Post by Joanna on Jan 14, 2018 2:36:58 GMT -5
The Saga of Borley Rectory: Haunted or Not?
One summer night in 1929, V.C. Wall of The Daily Mirror waited with a photographer in the woods behind Borley Rectory in Suffolk. On the grounds of “the most haunted house in England,” they did not see the ghostly nun or the spectral, eerily silent coach and horses reported by others. But they did espy a light in the rambling old edifice, yet, when someone went inside to investigate, no light was found. Still, Wall and the photographer could still see it.
On June 11, 1929, the psychical researcher Harry Price read Wall’s first two reports on Borley and within hours, the most infamous era in the rectory’s haunted history had begun. Keeping watch with Price the following evening, Wall was certain he saw the nun moving toward a stream in the garden. Soon after dark, a red glass candlestick whizzed past their heads and shattered against an iron stove, pebbles and slate bounced down the stairs, servants’ bells rang on their own and keys shot simultaneously from two different doors. More than one brisk dash up the stairs failed to reveal any human pranksters in the rectory, which was at the time, occupied by the Reverend Guy Smith.
Victorian Origins: A Housemaid Gives Notice. Borley Rectory had been built in 1862-3 and occupied by two previous vicars (both of the Bull family) before Smith took up residence in 1929. At least two other dwellings had occupied the site before the house was erected.
In 2001, local antiquarian Paul Kemp claimed that ghostly activity had been reported on the site as early as 1819, with the nun allegedly having been sighted in 1836. From 1863, the members of the large family of the Reverend Henry Dawson Bull were disturbed by the sound of rushing water in the house – which had neither mains water nor interior pipes – bells which rang even after wires were cut, rappings, crashes and heavy footsteps in empty areas of the building.
Initially, much of the activity – as so often happens in poltergeist cases – centered on a young daughter, Ethel, whose door was singled out for rappings each night and who once had her face slapped as she lay in bed. In 1886 a new nursemaid, Elizabeth Byford, initially made light of the supposedly haunted room she had been assigned, but approximately two weeks later, awakened at midnight to the sounds of slippered footsteps outside her door and immediately gave notice.
A Dog and a Headless Phantom. The Bull family, by contrast, clearly did not scare easily. The first Henry Bull fulfilled his duties until his death in May 1892 and was immediately succeeded by his son, Henry Foyster Bull, who held the living until his death in June 1927. Outwardly, Henry Foyster seems to have been a jovial, energetic figure, who enjoyed running between church and rectory on sermon days. He does not seem to have been the sort of individual fond of imagining ghosts and the same probably went for his dog, Juvenal. Yet out in the garden one day, the retriever began howling and cowering at something near the orchard. Following the dog’s gaze, Bull saw a pair of legs. When these lower appendages moved from behind the foliage, to the vicar’s horror, body was headless. The apparition crossed the garden and walked through a locked gate. The younger Reverend Bull also saw the notorious ghostly coach of Borley, “drawn by two horses, and driven by a headless coachman.” Oddly, the coach seems to have been silent when seen and invisible when heard. On another occasion Bull heard hooves and heavy wheels on the road behind him. Stepping aside to allow the conveyance to pass, he heard it rush by and saw nothing, though “the noise gradually diminished and could be heard dying away in the distance.”
Face to Face with a Ghost. On July 28, 1900, young Ethel and Freda Bull were returning to the rectory from a summer party and when they saw “a female figure, with bowed head ... dressed entirely in black, the garb of a num,” emerging from the trees. It appeared to be gliding rather than walking. After watching for some time, the girls took her to be a ghost and became intensely frightened. One ran in to fetch their sister Elsie, who responded, “What nonsense, I’ll go and speak to it!” She then ran across the lawn, only to have the nun turn and face her for a few seconds before vanishing into thin air.
In the autumn 1927, a traveling carpenter, Fred Cartwright, saw the nun four times in two weeks. He was not local to the area, had never heard the Borley ghost stories and on each occasion, thought he was observing a living woman. His suspicions weren’t aroused until the fourth sighting, when the nun inexplicably disappeared from view.
