological Society, an official of which said that no ecclesiastical building other than the twelfth-century church had existed at Borley.  That Price was at first reluctant to abandon this initial story of Borley, even in the face of the facts, is suggested by his letter to Captain W. H. Gregson some days later on 15 November 1938 in which he said:


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:13:43 am

Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:14:17 am

Reproduction (by permission of the Controller of H.M. Stationery Office) of 1/2,500

Ordnance map of Borley (1933 Edition) with added lettering showing principle buildings,

etc.  The proximity of the extensive farm buildings, omitted from the plans in

the published literature, should be particularly noted.


'For the purpose of my book, I am trying to get details of what building, or buildings, were on the site of the Rectory before the present house was built.  There is a persistent rumour that a monastery was very near the house, or rather the site and there are also tales of a nunnery being quite close.'  However, common sense and the result of Mr Glanville's investigation must have prevailed.

The second main story connected with Borley, which we may loosely describe as the 'French Roman Catholic Nun Legend', seems to have arisen in embryo from certain selected parts of planchette writings obtained by Miss Helen Glanville alone at Streatham on 28 October 1937, elaborated by further information obtained at a similar séance at Streatham three days later, at which the sitters were Mr S. H. Glanville, Miss Helen Glanville (his daughter), Mr R. H. Glanville (his son), and Mr M. Kerr-Pearse.  From these séances and sundry chosen minutiae from the mass of alleged phenomena at Borley, an elaborate story was built up by Dr Phythian-Adams, Canon of Carlisle, and accepted with enthusiasm by Price.  This is set out at length in Ch. X of EBR.  The story in brief is that a young French Roman Catholic nun, Marie Lairre, was induced to leave her convent at Le Havre to become the wife of one of the Waldegraves of Borley and was strangled by him in a building previously on the site of Borley Rectory on 17 May 1667 and her body buried beneath the cellar floor.  The suggestion was that the spirit of this unhappy young person was responsible inter alia for the rectory wall-writings, the loss of Mr Shaw Jeffrey's French dictionary, and the production of various 'apports', including two medals of somewhat suspicious provenance, an old coat, a piece of rotten wood, and a dead frog, in order to establish her identity and the whereabouts of her remains.


These, as we have said, are the two principal stories connected with Borley Rectory.  There are other minor ones, such as the theory that the 'nun' was the ghost of Arabella Waldegrave, born in 1687, the daughter of Henry, first Lord Waldegrave.  This suggestion was again at first accepted with enthusiasm by Price and was the subject of a lengthy exposition in his article 'The Ghost of Borley Rectory' (Everybody's Weekly, 7 August 1943).  This story was, however, demolished in 1946 with Price's tacit approval by Dr Phythian-Adams in Ch. XVI of EBR.  We have also the legend that Borley and, district may be haunted by the spirit of Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, beheaded on Tower Hill on 14 June 1381 (MHH, p. 12).  Then we have the story of the 'screaming girl' who, after supposedly clinging to the


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:14:38 am
Blue Room (1) window-sill, crashed through the verandah roof and was killed, and whose spirit was alleged to haunt the rectory (MHH, p. 33).  There is also the apparition of the Rev. Harry Bull, stated to have been seen repeatedly by Mrs Marianne Foyster (MHH, p. 75), and the figure of 'Old Amos', a gardener employed two hundred years previously by the Bulls, and whose phantom was recognised by the Rev. Harry Bull, although upon what pictorial record is not stated (MHH, p. 49).  Miss Ethel Bull is stated to have seen the phantom of an old man wearing a tall hat beside her bed (MHH, p. 46).

