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Borley Rectory - The Most Haunted House in England

Updated on September 18, 2014

The Haunting of Borley Rectory

A ghost nun, mysterious writing on a wall, objects which disappear or appear, strange sounds and lights, and a blazing inferno started by unseen hands - these are the stories of Borley Rectory - called 'the most haunted house in England' by its investigator, the renowned ghosthunter, Harry Price.

Borley Rectory - History

Borley Rectory was built in 1863 at Borley, Essex for the Rev. Henry Bull. It was built in imitation of a fashionable country house, a style popular in the area. It was a large house; it needed to be as Bull had fourteen children. In an era before automation, many servants were needed to keep it in good order, as well as the garden and stables, so there were many people working and living at the Rectory.

It was reputed to have been built on the site of an old monastery; although this was not true, it was probably on Benedictine land, there being a Benedictine Priory nearby with substantial grounds. According to oft-repeated legend, a monk from a nearby monastery was involved with a nun from a nearby convent; their punishment on discovery was final: the monk was executed and the nun walled up alive within the convent.

Borley Rectory - The Hauntings Begin

Some accounts suggest supernatural phenomena started soon after the Rectory was built; what is certain is that long after Rev. Bull's death, in July 1900, daughters of the Rector reported seeing a figure of a nun in the grounds of Borley, and mistaking it for a visitor, attemped to talk to it; it disappeared as they approached. Neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Edward reportedly saw this ghost, as well as a phantom coach and horses. The hauntings either ceased or were not generally reported until 1928, when the Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife moved into Borley Rectory. Mrs. Smith was reported to have found found a brown package containing the skull of a young woman. From that point, strange phenomena were reportedly experienced, including bells ringing, strange lights appearing in windows, footsteps, and their daughter being locked in a room with no key. The Smiths contacted a local newspaper who contacted Harry Price, a paranormal researcher, to investigate.

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Harry Price - Ghostbuster

Harry Price joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1920 as an experienced ghost hunter. He had investigated many so-called haunted houses and revealed psychic mediums. Being himself an accomplished magician, he had the experience and knowledge to spot fraudulent practices in others. The SPR were largely members of the upper classes; Price was not. Nor was he well educated or a scientist. Snobbery and disapproval of his unscientific methods caused friction between them. It was however, his interest in ghosts which really brought him into conflict with the SPR, antagonism which would culminate in SPR researchers attempting to discredit him after his death.

On hearing of the bizarre occurences, Price invited himself to Borley Rectory to carry out a full investigation. On their first visit the group (comprising of Price, his secretary and reporter) all witnessed poltergeist activity, spontaneous displacement of objects, strange odours, cold spots, the sound of galloping horses. Price's investigations of Borley Rectory would ensure that he would become one of the most famous ghost hunters and was to assemble what would become the standard 'ghost hunter's kit': tape measure to check wall thickness for hidden rooms, cameras including one remote-controlled motion picture camera, finger-printing kit; and portable telephones for contact between investigators separated in different rooms in the huge Rectory.

According to Harry Price, stones and other objects started flying. Spirit messages were tapped out from the frame of a mirror and a brick moved by itself. Strange lights, whispers, the sounds of a coach outside and apparitions of the first owner, Rev. Henry Bull and the nun were reported. The Smiths left the rectory in 1930; Reverend Lionel Foyster and his wife Marianne moved in. Over the next five years, there was a huge increase in phenomena including spirit writing addressed to Marianne. Twice, Foyster tried to conduct an exorcism, but his efforts were rewarded by being struck in the shoulder by a stone. Several psychic researchers investigated; their unanimous verdict was they were caused, consciously or unconsciously, by Marianne Foyster. Marianne later admitted to a sexual relationship with the lodger, Frank Peerless, and to using 'paranormal' explanations to hide this fact. The Foysters left Borley rectory in 1937, due to Lionel's poor health; Price subsequently leased Borley Rectory for a year to carry out further investigations.