Reverend Smith Calls for Help. In the autumn of the following year, the Reverend Guy Smith and his wife Mabel moved into Borley. The pair had no children. While cleaning the house, Mrs. Smith discovered a brown paper parcel and when she unwrapped it, found a small human skull. Her husband buried the skull in the churchyard. Alone in the house shortly thereafter, the Reverend Smith was crossing the landing outside the notoriously haunted Blue Room when he heard whispering, eventually rising to form the audible, pleading words, “Don’t, Carlos! Don’t!”
Phantom footsteps plagued the rectory so often that one day Smith leapt out from behind a wall with a hockey stick to strike the intruder – only to find himself slicing thin air. Bells again rang of their own accord and Mary Pearson, a servant, twice saw the phantom coach speeding past the rectory.
So it was that in June 1929, less than a year into their residence, the Smiths themselves contacted The Daily Mirror. Smith was present on the night Price and Wall were mysteriously showered with pebbles and slate. That same summer, the Smiths moved out of the rectory into other lodgings and in October 1930, a new vicar took residence at Borley.
Another Vicar: Smith Gives up the Ghosts. The Reverend Lionel Foyster took on the haunted parish after being encouraged to do so by surviving members of the Bull family, to whom he was related. He had a wife, Marianne, many years his junior, and an adopted daughter, three-year-old Adelaide. Like Ethel Bull before her, Marianne seems to have been the focus of whatever was haunting Borley. The paranormal activity reached new levels of violence and persecution. Numerous household items vanished, while objects which the family did not own appeared from nowhere.
One day Marianne took off her watch to wash her hands. Turning back to retrieve it, she found the strap had disappeared, though the watch remained. Items were frequently thrown at, or past, the couple and Marianne was once struck so violently by an invisible force that it left her with a cut on her face and black eye. She was thrown out of bed several times and mysterious writings – apparently connected to her – began to appear on the walls of the house.
On several occasions Marianne saw the ghost of the first Henry Bull – who had allegedly warned his family that, if discontented in the afterlife, he would return as a poltergeist. Though Marianne was certainly not the most reliable witness in Borley’s history, it is telling that the dressing gown she saw Bull wearing was recognized by older Borley locals who heard her describe the phantom.
Additional Witnesses to the Borley Phenomena. A full account of the Foysters’ sufferings would fill a short book, with Lionel having kept a detailed diary of events from the beginning of their tenure at the rector. Even Adelaide was apparently struck and persecuted and such incidents would have caused many to have a nervous breakdown. And, with Price now on the scene, there was no shortage of outside witnesses.
Along with the workmen who saw stones tumbling down the stairs, there was Lady Whitehouse, a friend of the Foysters, and her nephew, Richard. On December 14, 1931, the Reverend Royster, his wife and Richard all saw a thin glass tumbler drop from thin air at Richard’s feet. He would later stress that no one could have thrown this item without breaking it. Lady Whitehouse was present when a fire started spontaneously. She also saw flints falling from nowhere.
In January 1932 another visitor, G. L’Estrange, had just parked his car when he saw a figure standing by the porch. Seconds later it vanished before his eyes. Later during his stay, L’Estrange heard footsteps pass by the sofa on which he was sitting and fade away through the wall behind him.
Enter Harry Price. Impressively, the Foysters occupied the rectory until October 1935 and leaving then only because of the vicar’s increasingly severe arthritis. But by this stage, the Church had had enough of Borley Rectory. Two parishes were merged and the building put up for sale. Before a buyer could be found, Price was able to rent the house, and in The Times of May 25, 1937 an unusual advertisement began: “Haunted House. Responsible persons of leisure and intelligence, intrepid, critical and unbiased are invited to join rota of observers in a year’s day and night investigation of alleged haunted house ....”