But after Price had received the exposition of the 'French Roman Catholic Nun' theory from Dr Phythian-Adams in January 1941 (EBR, p. 179), the secondary legends began to fade rapidly from the scene.  There was after all, it seemed, no evidence to confirm the existence of Borley Monastery and its monks (EBR, p. 16) and on reflection Price doubted whether the ghost of Harry Bull had ever been seen at the rectory (EBR, p. 71).  Simon of Sudbury and 'the screaming girl' do not appear in the pages of EBR, and the accounts of the 1937 table-tilting séances at Borley (EBR, pp. 120-32), which had concerned themselves almost solely with stories connected with the Bull incumbencies, were so ruthlessly edited as to be meaningless.  Even a medal with what might popularly be described as a 'monk's head' on it, which Price recorded in the Journal of the American S.P.R. in August 1929 as having appeared in the rectory in July 1929, was apparently forgotten after the 1937 planchette scripts and, in its place, we are told that two quite different medals were 'apported' into the house, two medals which are mentioned nowhere in Price's files until they made their bow in MHH in 1940 (see pp. 61 ff).  These medals supported the 'French Roman Catholic Nun' theory.

The legend of Borley today is firmly interwoven with the story of Marie Lairre, and so far as we know she has now no serious rival.  Her alleged wall-writings have even been investigated by a graphologist.  Masses have been said for her repose in Oxford and Arundel (EBR, p. 288) and her alleged remains were given Christian burial in Liston Churchyard on 29 May 1945 (EBR, p.288).


This brief account of Borley and its legends would not be complete without some reference to the quite astonishing amount of regular newspaper publicity which the subject still attracts, despite the fact that almost the last remnants of the house were finally

1 Room No.6 on Fig. II.


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:14:57 am
cleared away ten years ago.  As this report goes to press (February 1955) we notice that during the years 1953 and 1954, under sensational headings such as 'GHOSTS STILL WALK AT BORLEY', 'BORLEY RELICS MAY HAVE RAISED GHOSTS', and 'CHICKEN HOUSE BLAZES WHERE HAUNTED RECTORY STOOD', Borley has been mentioned in the press on 91 occasions for which we have cuttings in our files, and there must be a very large number of references in various spiritualistic papers of which we have not been notified.  The absurdity of some of these articles is, we think, exemplified by the suggestion that bricks from Borley buried under the turf of a school playing field at Wellingborough may be connected with the appearance of a ghost seen by one of the boys.  Another favourite of ours hints darkly that the recent burning of a poultry-rearing house in Borley may be some sort of aftermath of the rectory fire in I939.

Although the notoriety of Borley has largely arisen from Price's books, there can be no doubt that a considerable contribution has been made by the unrestrained press publicity which began in 1929 and has continued without interruption during the last 25 years.  It will be part of our task in this report to discuss the implication of this publicity, and to assess its effect upon enthusiastic visitors to 'the most haunted house in England' or the site which it once occupied.


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:24:02 am

Price tells us on p. 46 of EBR that one of the most convincing features of the alleged haunting of Borley Rectory is the long period covered by the manifestations, i.e. virtually from the building of the house by the Rev. Henry Dawson Ellis Bull in 1863 to the clearing away of the last of the ruins in 1944.  If the life of the rectory is considered to have ended in 1939 when it was largely gutted, then of its effective existence of 76 years no less than 64 comprise the two Bull incumbencies, which ended with the death in 1927 of the Rev. Harry Foyster Bull, son of Henry Bull.  It will be clear that the Bull period is of considerable importance from this point of view alone.  What is of probably greater interest and significance is the fact that the local story of ghosts seen at Borley Rectory began during the Bull incumbencies.

There can be no doubt that this story of the rectory apparitions was firmly established in Borley by 1928 when the living passed to a stranger, the Rev. G. Eric Smith.  The purpose of this chapter is to discover whether the stories pertaining to the Bull period had any foundation in fact.