In 1938, Harry Price returned, helped by Helen Glanville, an English medium, who made contact with two spirits; a young nun who called herself as Marie Lairre, murdered on the site of Borley Rectory, and one Sunex Amures who claimed that he would set fire to the rectory at nine o'clock that night, at which time the bones of a murdered person would be found.

In February 1939, Captain W.H. Gregson, the last owner of Borley Rectory accidentally knocked over an oil lamp and started a fire. Borley Rectory was severely damaged. While the rectory was burning, some witnesseses believed they saw the figure of the ghostly nun at an upstairs window. An investigation of the fire by the insurance company was determined to be fraudulent. Harry Price conducted a dig in the cellars of the ruined house and found two bones identified as those of a young woman, plus a medal of Saint Ignatius. The bones were given a Christian burial in Liston churchyard, as the parish of Borley refused the burial; local farmers were sure the bones were actually those of a pig.

Harry Price died in 1948, and soon after, an investigation of his claims was made by the Society for Psychical Research. It concludes that Price's investigation was seriously flawed but reached no conclusion about Borley Rectory.

Borley Rectory - the Controversy

Various legends contribute to the supposed hauntings of Borley Rectory. One is the conviction that the rectory was built on the site of a 13th-century monastery. Price stated that here was no evidence that a monastery ever existed at Borley, but his writings suggest he accepted this theory until it was subsequently disproved by the Essex Archaeological Society. Some accounts have the story being invented by the Bull children as a tale befitting their unusual and rambling home.

The second story, is that of a young French Roman Catholic nun, Marie Lairre, who left her convent to marry one of the Waldegraves of Borley, who owned the land in that parish and was strangled by him at the site of the Rectory. Her body was reputed to be buried beneath the cellar floor.

Another theory that the 'nun' was the ghost of Arabella Waldegrave, daughter of Henry, first Lord Waldegrave. This suggestion was first accepted with enthusiasm by Price and then dicarded when that, too, was disproved in 1946.

Lionel Foyster was supposed to have kept a diary of the events he witnessed, however, the 'diary' he gave Price was actually a fictionalised account he intended to publish as a novel. No trace of a real diary has ever come to light, although Foyster did write letters to relatives about the occurrences. The accounts of the writing of a diary or record have mostly come from Mrs Foyster, and were at odds with Price's various statements.

Price was no scientist. He used scientific apparatus, and the pretense of using scientific methods to add credence to his ideas. Scientists formulate theories based on evidence; Price set out to prove his theories. His laboratory would not have been out of place in a Hammer movie. His colleagues were convinced he had manufactured or exaggerated evidence, and although they could not prove it, neither could they carry out a new investigation, as by then the Rectory had burned down.

Borley Rectory's reputation arises mainly from Price's books, but the enthusiasm of the press and the resultant publicity made an enormous contribution to the legend.

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      GardenArbor 5 years ago

      @Rangoon House: Thanks very much!

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      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      What a fascinating history. Certainly deserved of a blessing!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      searched to find something like this ... enjoyed watching the videos indeed! If you like to browse lens as I do, mine has a great educational topic with poll questions for my readers to enjoy.

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      GardenArbor 6 years ago

      @Virginia Allain: Thank you very much!

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      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Fun reading and you've provided plenty of detail. Blessed and will be featured on You've Been Blessed.

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      WhiteOak50 6 years ago

      Just wanted to let you that I am featuring this page on my Scariest Places on Earth page.

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      GardenArbor 6 years ago

      @WhiteOak50: Thanks very much!

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      WhiteOak50 6 years ago

      After finally catching up with the Angel School Bus, I am fluttering around Legend-ville to drop off some Blessings. Just wanted you to know I am here because your page caught my attention. Leaving you with a *Blessing* for doing such a great job on this page.

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      GardenArbor 6 years ago

      @kateloving: Thank you very much!

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      Kate Loving Shenk 6 years ago from Lancaster PA

      Wonderful lens, wonderful story, and ****Blessed****