After weeding out thrill-seekers, cranks and opportunists, Price managed to enroll many reliable observers, including engineers, doctors, undergraduates and military men. Rappings, crashes, bell-ringing and the inexplicable movement of objects were recorded with the report of Mark Kerr-Pearse, a Geneva diplomat, running to almost 10,000 words. It was thanks to Price’s energy and enterprise that Borley became not just one of the most haunted houses ever, but perhaps the best-documented.
Who Burned Borley Rectory? In the autumn of 1938, Borley was purchased by Captain W.H. Gregson and at midnight on February 27, 1939, the house caught fire. Having purchased the property for a mere £500, Gregson had insured it for £10,000, and years later his son, Anthony, revealed that his father had started the fire himself.
Though the rectory was reduced to a shell, the haunting continued. A chauffeur heard the invisible phantom coach hurtling past and Charles Browne and his friends saw a girl in white staring down from the burned-out window of the Blue Room. Only by standing on thin air could anyone – or anything – have looked out this particular window.
Army officers who attempted to use the site during the war had stones thrown at them and found the general atmosphere so negative they vacated the area.
From 1947 to 1950, James and Alice Turner occupied the surviving cottage. On hot summer days, they would hear the voices and laughter of children from the orchard and on one occasion, they heard the sound of heavy footsteps, “as though someone was walking on bare boards.”
During a 1961 investigation, “battery torches and car headlamps all failed without obvious cause” and as recently as the year 2000, Colin Wilson spoke to a television crew that had “recorded hollow footsteps, the creaking of a door that no longer exists, and a deep sigh that impressed everyone who heard it as profoundly unhappy.”
The Real Harry Price: Sceptic Turned Ghost Hunter. Was Borley Rectory really haunted? Wikipedia gives the impression it was not. While I have yet to read a single wikipedia account of ghosts or poltergeists which appears either balanced or open-minded, in this case, the supposed “debunking” rests largely on one book, The Haunting of Borley Rectory by Eric Dingwall, K.M. Goldney and T.H. Hall. The authors of this 1956 work were clearly determined not to believe in ghosts and it is difficult to imagine they would have dared attack Price in the manner in which they did had he still been alive – Price died in 1948. Hall in particular seems to have been an extremely dubious character and the attack he made on Price in 1978, littered with errors and pure speculation, has been described as “one of the most spiteful books ever written.” In fact, when Price began his public career, he looked much like an early 20th century James Randi. A trained conjuror and member of the Magic Circle, he used his inside knowledge to expose a number of fraudulent mediums. Despite such a background, Price came to believe that certain paranormal phenomena could not be explained, either naturally, or as fraud. Even at Borley, Price fell out with Lionel Foyster, when he argued that Marianne needed to be ruled out as a possible fraudster.
I would agree that, to anyone unfamiliar with the very well-documented history of ghosts and poltergeists, Borley may look too good, too vivid, too colorful to be true. Had I come to it cold as a first ghost-encounter, I would probably have felt just that. I heard my first poltergeist story in 1989. It was not until 2012 that I began to realize it was actually true. I now have on file around 500 poltergeist and ghost cases and more than 30 of these were personally related to me.
Almost everything that happened at Borley has been reported elsewhere by every possible type witness. You do not have to believe in the afterlife to believe in ghosts. But it seems very hard to deny that Borley was severely haunted. Making Price a culprit to explain away its entire history is neither fair nor convincing. Numerous witnesses reported apparitions and poltergeist phenomena before Price had even heard of the Rectory. This includes Guy Smith. In 1929, Church of England vicars did not lightly resort to the aid of national newspapers, nor indeed give up their homes. Something haunted every single family that occupied Borley Rectory and a number of those living around it.
As a lifelong atheist, I never expected to take ghosts or poltergeists seriously. Now that I do, I am often reminded of the words of Ian Blackburn, director of building development at the Albert Hall in the 1990s. In April 1996, Blackburn called in veteran ghost-hunter Andrew Green after numerous staff members and contractors at the Albert Hall complained of ghostly sightings and activity. “When people keep saying the same things to you,” he told The Daily Telegraph, “you have to take notice and try and get to the bottom of it.”
Source: Richard Sugg and Steve Myall, The Mirror, October 31, 2017.