In considering the accounts contained in Price's books of the apparitions which are alleged to have been seen by Henry and Harry Bull, it is important to bear in mind that we are offered no first-hand testimony recorded at the time by either of the percipients.  All we have is a description by Price of what Miss Bull could remember of what her father and her brother had presumably told her, without dates or corroboration, and obviously in some instances after considerable periods of time.  This is unsatisfactory enough in itself; what is more disturbing is the discovery of indications that Price apparently over-stated Miss Bull's narrative in his books.  Miss Bull told two of us, EJD and THH, on 4 April 1953 at her home in Great Cornard, Sudbury, that to her annoyance Price never gave her the opportunity of approving the section of MHH dealing with her testimony and that in consequence he made a number of mistakes.  On p. 46 of MHH it is stated, for example:

On one occasion, when in one of the upper passages, Miss Ethel [Bull] saw a tall, dark man standing beside her. Before she could recover from her surprise, he vanished.


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:24:17 am
Again, on pp. 46 and 47 it is said:

One night Miss Ethel awoke suddenly and found an old man in dark, old-fashioned clothes, wearing a tall hat, standing by her bed.  On another occasion, the same figure was seen sitting on the edge of the bed.  This figure was seen many times.

These several alleged occurrences appear to have been manufactured from a single experience of Miss Bull's, some 60 odd years ago, which she described in a letter to THH dated 2 April 1953 in these words:

The man I saw once standing beside my bed was tall and dressed in dark clothes, it was twilight, and once or twice I felt someone sitting on the side of my bed.

A further example of apparent exaggeration in Price's reporting of Miss Bull's testimony is contained on p. 45 of MHH in which the description of the alleged apparition of the 'nun' on the rectory lawn includes the following sentence: 'She had an expression of intense grief on her face.' On 11 August 1950 Mr W. H. Salter, Hon. Secretary of the Society for Psychical Research, accompanied by KMG and the Rev. S. Austin, had tea with Miss Ethel Bull at Sudbury, and recorded in his notes Miss Bull's description of the apparition:

She could only see a woman bent over in a flowing black robe such as nuns wear.  She could not see the face, nor whether she wore anything white, nor whether she carried a rosary or wore a crucifix or medal.  In November 1900, when she saw the nun again, the figure was bowed right over and no face visible.

Perhaps the most striking example of exaggeration, however, is demonstrated by an incident where we have been able to compare Price's published account with his own contemporary notes.  On p. 48 of MHH Price says:

One day Harry [Bull] was in the garden with his retriever' Juvenal', when the dog suddenly started howling and cowering with fright.  Looking in the direction at which the dog was 'pointing', the Rector saw the legs of a figure, the upper part of which was apparently hidden by some fruit trees.  The legs moved, and when they had cleared the bushes, Harry Bull saw that they belonged to a man who was headless.  The figure went towards the postern gate - which plays a big part in the Borley drama - through which it passed.  This gate was always kept locked.  The figure disappeared in the vegetable garden, where it was lost to sight.

This story is substantially repeated in EBR, p. 30, with a curious variation (which may be simply carelessness) in that Price says


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:24:31 am
that the incident took place 'one night'.  In the Borley file at London University are the original notes made by Price and his secretary, Miss Lucie Kaye, on their first visit to Borley in June 1929.  The appropriate extract from which the above account was presumably taken reads as follows:

[Miss Bull's story].  Rev. Harry Bull, saw coach.  Juvenal, retriever, terrified & growled.  Saw man's legs rest hid by fruit trees, thought poacher, followed with Juvenal, gate shut, but saw legs disapp[ear] thro gate.

It will be observed that in these notes there is no mention of a 'headless man' (although Miss Bull may have mentioned one), and that there is the significant comment that Harry Bull took the 'apparition' to be a poacher (which it may well have been, or a tramp coveting the products of the rectory fruit trees).  It is unfortunate that the respective addition and omission of these items 'coloured' the story towards a paranormal explanation when it was written for publication ten years later.

