Till date the people of Essex County have a refreshingly memorable imprint of the most notorious and paranormal case in the history- the investigation of an old estate called Borley’s Rectory.
If historical facts are to be ascertained to, the chronicle of this haunting house began in 1362. Edward III granted the land of Borley Rectory to the monks of Benedictines to build a monastery there. Centuries later, Henry VIII banished the monastic orders and the property was confiscated. The ownership was transferred to the powerful Waldegrave family who turned it into the administrative office of the local parish.
The Rectory was built in 1863 and remained in headlines for the strange occurrences from the mid to late 1800’s. It was in 1900’s that the first documentary evidence of a paranormal activity made its way.
What followed were rounds of investigations, spiritual contacts, books, and multiple excavations to figure out the reality behind the odd happenings at the Borley Rectory.
The facts and figures about it are surely exciting and a haunting read as well. Just stay tuned to know more of what happened next in the series of mysterious developments.
1 The location of Borley Rectory
The small parish of Borley stands in a desolate and sparsely populated region near the east coast of England, near the border of Suffolk. The place is lonely and would have remained forgotten had it not been famous for having the most haunted house in England.
2 The incessant history of Borley Rectory
It is one of the most famous case involving the notorious Rectory Borley. The long, complex, and rewarding investigation of this house was haunting as hell. Harry Price, an investigator stayed at the house and carried out extensive research for more than a year. The Rectory investigation had turned Harry Price to a celebrity and made him the most famous ghost hunter of his day. He was set as a standard for those who followed him. Price took utmost care in the documentation of each step of his investigation.
The two books that were written about the case became best-sellers and captured the public’s imagination. At the time of his death, Price was working on a third book on Rectory Borley.
3 The First Report
The first paranormal events reportedly occurred in about 1863. On 28 July 1900, four daughters of the rector Henry Dawson Ellis Bull saw what they thought was the ghost of a nun at twilight. They tried to talk to it but it disappeared as they got closer. Bull died in 1892 and his son Henry Bull took over the living.
Between 1862 and 1892, the Reverend H.DE Bull, a relative of the Waldegrave, became Rector of Borley. He began the expansion of the Rectory after his appointment. The locals had warned not to construct the building over the ancient cemetery but he gave no heed to it. His son Rev. HF Bull remained the head of the family until his death in 1927. He succeeded him as rector and completed the works.
The rectory became vacant for over a year until October 1928. Human voices came into picture with Rev. Guy Smith being appointed to the post. Weighed down by the rumors of ghosts, he left the rectory a year later. Strange events surrounded the rectory for many years prior to Rev. Smith’s residency, but always went in silence.
Rev. Harry Bull had great curiosity on the subject and often talked with his friend J. Hartley about the haunts that seemed to inhabit the Rectory. The members of the Bull family were not alone in witnessing ghostly demonstrations behind the gates of Rectory. Fred Cartwright, a local carpenter, reported seeing the ghost nun’s specter at least four times during his Price interview.
Until 1939, fourteen people told to have seen the same ghost, three other people reported seeing one translucent ghostly coach running the courtyard pulled by spectral horses and two other visitors witnessed the manifestation of one decapitated body flying through the courtyard. In June 1929 the story of ghostly occurrences in Borley was mentioned in a newspaper.
The next day Harry Price received a phone call from an editor in London inviting him to visit the property. He was informed about the various occurring phenomena such as footprints of ghost, strange lights, ghostly whispers, specter of a beheaded man, the figure of a girl in white, the ghost carriage, and the appearance of masons who built the building.
4 Price and his claims
Price explored the site, and on several occasions claimed to have seen and heard countless phenomena such as the ringing of bells, sounds of thudding on walls, and objects floating through the air. Dozens of testimonies were collected by Price from the tenants of the house. Many rounds of speaking to neighbors and residents nearby resulted in the reporting of the experiences on the cursed rectory.
For about a year, Price paid rent and lived in the house in order to spend as much time as possible inside.
Price reported that he made contact with two spirits, the first of which was that of a young nun who identified herself as Marie Lairre. The second spirit to be contacted identified himself as Sunex Amures.
5 Price and his obsession to his work
Price was so much obsessed to his work that he posted newspaper ads seeking paranormal researchers wanting to participate in his research. He gave them the opportunity to camp in the house and determine the presence of entities on the spot. As a part of it he received more than forty volunteer’s call.
Each of them wrote a report of their experience. The reports took the shape of two books, with both of them becoming a paragon of future paranormal investigations. The books titled “The Most Haunted House in England” and “The End of Borley Rectory” were published in the years 1942 and 1946.
