The story of the Borley Rectory Haunting was one of the first I remember as a child when I began reading about haunted houses. Fortunately for me my mother was never one to dissuade anything that got me reading or learning so it resulted in a number of publications over the years not just on Borley, but often cited as a good real haunting in England.

It’s not surprising either, the whole setting is a fantastic start for a horror story. A Victorian era mansion located in the village of Borley, it was constructed in 1863 on the site of a previous rectory. It was destroyed by fire in 1939.

The story was covered fairly heavily by the Daily Mirror and then in 1937 was described as the Most Haunted House in England by paranormal investigator, Harry Pice, He wrote two books on the subject that both sold well (and probably still do).

It was initially constructed near Borley Church by the Rev Henry Dawson Elliz Bull in 1862 and he moved away a year later. The building was then eventually enlarged for a bigger family. There is evidence to suggest the site has been used for the purpose of a rectory back into the 12th century and whilst I could go into a long history about it that aspect isn’t the reason I chose the subject.

One of the legends that is cited by ghost hunters is about the legend of a monk from about 1632 who had a relation with a nun from a nearby convent. Noe for some reason when they were caught the monk was executed and the nun bricked up alive. It was confirmed in 1938 there was no evidence for this and so the haunting is not confirmed.

The first paranormal events are recorded in 1863, a few locals reported footsteps and then 28th July 1900 one of the four daughters of the rector reported a ghost that was a woman around 40 yards away. Upon trying to talk to it the apparition disappeared.

Over the course of four decades reports just as puzzling kept coming in, one of them was of a phantom coach driven by two headless horseman. On June 9th 1928 the rectory became vacant when the son of Henry Dawson Ellis Bill died. A year later the Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife moved in, she found a brown paper bag in a cupboard that contained a woman’s skull.

Soon after they reported the sounds of the servant bells ringing, even though the strings were cut. There were lights in windows, unexplained footsteps and then Mrs Smith was sure she had seen the phantom carriage. The Smiths contacted the Daily Mirror who put them in touch with the Society for Psychical Research.

It was the paper that brought Harry Price in as the paranormal researcher, he made his visit June 12th and immediately became witness to thrown stones, a vase and then “spirit messages” rapped out from the frame of a mirror. Once he left they seemed to stop, Mrs Smith later speculated that he could have been an expert conjurer and that’s how it came about.

After they Smith’s left in 1929 they had some trouble finding anyone to move in, the Reverent Lionel Foyster and his family then moved in, along with their adopted daughter Adelaide.

Similar sorts of accounts were given to Price from the family, along with an occasion where their daughter was locked in a room with no key. Most of the case points to poltergeist activity, Adelaide was attacked by “something horrible” and twice Foyster attempted an exorcism but it seems to have been a fruitless effort.

A variety of scandals marred the truth too as Mrs Foyster felt that her husband and another psychic might have staged them, also she then said she had used the ghost as an excuse to hide some of the liaisons she was having with the lodger, Frank Peerless. However she did maintain some of them were not ones she could explain, either way they moved out in October 1935 due to Lionel’s ill health.

Borley was then vacant for some time after 1937 and Price then Price took out a years rental on the place. He recruited 48 official observers, mostly students, who would stay at the rectory and then make records of any phenomena they came across. 1938 Helen Granville (the daughter of a helper) conducted a Planchette séance in Streatham, South London.

Price then reported that she had made contact with two spirits. One was Marie Lairre who said she was murdered at Borley and the answers seemed consistent with a story told by the Bull sisters. Speculation was then made by Price she was responsible for writings on the wall at Borley because she was condemned to be a restless spirit as she was a Nun who came to England to marry and left her order. Mrs Cecil Baines spent an incredible amount of time and effort on trying to find evidence of this but could not.

The second spirit was apparently “Sunex Amures” who claimed he would set fire to the rectory that night, and the bones of a murdered person would be revealed. The prediction was not quite right about the date but the Rectory did burn down 27th February 1939.

The new owner, Captain W.H. Gregson, reported that he was unpacking boxes when an oil lamp overturned in the hallway. The fire spread and the build was extensively damaged. Miss Williams of Borley Lodge reported seeing a ghostly figure in the window, and the insurance company were brought in who determined it was fraudulent.

In August 1943 Harry Price conducted a brief dig in the cellars of the ruined house, he found two bones thought to be those of a woman, alon with a medal of Saint Ignatius. Nothing further was found there and the bones were given a Christian Burial in Liston Churchyard as the Borley parish refused stating they could well be pig bones.

After the death of Price in 1948 three members of the English Society for Psychical Research went in to investigate and publish a report of the findings in a book. “The Haunting of Borley Rectory” that concluded it was difficult to establish a real haunting. “SPR”’s study appears to show that much of it was faked, or due to natural causes like the acoustics of the house. 

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