In MHH, p. 37, Price states that Mary Pearson, maid to the later rector, the Rev. G. Eric Smith, 'saw a man, headless, behind a tree.  She chased it into the garden, where it disappeared.'  Mary, however, whom EJD and THH interviewed on 21 August 1952, told us - if we can rely on her memory so long after - that this story, apparently confirming the previous narrative, was quite untrue.  There is no later mention of this particular apparition in the Borley literature.

We have dealt with the story of the 'headless man' in order to demonstrate at this early stage of our report the way in which events at 'the most haunted house in England' which were readily capable of a normal explanation, or which may not have occurred at all, nevertheless found their place in what is probably the best and most successful ghost story ever written, but which was offered as a serious piece of research.  Price himself apparently did not privately attach over-much importance to the evidence adduced during the incumbencies, and in a letter to one of us (EJD) dated 17 October 1946 he wrote slightingly of Mrs Foyster and added: 'If you cut out the Foysters, the Bulls, the Smiths, etc., something still remains.'  The 'something' was the testimony of his own corps of observers.


In any critical examination of the alleged events before 1928 when the Smiths came to Borley, we must note that the atmosphere at the rectory was evidently strongly spiritualistic due to the unusual beliefs held by the Rev. Harry Bull (see Introduction,


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:24:47 am
.4).  The beliefs and experiences of his father, the Rev. Henry Bull, are none too clear.  According to the 'Analysis of Phenomena' (MHH, p. 238), he saw the phantasm of the nun; but this is at variance with a statement made by his daughter, Miss Ethel Bull, to KMG and Mr W.H. Salter, on 11 August 1950, and to EJD and THH on 4 April 1953.  Miss Bull said that she knew nothing of any appearance of this apparition of a nun before 28 July 1900 when she first saw it herself: i.e. eight years after the Rev. Henry Bull's death.  Whatever the truth of the matter may be, there does not appear to be any doubt that the Rev. Harry Bull stated to several people that he repeatedly saw various phantasms in the rectory garden, i.e. the nun; a spectral coach; an old family retainer, 'Old Amos'; and (possibly) a headless man.

There is, we think, reason to suppose that some of the 'apparitions' seen by Harry Bull may have been illusions or hallucinations, for which no explanation other than a morbid imagination and an evident interest in the supernatural is necessary.  It is possible also that the circumstances in which they were seen may have been propitious.  In EBR, p. 99, Price prints a letter received from Mr P. Shaw Jeffrey, who was at Oxford with Harry Bull and a visitor at Borley during the long vacations.  'He was', he wrote, 'an extraordinary man; he was always asleep.  Nine times out of ten he never turned up to meals at the Rectory.  Some one had to go and find him.  He was always asleep in one or other of the arbours.'

Whatever the cause of this symptom (and narcolepsy is probably the least sensational), it would seem to be arguable that if he were in the habit of dropping off to sleep in the garden at all hours, he would experience a similar number of periods of drowsiness, producing a condition peculiarly susceptible to hallucinations arising from suggestion.

Both the Bulls were educated men, enjoying the dual authority of local land-owners and rectors in a fairly remote hamlet, and it seems self-evident that they would have considerable influence over the beliefs of their servants, parishioners, and some (but apparently not all) of their family.  In these circumstances it is interesting to note that the tradition of the haunting of the rectory may have been well established in the neighbourhood as early as 1886.  In the letter from a Mrs Byford reproduced (and considerably edited) in MHH, p. 47, describing her experiences in that year, she states that in her youth 'it was common talk that the Rectory was haunted'; just as Mr C. A. Boyden in his nostalgic letter in 1929 (EBR, p. 97), describes how 'the ghost story' was told to him 'over fifty years ago' before he left the Rev. Henry Bull's Bible Class and Borley at the age of nine. The Rev. L.A.


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:24:59 am
Foyster, cousin to the Bulls, writing to Mr S. H. Glanville on 2 September 1937 said:

I do not know exactly when manifestations started, but I imagine It would be before Harry Bull's incumbency.  As he succeeded his father there was no break when he came - his mother and sisters lived on as before.  I remember staying there less than three years after he came as Rector [i.e. in 1892] & hearing ghost stories from the younger members of the family.