Critics think of Price as the pseudo-investigator who did nothing but indulged in a publicity stunt for earning fame and recognition. Price, after his death, was even accused of deliberately lying about the phenomenon and the ghostly activities.
6 Ghosts at Borley Rectory
The earliest and the most surprising sighting at the most haunted house was that of a nun. It may not seem that strange at first, but at a site of a monastery one assumes a monk and not a nun.
The ancient folklore tells that once a nun fell in love with a monk from the monastery. They attempted to elope but were found and kept in isolation in the grounds of Borley Rectory. A severe punishment was ordered to the couple. The monk was dragged into the courtyard and beheaded while the nun was walled alive in a chamber inside the monastery. Stories run that she looks for the monk in the hope of eloping again. It has been years that the nun is seen and heard.
7 Reporting by Eric Smith
Eric Smith and his wife came up with their own version of report, altogether different from what was suspected. They reported mysterious footsteps, doorbells ringing, and poltergeist activity.
Harry Price was called to investigate the happenings. He experienced the poltergeist phenomena and got in touch with the spirit of past tenant Late Rev. Harry Bull. Mr. and Mrs. Smith left the house after numerous attempts at exorcising the property in 1930.
8 New residents – New Reporting
With the new residents – Rev. Foyster and his wife Marianne, the poltergeist activity gained much more aggressiveness. Reports of smashed glasses, broken windows, and Marianne being thrown from her bed by an unseen force became the daily news. After 5 frightening years, the Foysters left for Price to move in and study the house.
Foysters witnessed a marked increase in paranormal activity. People were locked in the rooms, household utensils disappeared, windows were broken, furniture moved, and strange sounds were heard. The activity during this period was more varied and much more violent than before.
The Rev. Foyster kept a diary and compiled a manuscript that was never published, called the “Fifteen months in a Haunted House”. Harry Price later used excerpts from the manuscript in his books on Borley Rectory. The Foysters left Borley in October 1935 as a result of Lionel Foyster’s ill health.
9 Interviews by Harry Price
Investigator Price mocked the idea of the nun and monk theory but was intrigued by the phenomena associated with the rectory. He visited the estate accompanied by a well-known journalist and his personal secretary. Upon talking with Reverend Smith, they observed some poltergeist phenomenon themselves.
Price decided to interview all those who had at some point witnessed the happenings there. The first to be interviewed was Mary Pearson, the Maid of the rectory. She had reportedly seen the ghostly carriage on two occasions and was firmly convinced about the house being haunted. They had a spiritual contact session later that evening in the “Blue Room”, a hall where strange things happened.
There experience turned surprising when a candle jumped from the table and collided with the wall. Price interviewed Reverend Bull’s daughters the next day. Both his daughters reported some phenomena they had witnessed in adolescence. The events and the witnesses’ words were enough to convince Price about something strange in the house.
10 Beginning of the paranormal investigation
The intense and overwhelming paranormal investigation began with the words of the witnesses. Price was more than convinced about something strange happening in the house. To assist his investigation he devised the idea of a ghost hunting kit. The intricacy of the investigation can be measured from the fact that even the walls were measured for thickness and dimensions. Stethoscopes were used to search secret passages and drafts and cameras to keep an eye on the interiors.
Price commissioned a remote controlled camera to register slightest of movements; used a fingerprint kit to register suspicious finger marks, employed temperature-sensitive thermometers for even a small variation in temperature and used hand- held phones to maintain contact with researchers. From the start, Price was very much interested in the house as it was a fascinating challenge to his abilities.
11 Harry Price on his Second Visit
Price went for his second visit just two weeks after the first. The finding of a religious medal and other haunting items was documented. Sounds of ringing bell were heard throughout the house despite the surprising fact that the wires had been cut off many years ago. Rev.
Smith and his wife had reported of constant touch and that was a source of great concern to Price as well. Things multiplied and intensified with Price looking into the happenings. The Smith couple left the house in July 1929 and the rectory remained empty for the next 14 months. Reports flew that at places a window on the house was opened from the inside even with the building desert and with the doors locked.
Also the door leading to the main staircase was found wide open with shards of glass scattered on the floor. Nearby residents reported of lights, murmurs and groans. Everything changed in October 1930 with the Rev. Lionel Foyster and his wife Marianne moving in to Borley.
