Location: Borley, Essex, England
The Borley Rectory was built in 1862 near the Borley Church by Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull. A year later, he moved into the house after being named the rector of the parish. The house was built ont he same land as the old rectory that had burned down in 1841. As time went on, the Borley Rectory was enlarged to include an additional wing for Bull’s family of fourteen children.
The surrounding Borley Church, which possibly dates back as early as the 12th century, has had a dark history in itself. The Benedictine monastery was believed to have built up the area in 1362. During this time, a monk had a relationship with a nun from one of the nearby convents. When the church found out about their affair, the monk was executed and the nun was placed inside one of the convent walls and bricked up alive.
In 1938, however, historians realized that there wasn’t evidence supporting this, much rather it was a story told by Reverend Bull. It is also rumored that the story of the nun in the wall was derived from Rider Haggard’s Montezuma’s Daughter (1893) or Walter Scott’s Marmion (1808).
Only a year after Bull moving into his new home, the first paranormal occurrences began. The sound of footsteps could be heard pacing throughout the house. On July 28th, 1900, Bull’s four daughters said that they saw the apparition of a ghostly nun at sunset roughly forty yards from the house. When they made efforts to contact it, it disappeared.
The family was extremely convinced that there were odd happenings at the rectory. Another strange apparition was that of a coach driven by two headless horsemen. In 1892, Henry Dawson Ellis Bull died, leaving his son, Reverend Harry Bull, to take over the Borley Rectory as his own.
Henry Foyster Bull, the new rector, died on June 9th, 1928, leaving the rectory vacant. On October 2nd, 1929, Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife moved into the Borley Rectory. It was only a short time after they moved in when Mrs. Smith had found a brown paper package inside the cupboards while cleaning. Inside it was a human skull belonging to a young woman.
After opening the package, the Smith family had an abundance of paranormal activity, such as servant bells ringing even though they had been disconnected, lights appearing in the windows, and disembodied footsteps. Like the owners before her, Mrs. Smith witnessed the horse-drawn carriage.
Soon, the Smiths contacted the Daily Mirror and requested that they be put in touch with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) to deal with their spiritual issues. The newspaper sent out a reporter on June 10th, 1929, and he wrote several articles regarding the Borley Rectory’s mysteries.
The paper sent out paranormal researcher Harry Price to investigate the house, which would make him famous. Arriving on June 12th, he was subject to an array of occurrences, such as the throwing of stones, vases, and any other objects the ghosts could hurl. Many “spirit messages” were tapped on the frame of a mirror in the bathroom. After Harry Price left, all activity halted. Mrs. Smith had believed that he was “an expert conjurer of paranormal phenomena”.
On July 14th, 1929, the Smiths moved out of the Borley Rectory. The parish struggled to find new owners for the home. Reverend Lionel Algernon Foyster (1878-1945), the first cousin of Bull, moved into the house with his wife Marianne Emily Rebecca Shaw Foyster (1899-1992) and adopted daughter, Adelaide, on October 16th, 1930.
Foyster logged all of the strange incidents that occurred from October, 1930 to October, 1935, sending them to Harry Price. Occurrences included bell-ringing, the shattering of windows, wall-writing, stones and bottles being thrown, and Adelaide being locked up in a room without a key.
Marianne reported that she was thrown from her bed, and Adelaide claimed to be attacked by “something horrible”. Foyster attempted to conduct an exorcism on two occasions, but neither attempt worked. During his first exorcism, a fist-sized rock was hurled at his shoulder.
Several psychic researchers were attracted to the Borley Rectory after its publicity in the Daily Mirror. After investigation, they believed that the activity was either consciously or unconsciously controlled by Marianne. She believed that some of the occurrences were caused by her husband in concert with one of the psychic researchers, while the rest appeared to be genuinely paranormal.
Mrs. Foyster later confessed that she was having a sexual relationship with Frank Pearless, the lodger, and that she used the paranormal occurrences to cover up her liaisons. In the October of 1935, the Foysters moved out because of Mr. Foysters poor health.
The Borley Rectory remained empty up until May, 1937, when Harry Price signed a year-long rental agreement with Queen Anne’s Bounty (the property’s owners). Price recruited a total of 48 “official observers”, most of which were students, through an ad that he placed in The Times on May 25th, 1937.
The observers spent time at the house, primarily over the weekend, following Price’s instructions on reporting any phenomena. In March, 1938, Helen Glanville (the daughter of S.J. Glanville and one of Price’s observers) conducted a planchette séance in Streatham, South London.
Glanville, according to Price, made contact with two different spirits. One of them was a French nun who said her name was Marie Lairre. She had left her religious order and had gone to england to marry a member of the Waldegrave family, the owners of the 17th century Borley manor house known as Borley Hall.
She was allegedly murdered on the site of the earlier building where the rectory was later built. Her body was either thrown into an unused well or buried in the cellar. Marie allegedly wrote “Marianne, please help me get out” during the time of the Foyster’s residency.
The second spirit said his name was Sunex Amures, and he claimed that he would set the Borley Rectory on fire at 9:00 PM on March 27th, 1938, and that the bones of a murdered person would be revealed at that time. Despite his warning, the house did not catch fire.
On February 27th, 1939, Captain W.H. Gregson, the rectory’s new owner, was unpacking his things when he accidentally bumped an oil lamp in the hallway, setting it on fire. The house was severely damaged, as the flames spread through the house very quickly. The investigation of the house led to the conclusion that the fire was started intentionally.
However, activity continued even after the fire. Miss Williams, who lived in the nearby Borley Lodge, claimed to see the ghost of a nun in the upstairs window. According to Harry Price, she demanded that he pay her one guinea for her story.
In August, 1943, Price decided to dig in the cellar of the rectory. He found two bones thought to belong to a young woman. The bones were given a Christian burial in the Liston churchyard since the Borley Church refused to do so, since the locals believed they were pig bones.
Harry Price passed away in 1948, temporarily ceasing investigation. Three members of the Society for Psychical Research, Eric Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney, and Trevor H. Hall (two of which were Price’s assistants), investigated Price’s claims about the rectory.
Dingwall, Goldney, and Hall published what they found in 1956 in their book The Haunting of Borley Rectory, which had evidence supporting that Harry Price’s findings were incorrect. The SPR study had become known as the “Borley Report”. They stated that most of the phenomena was faked or caused by natural events, such as rats and the strange acoustics of the oddly-shaped house.