In cases of alleged recurring manifestations it would normally be necessary to make careful enquiry into each percipient's awareness of the experiences of his predecessors; but in the case of Borley the legend was common knowledge in the immediate neighbourhood from the start, although, significantly perhaps, it was apparently not reported outside the immediate neighbourhood of Borley until 1929.

Mrs Byford's experience in 1886, described by her forty-three years after the event, scarcely establishes the actuality of the haunting of the rectory, for all she heard was 'someone walking down the passage ... and the sound they made suggested that they were wearing slippers'.  She did not open her bedroom door to see who it was. (1) In MHH, p. 245, Price lists this among the first 'principal events'; and in EBR, p. 94, he describes the slippered walking as 'persistent "ghostly footsteps"', neither adjective having been used by his witness.  What is of additional mild significance in Mrs Byford's letter is that as early as 1886 the other servants warned her, a young and new under-nursemaid who was presumably fair game, that her bedroom was haunted.  It is difficult to avoid the impression that the beliefs of the heads of the household produced an atmosphere at Borley highly favourable for hallucinations due to suggestion on the one hand and to hoaxes and practical jokes on the other.

The letter from Mr Shaw Jeffrey referred to above described his experiences at the rectory in 1885, and Price comments (EBR, p. 101) that Mr Jeffrey's 'important contribution to the evidence for the early haunting of Borley Rectory is of exceptional value'.  It is difficult to avoid some scepticism as to the sincerity of this opinion.  Mr Jeffrey was born in 1862 (he died in 1952) and was therefore 80 years old when, after reading MHH, he wrote to Price

1 It is curious to notice that when Mrs Byford was interviewed by the Saffron Walden Independent Press and Chronicle in 1951 she told an entirely different story.  In the issue of that paper of 9 November 1951, Mrs Byford's account of her experience at Borley is reported as follows: 'She was accustomed to being called each morning by one of the servants.  On this occasion, someone entered her room, drew back the curtains and then withdrew without speaking.  A little later the servant called - but flatly denied having been in the room earlierl'


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:25:18 am
in 1942 describing events of 57 years previously.  In 1950 EJD wrote to Mr Jeffrey asking if he would assist the investigation by discussing with us his experiences at Borley.  In his reply dated 20 February 1950 Mr Jeffrey said: 'I am afraid I shall be no use to you.  I am 88 in a few days' time; my memory is quite untrustworthy and the events at Borley now 65 years ago are so remote that they now seem quite unreal and I should not be prepared to swear to them.'  Mr Jeffrey concluded his letter by saying, 'No amount of discussion would elicit any further facts from the dried-up reservoir of my memory.'

In any case, the physical 'phenomena' of 1885 were not very impressive.  Mr Jeffrey had 'lots of small adventures at the Rectory.  Stones falling about, my boots found on top of the wardrobe, etc.'  On the other hand, it must be recorded that Mr Jeffrey stated that he had seen the nun several times and had often heard the coach go clattering by. (1) In his view, however, the most striking phenomenon was the loss of a French dictionary which later was thrown on the floor of his bedroom in the night.  As an example of the ingenuity which has probably helped to give Borley some of its wide appeal, we quote the explanation offered for this incident by Dr W. J. Phythian-Adams, Canon of Carlisle, one of the principal believers in the paranormality of the rectory happenings.  He says in 'Plague of Darkness' (Church Quarterly Review, January-March 1946, p. 214):

Am I seriously contending that a French girl (the 'Nun' [2]) was haunting Borley all those years and that she collected English words out of a dictionary in the 80s for an appeal [the wall-writings] which had to wait another half-century?  I am contending nothing.  I simply ask whether any other explanation will fit the facts.