Foysters witnessed there was a marked increase in paranormal activity. With things becoming out of control, they left the house in May 1931. In June, a friend of the Foysters visited the property and discovered the place totally messed up. He noticed that things were scattered all over. Harry Price gained knowledge of the violent demonstrations. As Mrs. Foyster was present in all the poltergeist activities, Price believed her to be unconsciously the cause of the phenomenon. He also considered the events to be staged.
The months that followed brought more ringing bells, doors slamming, and items flowing through air. The rest of 1934 was quiet but the demonstrations returned and became violent in 1935 with beds being dragged and objects broken. The Foysters decided to leave in October that year and sell the place before something even more terrible happened.
The church offered the house to Harry Price for about a sixth of its value but he decided not to buy the place and rather rent it for a year. Price planned to conduct an extensive research around the property using research volunteers to monitor and document anything out of the ordinary. The investigation lasted a year and was carefully documented through a diary of events.
12 Price searches for researchers
Price published an advertisement in a column of the Times on May 25, 1937, looking for open-minded researchers willing to live for a short while in the rectory. The motive behind it was to ensure that the phenomena and witnesses were carefully covered. To his surprise, a large number of potential candidates applied. He picked out about 40 people and handed them the handbook on how to conduct a paranormal investigation. The volume later became famous as the “Blue Book”.
13 Team Price at Work
Price made a team of the volunteers he selected to assist in his research at the Rectory. Every volunteer was provided with personal equipment needed to study the house and the phenomena that occurred there. They also had the freedom to look for the facts. There were in fact many who employed equipment of their own and conducted sessions to contact the ghosts that inhabited the place.
Mr. SH Galnville turned to be the most helpful investigator in the case. He along with his family spent many days there in Borley and investigated with great zeal the history of Borley from the beginning until the night of the fire in 1939. A larger part of the research was published in Price’s books. Also Glanville was made the in charge of the investigations when Price was not present.
The observers came from different spheres of the society but contributed by providing data about their personal experience in the house. There were many who spent nights in the Rectory in a room that served as a base and where several instruments were installed. Bizarre sounds, movement of objects, unexplained sensations, enigmatic lights and spectral apparitions, especially the phantom nun were experienced very often. Everyone agreed about something strange in Borley. Also there was a belief that the Rectory was a center of major paranormal disturbance.
14 Interesting Events during Price’s stay
Two remarkable events occurred during the period that Price rented the house. One was the observation of “writings on the wall” and the other was of “call for help”. The writings appeared on the walls even after Mrs. Foyster had left the Rectory. A minute detailing and photography of each fragment was done for further studies. A major event occurred in 1938 with a series of Spiritist sessions held by Mr. Glanville, his family and several friends.
A supposed spirit called “Marie Lairre” came in touch in one of those sessions. She reported that she had been a nun in France but had left the convent to marry Henry Waldegrave, a member of a wealthy family whose house was the site of the Rectory. The spirit revealed that while living in the mansion, her husband strangled her and buried her remains in the cellar.
In March 1938, another spirit called “Sunex Amures” promised that the rectory would burn that night and that the evidence of the nun’s murder would be found in the leftover debris. Though the Rectory did not burn the same night, but it did happen exactly 11 months later, on February 27, 1939.
In February 1939, the new owner- Captain W H Gregson was unpacking his books when he dropped an oil lamp and started a fire. The fire spread quickly and the building was down to ashes. It was said that the fire started at the exact point that the spirit had predicted and that “strange figures were seen walking in the flames.”
15 Demolition and what followed
The building was officially demolished in 1944 but the story was far from over. The ruined rectory caught attention of many curious visitors. Even during the times of World War II, there were many visitors who came just to explore the rubble and at times spend the night in the ruins.
During the demolition of the mansion, a levitating brick is captured in the photographs which is sufficient to give you goosebumps.
There were many who claimed that the stories about Marie Lairre, the nun, were just clever predictions and had no truth. Rev. Phythian- Adams obtained plants from the Benedictine monastery and showed Harry Price the site where he should dig for the remains of the nun. Price along with some collaborators began excavating the site in August of 1943.
It took the team weeks to remove the debris. To everyone’s surprise, the team found ancient objects such as pots, metal basins and porcelain fragments at the beam of the building. Apart from these objects, they also unearthed a human jaw which seemed to be a woman’s, a part of the skull, ribs, and two old and religious medals. The material was photographed and recorded for future analysis. Marie Lairre was given a Christian burial in May 1945 and the alleged bones were deposited in a grave at a graveyard two kilometers from the Borley Rectory.
Although the ghost of the nun was never seen again on the Rectory ground, but strange events continued haunting the nearby residents. Borley Rectory till today is the most legendary and famous haunted house in England.