We prefer the explanation of Mr W. H. Salter who, in his review of EBR in the S.P.R. Journal for December 1946, said of Mr Jeffrey's experiences:

It is obvious that a large house in the depths of the country, inhabited by a crowd of young people divided into cliques only dimly aware of the other cliques' doings, [he is quoting Mr Jeffrey's precise description

1 But see p. 21 where it is pointed out that Miss Ethel Bull said that she knew nothing of any appearance of the nun prior to 1900, a statement confirmed in her letter to Mr S. H. Glanville of 25 March 1942 written after reading Mr Shaw Jeffrey's letter.  In the same letter in further contradiction of Mr Jeffrey's story she said that she had never heard anything about Pentlow Rectory being haunted, a mild but perhaps significant comment upon Mr Shaw Jeffrey's graphic account of how he and Harry Bull witnessed striking physical phenomena there at the home of the Rev. Felix Bull, four miles from Borley (EBR, p. 100).  The same remark was made to EJD and THH on 4 April 1953.

2 By this time the nationality and name of the legendary nun had been elicited from a planchette board.


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:25:33 am
of the Bull household] provided exactly the right stage for mysteries and hoaxes of every description.

At all events, any comments Mr Jeffery may have made at the time were not sufficiently impressive to be remembered by members of the Bull family, though they remembered his visits to their home.  When KMG and Mr Salter saw Miss Ethel Bull, Miss Milly Bull, and Mr Alfred Bull at their home in Sudbury on 11 August 1950, they were informed by all three that no objective phenomena of any kind had been heard of by them at the rectory during the whole of their lives there, and that the first mention of any alleged poltergeist activity had occurred during the incumbency of the Rev. G. Eric Smith, which began in 1928.  Mr Alfred Bull said that he had slept in the same bedroom that Mr Shaw Jeffrey occupied, but had experienced nothing odd.  This testimony was repeated to EJD and THH on 4 April 1953.

In MHH, pp. 44-5, Price describes the occasion when the four Misses Bull are said to have seen the phantom nun collectively on the rectory lawn on 28 July 1900. (1) It is unfortunate that no contemporary written account of this experience seems to have been made.  Price's record of the Misses Bull's statement to him is unsatisfactory in that we are not told the time the apparition was seen: we are merely informed that it was in the evening and that it was 'sunlight'.  Further information indicating the amount of light is omitted.

Fortunately we have a report prepared by Lord Charles Hope following his own visit to Borley in 1929 and his meeting with the Misses Bull who informed him that it was 'late twilight in the

1 Price says on p. 45 of MHH of the apparition seen by the Misses Bull : 'It is quite certain that this figure, seen first by four persons collectively, and then by two other persons simultaneously, was objective.  It was solid, like a human being; not a subjective image, a phantasm, or figment of the imagination.'

This remark is contradicted, or so it seems to us, by a passage on the next page of the same book: 'When the Misses Bull were young girls, they were leaning over the fence of their garden, looking across the fields.  They were with one of the maids.  They saw some young friends a few yards away, crossing the field in front of them, evidently taking a short cut to Long Melford Station, or going to the river Stour.  Just a little ahead of their friends was a girl or young woman in white whom the sisters failed to recognize as one of the villagers.  The Bull sisters happened to meet their friends in the evening and asked the name of the girl whom they took to the river.  The young people denied that anyone had been with them; nor did they see any stranger present' (MHH, p. 46).

Thus, Price's insistence that collective perception may be regarded as a test of objectivity is followed by an account of an alleged experience of the same persons which, if true, would prove the precise opposite, i.e. that the Misses Bull saw a figure invisible to others.  It is well known that collective hallucinations need not occur to all people present on any occasion.


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:25:47 am
summer, about 9 p.m.' (of course before the advent of Summer Time).  The statement made to KMG and Mr Salter in 1950 confirms this precisely.  On 28 July 1900 the sun set at 7.53 p.m.

We have every reason to think that the Misses Bull were sincere in believing that they saw someone or something moving on the path under the trees as they looked across the lawn in the twilight over fifty years ago.  But so were Mr V. C. Wall (Daily Mirror reporter) and his photographer on the evening of 10 June 1929 when they 'had a terrible shock' and 'distinctly saw a white figure flitting about in the gloom', but later discovered that the 'apparition' was the Smiths' maid - as Mr Wall stated in that part of his report in the Daily Mirror of 11 June 1929 which Price omitted in MHH, p. 4, despite the clear implication that the whole of Mr Wall's original article (minus the heading) is printed verbatim. The article is headed 'Midnight Apparition that Proved to be a Maid'.

A consistent feature of the early Borley 'apparitions' is the fact that almost without exception they were seen out of doors, where the possibility of the misinterpretation of natural objects seen in poor light is much greater than inside a room.  In his original notes made at Borley in 1929, for example, Price commented that the Rev. G. Eric Smith had seen what looked like a spectre of a white-clad monk in the rectory garden, afterwards discovering that it was the smoke from a bonfire!  This event is not included in either of the Borley books.

There is some evidence to show that possibly Price himself may have been misled over the story of the apparition of the nun.  Canon Lawton knew the Misses Bull very well indeed and Miss Ethel Bull is godmother to one of his children.  He tells us that while he gained the impression that the Misses Bull were mildly proud of the tradition of the family ghost and publicly told the tale of the phantasm in the garden with understandable gusto, they never spoke to him privately of the matter with any degree of seriousness.  Canon Lawton was especially friendly with Mr Gerald Bull, a brother of the Misses Bull, who lived at the rectory with his sisters until 1920.  He told Canon Lawton that he had never seen anything of an abnormal nature during all his years at Borley, that he was entirely sceptical, and held the view that the nun was a product of feminine imagination.  Another brother, Mr Walter Bull, whom the Rev. L. A. Foyster somewhat ruefully describes as entirely unbelieving on pp. 63-4 of his manuscript Fifteen Months in a Haunted House, is quoted by Mr Foyster as saying that nothing abnormal ever happened in the rectory when the Bulls lived there, though Price quotes him (MHH, p. 51) as


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:25:59 am
hearing unaccountable footsteps following him in the lane near the rectory at least fifty times. (1)

In MHH, pp. 56-7, Price describes the experiences of Mr Fred Cartwright, the journeyman carpenter who stated that he saw the phantom nun on four separate occasions in 1927 as he passed the rectory in the early hours of the morning.  Again we have no first-hand account by the percipient.  All we have is 'a most interesting story' (without dates or corroboration) told to Price in 1930 by Mr Cartwright 'over a pint of ale at the "White Horse" [Inn]'.  The only first-hand evidence in Price's account would appear to be the fact that Mr Cartwright drank a pint of ale whilst he told his story.  One is inclined to wonder a little how many such pints Mr Cartwright had consumed on the strength of it between 1929, when the original articles on Borley appeared in the national and local press, and 1930 when Price sought him out in Sudbury.

In MHH, pp. 17-18, Price discusses the mystery of the bricked-up dining-room window at the rectory which, it is suggested, was blocked by the Rev. Henry Bull (and therefore prior to 1892) to prevent the nun peering through the window from the drive.  No testimony is available other than the mute evidence of the window itself, or if it is, none is offered by Price.  The rectory was built rather close to the road and was separated from it by a narrow drive only, and there would probably have been some lack of privacy if this window facing the road had not been bricked up.  The room was adequately lighted by another very large window facing the lawn and had indeed the same amount of natural light from this one window as the drawing-room, which was identically illuminated (see Fig. I).  The other principal rooms on the ground floor, the drawing-room and the library, had complete privacy from passers-by (facing on to the lawn as they did), and the bricking-up of the small dining-room window merely made this room uniform with the other two in this respect.  Indeed, Price admitted in MHH, p. 18, that when pursuing his enquiries in Borley he was told that the window was bricked up 'because people passing along the road could see the Bull family having their meals'; but adds that he does 'not believe that this was the reason at all'.  It is curious that he does not disclose that

1 Miss Ethel Bull indicated in her letter of 25 March 1942 to Mr S. H. Glanville that Price had confused the names of her brothers, having mistakenly substituted Walter Bull (whom presumably Price had not met) for Gerald Bull in MHH.  This would appear to dispose of the footsteps heard by Walter Bull, but is nevertheless puzzling to us for it was with the 'entirely sceptical' Gerald Bull who died in 1940 that Canon Lawton was particularly friendly.  The task of the luckless investigators of a many-years-old mystery is sometimes complex, as may be noted elsewhere in this report!


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:26:14 am
this explanation was made by Mr Walter Bull, who, as a son of Henry Bull, was presumably entitled to speak with some authority.  Price's objections to this natural explanation are not very convincing.  The 'hedge and belt of trees' forming 'an impenetrable screen' opposite the bricked-up window, through which Price endeavoured unsuccessfully to peer, would probably have been but partly grown and not impenetrable at all in Henry Bull's time.  Price's suggestion that the road was unfrequented is equally unconvincing.  It led to the most important building in the district, Borley church with its graveyard, which was immediately opposite the rectory.  It was Canon Lawton who suggested to us with some shrewdness that it would have been more logical to brick up the other window facing the lawn and the 'Nun's Walk' which the ghost was supposed to haunt, if it were necessary seriously to consider the explanation offered by Price.


In this analysis of the Borley 'phenomena' up to 1927, no attempt has been made to deal with every incident assiduously collected by Price.  But an effort has been made critically to examine at least one typical example of each sort.  Thus there is that class of incident for which there is a reasonably obvious and normal explanation, such as Mrs Byford's 'footsteps' and the 'phenomena' exemplified by the probable practical joking of the younger Bulls resulting in the changed position of Mr Jeffrey's boots and the disappearance of his dictionary.  There are the hallucinations due to suggestion typified by the visions of Harry Bull, who saw - as mentioned earlier - the nun, 'Old Amos', a spectral coach with two horses driven by a headless coachman, and possibly a headless man in the garden: altogether too interesting a collection to be capable of any other explanation.  Finally there is, we think, the imaginary or exaggerated incident, motivated perhaps by mild personal advantage in one form or another, exemplified by Fred Cartwright's ghost story.  All these types are repeated many times in the later stages of the Borley story.

The evidence of the Bull period is unimportant, and if nothing more had occurred after the death of Harry Bull in 1927, the outside world would probably never have heard of the alleged haunting of Borley Rectory.  Practically the whole of the testimony is uncorroborated, and much of it was related to Price after very long periods of time.  Much of it, too, was obviously stimulated to a greater or lesser degree by the series of Daily Mirror articles which began on 10 June 1929.  Thus, Mrs Byford's letter was received on 11 June, and the testimony of the Misses Bull was collected in Sudbury by Price on 13 June, after three


Title: Re: The Haunting of Borley Rectory
Post by: Jennifer Janusiak on February 12, 2009, 12:26:34 am
Daily Mirror articles had appeared.  It was on 13 June that we have what appears to be the first local account of the alleged hauntings: an article appearing, at considerable length, in the Suffolk and Essex Free Press.  Lastly, as we have seen, Price himself displayed a tendency to over-tell his story in his books.

The period of the Bull incumbencies is important, however, in that it demonstrates how the stage was set for what was to follow.  As we have seen, the eccentricities and beliefs of Harry Bull, coupled with what was probably the almost absolute authority of his position and that of his father in Barley and its neighbourhood, were sufficient foundation for the belief in the story of the nun and for the village tales of the haunting of the rectory.  Until 1929 these stories never spread (so far as we know) beyond Borley and its immediate vicinity.  Until 1929 Borley was no different from the many English country houses which possess a local ghost story.